I recently attended a Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Level One seminar in Toronto to help refine my understanding of golfers, the golf swing, and how I can contribute to their swinging better and playing more. It was an exceptional two-day event led by some of the industry leaders in golf performance and fitness — Lance Gill (@LGP_Inc), Jason Glass (@jasonglasslab), and Mark Blackburn (@BlackburnGolf). Rather than write a typical review of the seminar, this will go over some of the content covered in a practical way, so you can see how it can be applied at my clinic to help you — the golfer — and your swing. Be forewarned though, this is a long article — an example of when a self-admitted “golf nerd” gets a chance to write about golf!
First, some background:
What is the Titleist Performance Institute?
The Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) was founded in 2003 as an entity to study how the human body influences the golf swing. They’ve built their business on the principle that there is no one way to swing a golf club, rather there is one efficient way for every golfer to swing a club, and that is dictated by what the golfer can physically do.
The Level 1 TPI Seminar revolves entirely around this concept, and much of its time is dedicated to teaching a physical screen (a battery of quick, easy, physical tests) that helps to determine what a golfer can and cannot do. In order to find the most efficient way to swing for each golfer, having this information is crucial.
It is important to understand, however, that the screening process is not meant to diagnose physical problems — merely identify them. For example, in a seated torso rotation test, the goal is to rotate the upper body 45 degrees in both directions. If you can, you have passed one screen. If you can’t, it’s simply marked that you can’t, and noted as needing further investigation — no diagnoses (ie. “arthritis of the hip”) should be conveyed.
No diagnoses are conveyed because TPI uses a three-level model for golfers to improve — anybody in these three levels could perform the TPI Screen (but not everybody is professionally trained to convey a diagnosis!). No matter who does the screening though, the first goal is identifying any physical limitations, and the second goal is to predict how it will impact the golf swing.
Maybe it’s best to describe how this works more specifically. For example, the three levels of the TPI model are:
- Golf Professional
- Medical Professionals
- Fitness Professionals
- Golf Professionals can use the screen as described above. “Hmm, you can’t rotate very well during your backswing,” and they use this information to modify their instruction to suit that golfer’s particular “style”, and/or refer them on to a medical or fitness professional to start making changes to that limitation. In short, this helps golf pros make effective changes to their patrons, avoiding making recommendations that simply cannot work due to physical limitations.
- Medical Professionals can use the screen as a jumping off point to identify physical limitations, and/or evaluate painful complaints (injuries) that are developed by golfers. “Hmm, you can’t rotate very well during your backswing. Let’s have a closer look at your hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine.” This provides a spring-board (tee-deck?) from which medical professionals can dig deeper into physical issues, get golfers back on the course quicker, and start using their newly gained physical range to improve their game.
- Finally, Fitness Professionals can use the screen to identify physical limitations and start using forms of exercise to open up new physical capacities. “Hmm, you can’t rotate very well during your backswing. Let’s get working on getting more core muscle activation, while working your backswing under tension.” Again, this helps golfers open up new movement possibilities, and increases the efficiency, consistency, and potential in their golf game.
What else is covered?
While the TPI Screen is the object of attention at the seminar, a lot of time is also devoted to learning 12 major swing characteristics/faults in golf swings, and how the screen results can be related to these 12 characteristics. For example, much of second day was spent predicting what the swings of people at the seminar would look like based on the results of their TPI Screen. For example, John Smith failed screens A, B, and C, which suggests John will probably show X, Y, and Z swing characteristics when he golfs.
Still with me?
To make sure you understand how the screening process relates to golfers and their swings, I’m going to hold myself out as an example so you can see how a physical screen correlates with the characteristics of a golf swing. First, we’ll run over my physical screen results, break down what that might indicate, and then look to my swing and see if there’s a correlation present.
As something of an aside though, please note that this type of analysis is largely educational — for you to really understand how simple components of human movement can strongly influence sporting efficiency, you’re going to want to see a step-by-step example like this. However, when you see me professionally, my focus looks much more strongly at “What physical limitations do we have here and how do we make noticeable improvements for you, the golfer?” instead of “What swing faults are present and how do we correct the faults?” Those kind of questions are why we have golf professionals! I’m more than happy to chat about your swing (for several hours, no less), but if you are having serious issues in your golf game — see a golf pro. They are the experts in the field of golf improvement, so I’ll defer to them for swing tips.
Put more simply: I’m the body guy; Not the swing guy.
The TPI Physical Screen
The TPI physical screen consists of 16 different components. Each one tests a different element of athletic function. There is some overlap in the tests, or redundancy, but that is an intentional feature to ensure the results of the testing is accurate. Some components are golf specific movements (it is a golf screen, after all!), but most of them are basic fundamentals of human movements that are needed in a wide variety of sports. If you have an athletic background, you’ve probably heard about “fundamentals” before; if you’re of an academic background, consider these to be movement “competencies”. Regardless of what you call it, we need know if you have the ability to do these basic movements effectively — and that’s what the screen is used to find out.
