Peter Kostis: Adopt a tension-free swing to protect yourself from injury

Peter Kostis: Adopt a tension-free swing to protect yourself from injury

Tiger Woods' explosive coil likely contributed to a back injury that knocked him out of the 2014 Masters.
Carlos M. Saavedra/Sports Illustrated

Tiger Woods missed the Masters this year after having back surgery for a pinched nerve, and that's an injury that I'm sure many recreational golfers can relate to. You're always going to have back issues in golf, because the tension that produces the swing's power puts pressure on that part of your body. However, the explosive swing practiced by some of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour is a dangerous example for everyday golfers who aren't in the same physical condition as professional athletes.

Fundamentally, it's important to figure out how to keep pressure off your lower back in your swing. The reverse-C move of the 1950s and 1960s put tons of pressure on the lower back, and today's modern, explosive golf swing—which creates power by restricting your lower body and coiling your upper body against it—is yet another "pressure cooker" recipe for disaster for that part of the anatomy.

If you want to play well (and play for a long time), copy the swings that have endured throughout golf history. The poster child for a tension-free swing is Sam Snead. Tom Watson also has a swing that was built to last. These two players were able to compete at a high level for so long because their swings were built on timing and technique, not on tension.

There's no valid reason for a recreational golfer—especially one who's a bit overweight or not in great shape—to keep his left heel down on the backswing. Instead of striving for power from your coil, just focus on playing tension-free golf.

How can you learn a tension-free swing? First, go to and watch Snead's swing. He had 45 to 60 degrees of hip turn and 120 degrees of shoulder turn. The Slammer had a very powerful swing, but he didn't resist the movements of his lower body. Instead, he started his downswing by planting his left heel. When the left heel went down, it widened his knees and hips before he started to unwind his shoulders, which is how he got the spring that fueled his power. Not only is it effective, it's a much safer way to play.

Be safe with your workouts as well. If you have a bit of a belly, poor flexibility and limited core strength, then losing weight and getting in shape will be good for your game and will help prevent injury. But excessive conditioning can be a bad thing, too. My son is only 25 but has had two back surgeries; both injuries were caused by workouts and exacerbated by his swing-for-the-fences move. People think their games will improve in proportion to how much they work out, and while that may be true at first, the returns start to diminish as your workout intensity increases—and eventually, you end up hurting your scores and yourself.


Got a swing question for Peter Kostis? Tweet him at @peterjkostis

One of the Twitter questions I get a lot is, "What's the best way to come back to the game after a layoff?" The first step is to check your grip, posture, ball position and alignment. From there, slowly build up your swing. On day one, spend an hour hitting chips and half wedges, slowly building up to full wedges. After that, make 30 full swings with an 8-iron, but don't hit any balls. Repeat on day two, but build up to hitting balls with the 8-iron, then finish with 30 fairway-wood swings. On day three, hit some short and full wedges and short irons. When you get to the longer clubs, start with what I call "full-motion, half-speed" swings, and then finally full swings with your driver.