The Good and Bad of Golf Injuries

A New Perspective

In late August, I sustained one of the first real injuries of my golf career.  I sprained my left wrist pretty severely following a bicycle crash.  While I wasn’t thrilled with missing a big chunk of the golf season, it gave me a previously unexplored perspective on the game.  If you’re struggling with an injury, I hope this gives you some solace and a couple silver linings to look for.

The Bad

Let’s get this out of the way so we can get on to the better stuff.

Re-Injury Fears

The worst part of being injured is the fear of re-injury.  As my wrist started to heal, I wanted to get back on the course but stopped myself for fear of making things worse.  There are no hard and fast rules about recovery.  Sometimes we need to push ourselves, sometimes we need to hold ourselves back.  The lack of clarity drove my crazy.

Loss of Distance

As much as we mock super strong lofted irons and people who lie about their driver distance, we all have egos.  We’re used to hitting the ball X yards, and anything less feels like an assault on our pride.  But the reality of being injured is that you probably won’t generate the same speed.  Try to be accepting of it and don’t feel the need to inform everyone in your zip code that you normally hit it farther.

Fighting Your Body & Swing

This is the one that snuck up on me.  As my wrist healed and I hit more balls, I started feeling totally out of sync.  At first I thought it was rust.  As it persisted, I realized it was something else: my body compensating for the injury.  Because I couldn’t use my wrist and hand normally, the rest of my body started doing unusual things too.  I felt completely uncoordinated.  This was right up there with “losing my swing” as far as bad golf feelings, but, thankfully, as the wrist healed, it went away.

The Good


Many golfers are guilty of sabotaging themselves by thinking too much on the course.  I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that: thinking about mechanics and worrying about outcomes instead of being focused on the shot at hand.

I found that when I was injured, most of that extra thinking went away.  Because I was hurt, my expectations were lower, so I wasn’t worrying about outcomes.  I also knew that I didn’t have the capacity to mess with my swing – I just needed to get through the round.  My improved focus led to better results than I ever could have thought possible while hurt.

Swinging Easy

While I’m not an student of the “Just swing 50%” school, I did find value in dialing back slightly from 100%.  I was shocked by how far the ball went relative to how easily I was swinging [I should have taken my own advice from this lesson HERE].

A lot of the distance came from superior contact.  As the lesson I linked to says: you’ve got to find the point of diminishing returns for effort.  The injury was a chance for me to reexamine my swing and realize that I could hit better quality shots without swinging full out.

Minimize Mistakes

Smart golf strategy tells us that it’s a lot easier to intentionally not lose strokes than it is to intentionally gain strokes.  Putting this simple idea into practice became a lot easier when I knew that my body wasn’t at 100%.

Knowing that I didn’t have my normal speed, I opted against reckless plays.  Having less practice under my belt meant that I picked safer targets.  All of this led to better scores and more enjoyable rounds.  I’m hopeful I can take this experience and apply it next year when I’m back at 100%.

Matt Saternus
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  1. I read your articles regularly, and this one was very insightful. I’ve had issues with my ankle, and when I focused more on more centerness of the hit. The ball flew farther without swinging harder or faster. The results were far better, followed by better scores. This illustrated how much more important the game from 100 yards in is.
    I really like articles about golf for those of who are a little more advanced in years can achieve better scores and more enjoyment when a nagging injury is a part of our game.
    Please keep bringing more information on this subject to us.

  2. This is a good article because I can relate having tore my wrist but shoulder surgery was a biggie, not to mention 3 knee surgeries and being 62ish many adjustments had to be made. I bought a set of Ping G400s after testing a bunch of clubs because they were easier on my body and the stronger lofts of today give me the old standardized distance. I have a slower, easier tempo and am a “sweeper”. Just making good, solid contact becomes more important and if I do hit it solid I can live with the results. I am no less a fan because of my pain, in fact I’m even more so. Today’s technology makes enjoying golf easier with injuries. Graphite shafts in everything but the putter was also helpful.

  3. Gerald Barton

    I feel your pain! I am 73 and didn’t start loosing significant distance until I was 70. Since then I have suffered neck, knee, and shoulder injuries. I am also a prostate cancer survivor.

    This is what I have learned.
    #1: Find the best Physical Therapist you can find. They will enable you to get back to the course the fastest and pinpoint oncoming injuries. Medicare will cover most physical therapy sessions so don’t fear the cost. Also, you will prevent the onset of an injury in many cases. I was able to prevent rotator cuff injury and the onset of shoulder pain for 10 years.
    2. Knee replacement surgery is not as severe as it once was. The key is to do your rehab BEFORE surgery rather than to wait until afterwards. My friends of similar age have been able to resume playing in 6 weeks or less after surgery. Don’t wait. Also, find an orthopedic surgeon that uses the latest techniques. Your outcomes will be better.
    3. Resume physical fitness training now. It will prevent future injuries. Go with low impact and stretching programs like yoga. It is the best and only way to forestall the affects of aging. You can do them at home so the cost is small.

    4. Find a good pain management Doctor. This is a growing field/specialty of medicine. If you can find one who specializes in sports medicine the better. They will be able to advise you in a whole host of medical options that your family physician is unaware of. The sports medicine field has experienced significant advancement. One thing to research and explore is Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP).

    I hope this helps. I my goal is to still be playing golf until I am 80.

  4. Great insights Matt, as always. The aging golfers, injured golfers, and aches/pain golfers probably make up the majority of players on the course. Being in medicine, I field questions from fellow golfers constantly, and marvel at what they are willing to overcome just to get back on the course. I’m no exception to that myself. Overuse injures are a reality now more than ever, chronically misaligned joints, inflammation seems to overwhelm our bodies more than ever before. Just a quick watch of the Sunday morning programs will show you, based on the commercials, that we are all suffering from inflammation in one form or another – especially as we age. Some people are just plain fortunate to have the right genetics and medical history to not be plagued by inflammation. The rest of us have to find our own crooked path to the practice field and golf course. .

  5. Dont over use the NSAIDS. Ibuprofen, Naprosyn. (Motrin and Aleve) your body needs to know and react to inflammation to heal. If someone keeps blocking the body’s natural response, that is not good. Short term these are ok, not for daily use for the rest of your life. Conditioning and training “at speed” are critical to maintaining distance as we get older. Fitness is not just about the upper body, the core and the power muscles of the hips and legs provide the stability and push off needed to reach full potential at increased age.
    44 years as a certified athletic trainer doing rehab and preventive programs for clients and friends.

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