As promised then: here are my TPI screen results. Don’t worry about the specifics of what each test name is, or what the findings listed after describe. The goal of this article is not to teach you the whats and whys of the TPI screen, but to introduce the link between the screen results and the golf swing as a case study.
The Screen Results:
- Pelvic Tilt — FAILED, Non-smooth Motion, Neutral Tilt, Normal Range
- Pelvic Rotation — Pass, Good Rotation, Good Coordination
- Torso Rotation — Pass, Good Rotation
- Overhead Deep Squat — FAILED, FAILED with Arms Down, No weight shift laterally, Good Ankle Dorsiflexion Bilaterally
- Toe Touch — Pass
- 90/90 — Equal to spine angle standing, Equal to spine angle in golf posture
- Single Leg Balance — 16-20 seconds bilaterally
- LAT Length Test — FAILED, Right arm covers the nose, Left arm between nose and wall
- Lower Quarter Rotation — Backswing FAILED left and right less than 60 degrees, Downswing passed left and right 60 degrees or more
- Seated Trunk Rotation — Greater than 45 degrees bilaterally
- Bridge w/ Leg Extension — FAILED left glute weak, Passed right glute
- Cervical Rotation — Passed bilaterally
- Forearm Rotation — Passed greater than 80* bilaterally
- Wrist Hinge — Normal bilaterally
- Wrist Flexion — Normal bilaterally
- Wrist Extension — Normal bilaterally
- Extra Test: Reach Roll and Lift Test — FAILED, Left arm between ground and ear, Right arm can’t lift off ground
What stands out?
I know that was way too much information listed above! To make things more obvious, here are the TPI screen’s most significant findings :
- Overhead Deep Squat
- Lower Quarter Rotation Test
- Bridge w/ Leg Extension
- Pelvic Tilt
- Reach Roll and Lift, Lat Length Test
These represent the screens I had the most difficulty with — so we should be able to predict what my swing will look like in real-time based on this information. This is possible because we understand which swing characteristics most commonly present when certain physical limitations are found (per research conducted by TPI) and because we follow what basic anatomy demands to be true in human movement. For example, data collected by TPI research indicates that more than 90% of golfers with a failed Overhead Deep Squat test will early extend during the golf swing. That is a strong correlation!
Don’t know what early extend means? That’s ok — let’s break down the significant findings above and see if we can draw some predictions for what my swing will look like:
- As it happens, I did fail the Overhead Deep Squat test, so in my case early extend is highly probable. This means there’s a good chance you’ll see my hips drift towards the ball during the backswing, downswing, or both. This fault is likely compounded by my failure of the Pelvic Tilt Test, which suggests uncontrolled or poorly controlled motion at the pelvis. All in all, you should expect that I will move closer to the ball during the swing.
- Other important outcomes from my TPI screen, like the Lat Length Test and Reach, Roll, and Lift Test, are both measures of shoulder flexion — ie. how well am I able to get my arms overhead? (Clearly, not very well!) Both sides (left and right) did not meet the basic minimums we expect to see in golfers, and the right side was scored particularly miserably on both of these screens. As a result, it’s probably fair to say you should not expect to find me in a classic backswing position where the arms are held high overhead at the top — at least not without using some other compensations to get there.
- For example, things like “loss of posture” or a “reverse spine angle” are compensations that could be expected if I can’t raise my arms overhead. Why? If my arms are physically incapable of reaching above my head, I might lean my body towards the target during the backswing (creating a “reverse spine angle”), giving the false sense that I now have my hands in a proper position. Alternatively, a loss of posture could also occur, where I either stand up and away from the ball or lean down towards the ball during the backswing, again trying to make up for lost range of motion at my shoulders. Either of these swing characteristics may present in an unconscious attempt to compensate for my limited shoulder range of motion.
- Finally, take these findings and couple them with limited hip rotation into the backswing (as noted by the Lower Quarter Rotation Test), and you might expect me to have even more difficulty completing a backswing. Golfers with hip rotation limitations will commonly sway (during the backswing) or slide (during the downswing) the pelvis to make up for a limited ability to rotate the hips.
So… you’re not very good.
I’m sure by now you have a mental picture my swing that must be terrible! With so many physical restrictions highlighted by the TPI Screen, I must not be very good at golf, right?
In reality, I’d wager I’m a better golfer than you think! I don’t carry an official GAO handicap anymore, but the last few years I’ve played to a mid-70s average on courses in the west end of the GTA and Hamilton. I’m no pro — but I’m not terrible, either.
