How golf can negatively impact the ankles (is golf a good off-season activity for basketball players?)

Posted on July 13, 2016

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The biggest injury concern for basketball players is the ankle. Specifically the lateral ankle sprain. This:

One of the big offseason training considerations then is getting good at preventing this. We have our common exercises, such as:

The idea of the above is the unstable surface tries to mobilize your ankle, but you try to prevent that. In other words, at least in the side to side direction, we’re trying to make the ankle worse mobility / flexibility / laxity wise. The surface tries to make your ankle mobile while you try to make it stable (stiffer).

We can also use strengthening techniques to help this (stronger things tend to be more stable):

Credit: http://www.coreconcepts.com.sg/article/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/ankle.jpg

Going from inversion on the left to eversion on the right. An alternative would be to go from neutral to eversion. This way we get even more practice avoiding inversion. (Credit: http://www.coreconcepts.com.sg/article/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/ankle.jpg )

These are worthwhile things. The above is more internal stability- it’s us doing it. To help avoid this side to side motion even more we have other modalities too- external stability:

But other activities need to be considered. Like-

steph curry golf full swing

That’s the guy with the most famous ankles in the world- Stephen Curry. Doing his favorite non-basketball activity…which does this to his ankles:

Steph Curry golf swing cropped and full speed GIF

Look at that left leg of his bowing out, with the ankle turning:steph-curry-golf-swing-ankle1
I haven’t found a good close up of his right ankle, but it’s common to do this to the right side as well, albeit without the same velocity, since the left leg is typically getting the brunt of the follow through.

golf swing ankles

Right foot lifts up some, then this transfers over as the left foot starts to lift up, then left foot lifts up even more:

golf-swing-analysis-feet-front-view-ankles-with-lines

In other words, the outside of each ankle constantly gets turned over into the ground some. You can see this yourself. Stand up, with no shoes on look at your feet and ankles as you simulate a golf swing:

right foot turning on back swing golf

Notice the right ankle rolling out:

right foot rocking close up

Back to Curry’s left side; another swing:

And another:

stephen-curry-ankles-golf

The whole reason Curry does this to his ankles:stephen-curry-ankles-close-up

Is so this doesn’t happen:

steph curry turning his left ankle

Yet he’s nearly fully simulating that his entire off-season!curry-side-by-side-ankles-golf-basketball

Some golfers will take this ankle positioning even further:

Andre Iguodola -Steph’s teammate- gets even more turn on his ankle than Curry:

If I’m training a basketball player, sure, I want them working on their hand-eye coordination, their vision, depth perception, I want them relaxing, I want them doing a non-basketball physical activity to vary up the stress on their body, all benefits of golf…but I don’t want them doing that to their ankles on a regular basis.

-> More details on Steph in a minute.

Now this isn’t a given. You can work on swinging with less of this happening.

One way is simply not driving the ball, but doing all the other shots of golf. Driving is when the most velocity happens, which is when the most rotation on those ankles is going to happen. Giving up driving is unlikely though.

Another aspect is just not allowing the ankles to do this. Notice a close up of Minjee Lee‘s feet:

minjee lee feet close up

While she’s unlikely consciously doing this, you see much less rolling of the ankles. Though, if you look closely, you can still see some rocking of both outward. (Notice the big toe (inside of the foot) lifting up on each foot at different phases.)

In fact, Klay Thompson -the Warriors really love golf- keeps his left foot quite flat on his swing.

klay-thompson-feet-during-golf-swing-left-foot

Actually looks like he could have a flat foot.

(From this video.)

You can again see this yourself. Stand up and fix your feet to the floor more as you simulate a swing.

right foot not turning on back swing

Let’s look at a close up comparison. Right foot rocking from earlier followed by the right foot still:

What you’re likely going to notice though is you don’t feel as powerful, because you’ve lessened your range of motion. Said another way, the higher up you can swing, the harder you can swing. Notice the increased range of motion once the ankles are allowed to turn.

Swing, then a pause, then showing the extra range of motion once the ankles are allowed to turn:

extra rotation from ankle roll

extra rotation ankle roll close up

-> Looked at from another point of view: The harder you swing => the more range of motion you get in your back swing => you more you may turn your ankles like this.

If I’m a serious golfer, I worry about this. I want that range of motion and I want that power. If basketball is my priority, I’ll take the lesser swing for the increased ankle stability. Or I need to change my swing.

