A golfer testing out the 3D motion capture station. PHOTO COURTESY OF DR. MACFADDEN

Sandford Health Foundation investigates the science of golf

Golfers of all ages experienced stations designed to increase body awareness
“We like sharing our passions so as we do this work with kids, we’re introducing them to new career opportunities,” -Dr. Lisa MacFadden

The Sanford Sports Science Institute (SSSI), under parent organization Sanford Health Foundation, conducted its first fundraiser for research, testing and education outreach for athletes of all ages. “We are a nonprofit and we fundraise for all of the initiatives within Sanford Health,” Megan Kjose, development officer, explained. Members of Spanish Peaks and Moonlight Basin participated in this inaugural fundraising event, paying $1000 per person to be involved. All proceeds go towards continuing the sports science programs and providing free clinics for youth with the goal of making sports science information accessible to all, including young athletes in smaller communities.

Dr. Lisa MacFadden is part of the Sanford Orthopedics and Sports Medicine department at Sanford Health and has her PhD in biomedical engineering. She has been in and around the Big Sky area for 20 years, going with her family on ski vacations when she was younger, which led to the family buying houses in Moonlight Basin. MacFadden now co-owns a house in Moonlight with her parents and feels strong connection to the community.

Athletes going through this program can be high school aged to 80 years old. MacFadden described four different stations provided that addressed different areas of golf technique, making golfers more aware of what their body does in different situations.

 One station includes 3D motion capture, which uses the same technology as video games and movies. Motion capture quantifies golf swing and looks at the swing’s characteristics. Ground reaction forces show how the body and the club interact with the ground. Golfers went through a movement assessment station and were given tools to help understand what their bodies needed to best perform. The putting station utilizes a headband that reads brainwaves and captures how the brain responds to actions the body executes. This station also includes a pressure mat, aiding in keeping the golfers’ lower body steady and using the torso primarily to trigger the swing. A ball launch monitor shows the consistency of club movement. “Why guess when you can measure?” MacFadden asked.

Eight high school juniors from Bozeman, Big Sky, Ennis and Manhattan attended the sports science clinic on Monday. They were taught how to warm up, reduce injury and prepare their bodies for their golf game. Misinformation about athleticism and sport was touched on as well. MacFadden wanted to instill the knowledge of how to fuel one’s body for sport in a healthy way, rather than jumping to the newest meal replacement shake or pre-work out beverage.

Away from the golf technique component, McFadden and the team at SSSI were trying to promote math and science to students in a relevant and tangible way. “We’ve really found that sports are a great way to bring science to kids and have them kind of realize that there’s a lot of opportunities that align with their passions and sports, and their curiosity in math or their curiosity in science,” MacFadden emphasized. “We like sharing our passions so as we do this work with kids, we’re introducing them to new career opportunities,” she continued.

MacFadden explained a lot of the students from Monday had no idea careers in sports science or education existed. Making anything learned in school relevant to those studying is of the upmost importance. Not much enthusiasm will be gleaned for the physics of launching a “projectile,” but if that projectile turns into a golf ball, students with golf experience latch onto that and it makes the physics more meaningful. Experiential learning is pivotal to retention.

More mature athletes and club members were a part of the fundraiser clinic, and were taught more about improving their movement quality. “Basically it’s pre-PT (physical therapy). Some people call it ‘pre-hab.’ We’re really looking at reducing that risk of injury, maintaining our body. It’s about recovering properly. It’s about moving properly. It’s about making sure that we understand the limitations of our body and giving us tools that can help us not have those limitations,” MacFadden stated.

Injuries are specific to the golfer’s age and ability level. “A lot of people experience upper back tightness after golf. Low back pain is also common,” Jennifer Dalland noted, specialist at the movement assessment station of the program. Stiffness, more than pain, is the culprit tackled. Golfers experiencing stiffness have more difficulty moving with ease and may not perform as well as they know they could. Dalland helped cater exercise programs to these people to alleviate this stiffness and improve mobility. Students regardless of age underestimate the benefits of a warmup, but also may not have a clear idea of what to do or where to start. 

“I’ve been putting everyone through 3D maps and it’s just working the entire body. You’re activating all the muscles through different dynamic exercises. It’s important to always do dynamic exercises where you’re continuously moving versus a constant, static stretch so we work all the planes of the body,” Dalland said.

After going through the entire program, golfers walk away with a dynamic warmup they are familiar with and exercises to do, specific to their own bodies. Dalland referenced the Titleist Performance Institute, which identifies any mobility restrictions in athletes, and she talked golfers through the findings.

“The most important thing I emphasize to everyone is that it is really important to be able to also work with a golf professional at the same time, so as we improve mobility you’re working with a golf professional who is watching you and making sure your swing is correct as you’re going through all this as well,” Dalland reminded. 

Increased mobility may lead to extra flexibility in an athlete’s swing they may not be used to. A golf professional can help maintain the integrity of the golf technique while the athlete adjusts to new freedom.

MacFadden described the stations SSSI offered as, “over the top.” Not every sports education program will provide or have access to this same technology. However, as well as being, “nice to have,” these implements allow athletes extra aid in injury prevention. MacFadden wants these aids to be fundamental to golfers, especially in rural communities where the accessibility may not be as great, so they can continue to use the skills and technology to improve their overall athleticism.  

“The more that we can do to really make sure these athletes are safe and to make sure they have access to this, because it’s not free, but if we can make it free to them through the generosity of others, then we can reach a lot of athletes and we can really make an impact,” MacFadden said. She hopes rural athletes can use this knowledge to prolong their career and help them as they continue down the holes. 

Still interested? Email Lisa MacFadden for more information at lisa.macfadden@sanfordhealth.org

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