This presents a good time to insert a strong reminder about how the TPI screen works:
- Don’t be alarmed when numerous possible “faults” become apparent. Every golfer is a person, and every person has unique limitations or variations in how they move. Should they aim to be able to perform the minimum movements described by the screens? Sure!… for good physical health. But the number of physical limitations on a screen doesn’t correlate perfectly with golfing ability because…
- You should always keep the basic TPI philosophy in mind:
“We do not believe in one way to swing a club, rather in an infinite number of swing styles. But, we do believe there is one efficient way for every player to swing and it is based on what the player can physically do.”
This principle is critically important to remember at all times because…
- We’re not identifying and fixing your physical limitations so that we can build a perfect swing. We’re doing all this to open up new possibilities in your golf game — to make your swing the most efficient, powerful, and repeatable that it can be. Ask yourself: would you change Jim Furyk’s golf swing? I know I wouldn’t — that’s a multi-million dollar swing! There are many examples of touring professionals who, based on the screening process, have serious physical limitations — and yet they are still highly successful!
Back to the Assessment — Link it to a Swing
One quick note here: this section is the realm of the golf professional — one of whom I am not! TPI Certification provides a cursory understanding of golf swing biomechanics and assessment so that any TPI Certified Professional you talk with about your swing will have the same basic understanding, but as discussed earlier this does not make me an expert! In a professional setting, breaking down your swing and offering specific tips for improved play is moving outside my expertise — you should consult a Golf Professional for that.
Having said that, this is just for a blog posting (not a professional assessment) so let’s go through the process anyways.
A reminder of the things that we predicted might be seen based on the physical screening:
- Limited control of the hips/pelvis (sway/slide/early extension)
- Limited hip rotation during the backswing (same as above)
- Limited shoulder flexion (short backswing/loss of posture)
So if my physical limitations dictate how I swing a golf club, they should be reflected in the videos I’m about to show you.
The two images above should play short videos of my swing from down-the-line and face-on views (they are .gif files). Both videos were recorded on an iPhone 5, using the Hudl Technique app. Higher quality video capture is probably ideal (newer phones are really, really good), but this works for me.
A quick summary of the things we might be looking for in the down-the-line view:
A quick summary of the things we might be looking for in the front-on view:
More detailed information about these can be found on the Titleist Performance Institute website. I won’t detail all of them here because TPI does a great job describing each one individually — just click on the links — and it’s not my area of expertise. I’ll just discuss some of the common things relevant to my swing as we come to them.
Don’t be afraid of lines! Let’s make sense of them:
A posture line is drawn connecting head to hips, hips to knees, and knees to ankles. Ideally, these lines stay connected with the same body parts throughout the swing. You can see in my half-way back picture on the right that my head and body are already moving below my posture line (towards the ball). This is an example of the loss of posture characteristic — but we’ll get to a full analysis in a minute.
Also drawn are a line down my clubshaft at set-up (left image), and a line down the clubshaft at half-way back (right image). The space between these lines is considered the swing “slot”. Theoretically, the club should be delivered in this space during the downswing.
Finally, a single vertical line is drawn at the back of my pelvis. Since the pelvis is elliptical in shape, as it rotates it should never leave this line. For example, as my pelvis turns to the left, my left buttock should stay in contact with this line, and as I turn to the right, my right buttock should stay in contact with this line. If this doesn’t happen — if space appears between my pelvis and this line at any time during the swing — this is a sign of early extension.
Let’s put a few images together then:
Following the pictures from A-E, here are the most obvious swing characteristics noted:
- Loss of Posture. Compare where the posture line passes through the head and hips in Image A, and the through the rest of the pictures. It’s pretty clear that I’ve dropped my torso down, towards the ball, basically from the very start of my backswing — and maintained that dropped position throughout the swing.
- Early Extension. Follow the vertical line at the back of the pelvis throughout the pictures. I stay in contact during the backswing, but as soon as the downswing starts (the red arrow in Image C) my left hip pulls away from the vertical line. It stays like this throughout the swing, and the right hip doesn’t even come close to making contact at any point. That’s a clear, textbook example of early extension — which really shouldn’t be surprising since we mentioned earlier that 90% of people who fail the Overhead Deep Squat test show early extension in their swing (and I failed it in spectacular fashion).
- Over the Top. Slicers everywhere, rejoice! I’m with you. It’s not as dramatic as you’ve probably seen other golfers exhibit at some courses, as I almost stayed within the “slot”, but it is an example of a swing fault nonetheless. Look at the red line in Image C, and you can see how halfway into the downswing my clubshaft is crossing the slot-line. More pronounced examples of this swing path will produce the classic “Banana-ball” shot shape — though in an entirely self-serving move, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that my typical shot-shape is a soft fade (no bananas!).
The Face-On View:
More lines! Fortunately, there are fewer things to pay attention to here.