Another help is turning the feet out some to start. This way there is more room to rotate the body until turning past the foot. (The knee has more room until passing the ankle.)

Not this-

right foot straight swing

But this-

right foot turned out swing GIF resized

Everything has some more room to turn now (though you can still see the ankle wanting to roll over some).

Or instead of relying on rotation, rely on some knee bend. The knee prefers bending over rotating anyways. (Something else we haven’t addressed here- how much twisting of the knees there can be with golf. Knees which are lax in a rotational manner is something else not friendly to basketball (or football).)

extra golf swing rotation from knee bend

Next is rotating on the heel. This seems foreign in golf but is common in another quite similar activity: swinging a baseball bat.

barry bonds swinging animation

Notice Bonds’ front foot fully rotates on the heel, rather than solely turning the ankle. Part of this is he is turning so violently and so much to his right -so much of his body is turning outward- that he has to turn that foot. Otherwise he could very well injure his ankle. Why not get a golf swing something like this?

ankles golf rotating both feet only forward

I’m not a golf junkie, so some known golfer may already be doing this out there. I do know Jason Zuback, a long drive champion who takes swinging hard to a different meaning, does a version of this. (Again, likely because of how hard he’s swinging.)

Jason Zuback swing slow motion animation

He also uses a wider stance.

You can see his ankle starts to turn some, but then he has to rotate the foot due to how hard he’s swinging. We could instead have the immediate intention of rotating the entire foot.

You could even rotate the back foot first:

rotating both feet on swing forward

You can see some twisting of the left knee on the way back. If you really want to get crazy then, you could rotate both feet on the way back in the swing and the way forward.

There is no doubt this, and some of these other ideas, would make for an awkward golf swing initially. But again, this is for someone whose priority is ankle stability. This isn’t necessarily what’s best for the golf score. The point here is there are other ways to swing a club.

-> Again, speaking as a golf outsider, baseball seems to have accepted this with their swings- there is a lot of variety in how players swing. With golf though it seems people are much more trying to accomplish an “ideal” form.

Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodola

Klay’s left ankle has been fine, but he did sprain his right twice in 2015. As we went over, he doesn’t really roll his left ankle during his golf swing. He does this with his right ankle though:

klay-thompson-feet-during-golf-swing-right-foot

In one sprain it looks like he stepped on someone’s foot, which hey, those things happen. (Though a more lax ankle isn’t going to handle it as well as a stiff one!)

In his second sprain, while also landing on someone’s foot, notice though how similar his foot positioning is to his golf swing. That is, ball of foot is planted but heel is in air, then his heel gives way outwardly:

Klay Thompson ankle sprain GIF

klay-thompson-feet-during-golf-swing-right-foot

It could be coincidence, but Klay has been practicing that motion.

Iguodola sprained his left ankle this past season, but that seemed like a pretty freak thing as someone rolled on his leg.

This brings up the important point that we can’t simply say “Golfing will lead to an increased rate of ankle sprains.” What (I think) is fair to say is “Golfing may lead to an increased risk of ankle sprains.”

For example, compared to Curry we’d expect less sprains from Iguodola and Klay as

1) They haven’t been playing golf as long. Steph is well over a decade while Andre started seriously in early 2014Looks like Klay is around a year or so, but I can’t find a definitive date.

2) Nor do they seem to play as much as Curry. (Curry is by far the best golfer too.)

3) Steph is more reliant on his side to side game when it comes to basketball. He defends point guards and does a lot of side to side dribbling compared to Iguodola, who guards bigger guys and is more straight ahead on offense. Out of the three, Steph is much more the shake-n-bake player. He’s stressing his ankles more often in a way more similar to his golf swing than these other guys.

How much one golfs, how they golf, how they play another activity like basketball, are all going to be factors. Each sliding the risk factor up or down. Not to mention what one does with all the other hours of the day too. For instance, I’ve caught Curry sitting like this:

Not how you want notoriously lax ankles to be positioned! Put your arm in tightened position long enough, like a cast, and it gets stiff. Well, put X body part in a stretched position long enough and it gets loose!

In depth on Stephen Curry

First, we should mention the type of sprains Curry predominantly has had. They’re like this one, with him rolling over himself.

steph-curry-ankle-foot-injury-2016-4

His right foot here.

It’s not like he’s always stepping on someone’s foot. (Gut wrenching video if you want to watch a ton of his sprains.) A solid sign of someone with laxity issues.