Three basic things:
- A line drawn up the outside of my trail ankle to the outside of my trail hip. In simple terms, you don’t want to move away from the ball during the backswing. Staying still allows the golfer to load power into the trail side during the backswing and transfer that power during the downswing. If the trail leg or hip moves away from the ball during the backswing, that is a sign of sway.
- A vertical line drawn at the outside edge of my lead ankle represents the general boundary of how far the hips can move forward during the downswing. Again, the lead leg or hip moving past this line towards the target doesn’t allow a golfer to push against anything (like the ground) during the downswing and reduces how much power can be transferred to the ball. This would be a sign of a slide.
- The final line here is simply a hip line, drawn at the level of the hips during setup. It’s more a reference than anything, which can be used to evaluate things like casting the club during the downswing.
Again, let’s put a few images together:
The most obvious things seen here:
- The front and back lines drawn to assess sway and slide actually stay relatively untouched in these pictures. If you remember, the physical screening suggested I might sway or slide to make up for limited hip rotation in the backswing, and some pelvic control issues. Instead, we find that my trail side is very stable during the backswing, and the lead side is pretty good. However, during the downswing, the lead leg does break the plane of the line ever so slightly. So while this is probably far better than we could anticipate it to be given the results of the TPI Screen, in my opinion this still represents a subtle slide characteristic.
- Image H has extra lines and boxes as a quick check on reverse spine angle. This is another possible swing characteristic that presents with limited backswing ability in golfers — if you can’t get the arms overhead, sometimes leaning towards the target makes up that range of motion to complete the backswing. If that were happening, the line drawn to connect the two boxes would point towards the target (to the left) — here, it doesn’t (hooray!).
(It should be noted that 2-D analysis (like this) isn’t the best for assessing reverse spine angle though, as 3-D analysis and motion capture is much better.)
- There are other characteristics you can assess from this view, but they have been skipped over because they aren’t directly related to my swing. For example, things like casting, scooping, early release, hanging back, etc, could all be evaluated from a face-on view. I don’t see any evidence of these at this time — but again, I’m a medical professional — not a golf professional! — and I’m going to defer to the golf professional’s opinion regarding any uncertainty or disagreement in swing analysis.
Put it All Together
Have another look at the full swings again — no lines.
Now another review of what we expected based on the physical screening:
- Limited control of the hips/pelvis (sway/slide/early extension)
- Limited hip rotation during the backswing (same as above)
- Limited shoulder flexion (short backswing/loss of posture)
And now the things we found looking at some pictures:
- Loss of Posture
- Early Extension
- Over the Top
- Short Backswing
- Possible Slide
That’s pretty close, right? And it certainly makes sense that our physical abilities will predict how an athletic move, like swinging a golf club, ends up being executed.
But you didn’t perfectly predict the swing. You predicted sway, slide, and a reverse spine angle.
That’s true, but just having my TPI screen and pictures of my swing doesn’t give you my complete story. I’m an individual too, and while you might expect me to complete a backswing by swaying off the ball or leaning towards the target because I struggle to raise my arms overhead and rotate my hips into the backswing, you’re missing something.
What you don’t have is my unique golf history; the conscious efforts I’ve made over the years that helped create my own unique swing. In this case, I’ve spent literally years working to not sway off the ball during my backswing, and generate enough power from within a shorter-than-most backswing. I’ve always felt (rightly or not) that if I didn’t “move” during the backswing, I made better contact with the golf ball, creating easy power and a consistent ball-flight. As this has been a key fundamental of mine for more than a decade now, I think it probably contributes strongly to why my swing stays short, but without evidence of the swing characteristics like sway, or reverse spine angle. (A quick hat tip is needed here to an old mentor for helping me develop these concepts. Thanks Ted!)
I’m at high risk of straying far from my “Medical Professional” territory if I keep writing more (!), so it’s probably time to pull the chute on this post.
I think you can see the relationship between the TPI screen and the characteristics seen in a live golf swing. That link (the “Body-Swing Connection”) is the heart of what TPI screening provides — identification of physical abilities, and their relationship to the swing itself.
But as noted earlier, I’m the body guy — not the swing guy. If I had just assessed my case in the clinic, next steps would involve a deeper investigation into how the hips move, what kind of motor control I have at the pelvis and glutes, and what the heck is going on with that shoulder function. With specific treatment and exercise interventions, I’m confident you would see improved swing characteristics that could also manifest as bigger drives, better scores, and fewer injuries.
(Although I’m sure four-foot putts would still haunt me, even after all that.)
Dr. Jim Gilliard is a chiropractor in Burlington, ON at Endorphins Health and Wellness Centre— located at 4631 Palladium Way. If you have questions, comments, or wish to book an appointment, please feel free to contact him at your convenience.
Phone: (905) 634 – 6000