He’s had issues with both ankles, though more on the right one. He’s been playing golf since high school but didn’t start having ankle issues until the NBA. A few considerations for why that could be-

  1. There is a threshold for everything. Smoke a few days a year and you’ll be fine. Smoke every day for a few years? Few decades?
  2. He didn’t start having issues until he started swinging harder. He has noticeably gotten more muscular since high school. He may not have been swinging hard enough to put his ankles at risk.
  3. He starts playing golf significantly more once in the NBA.

Let’s hone in on 3. In college (and high school) you have class to take up a good deal of your time. It’s tough to go out randomly during the week and play 18 (or 36) holes. As a professional, you don’t have this. My experience playing division I college football and knowing a few guys who played in the NFL, was college dictated your year long schedule more.

-> In college, during the week there was basically never a time when me or my teammates had three or four hours of open time, where we could go do something like play golf. Only on some weekends.

Besides class what I mean by this was you pretty much had to partake in off-season workouts with the team, use the university’s trainer, you had spring ball, your summer was maybe a couple months, and even then it was highly suggested you stay at school to work with the team’s strength coach, where you then often needed a summer job to pay for things. If you stayed in the summer -many schools this was “voluntary”- then you had maybe a single month per year where you didn’t have to report to something. And zero time per year there wasn’t something you were supposed to be following, like winter break workouts. The idea of “So I’m going to train with ‘my guy’ this off-season” doesn’t happen like it does in the pros, where you’re away from supervision for such long periods of time.

In the NBA it’s more like you have give or take four months a year (off-season) to do what you want to do. Like play golf when you’re not doing basketball.

So right away it’s likely Steph started playing more golf as he got to the NBA, and he had a body which could swing harder. For instance, looking at a google search until the end of 2008 (when he was in college), there aren’t really any articles about him playing golf. Even though Steph was a big name at this point, after lighting it up in the NCAA tournament.

So he plays college ball in 2009, is almost fine health wise (though has one mild left ankle sprain), then gets drafted.

The NBA regular season ends around mid-April and training camp starts the last week of September. That’s a damn near a six month off-season if you don’t make the playoffs. Once Steph got to the NBA he likely started playing as much golf as he plays basketball!

So he’s drafted in June, 2009. Right away the off-season isn’t as long as a typical NBA one. Plus, your first year in the league there isn’t going to be as much down time as others as you’re pretty much forced to play summer ball, but it’s likely going to be more than you had in college. And you have more money to hit up what is not a cheap hobby.

He plays his first year in the NBA and is pretty much fine. He has his first professional injury in late May 2010, which he actually wrote about himself, for GQ here. Another left ankle sprain.

He’s so looking forward to playing golf that multiple off days –during the season- he plays it, and in his diary for GQ the editor even says,

“This kid is obsessed with golf. Here, the many times throughout the season he’s brought up his favorite, well, second-favorite game…”

And they make all his golf mentions its own article. Here is how he describes the end of his roookie season,

“I’m planning a golf marathon for the start of the offseason.”

Meaning he’s (unintentionally) planning on getting his ankles good at this motion:

steph-curry-golf-swing-ankle-2

His second year in the league and the ankle issues start really coming on. He sprains his left again in a USA basketball practice in August. He sprains the right in the preseason just hopping into the lane. It gets bad enough in May 2011 he has reconstructive surgery on the right.

The right ankle gets even worse in 2011-2012 season, his third year in the league, where he only plays 26 games. Things are so bad he’s at this point,

“Curry wanted to avoid a second surgery, but he and team’s medical staff came to mutual agreement near the end of the season that a procedure was needed to identify the source of the recurring sprains. He had been told that the two surgically repaired ligaments were fine and that the new problem was most likely the tendon at the bottom of the foot.

But after he had his foot measured and his running stride charted; tried different shoes, braces and tape jobs; and had seen a handful of ankle and foot specialists, he still had no definitive answers.”

Source.

That second ankle surgery was exploratory, and only found some scar tissue, which you expect as the guy just had a surgery the year before and more sprains. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for finding the problem for why your ankle is just giving out on you.

If we’re looking at golf being a factor, we initially might think 2011 -after the first surgery- should be when the ankle issues started subsiding. He had surgery at the beginning of summer, which is going to limit how much he can play golf in the summer.

But what else do we remember about 2011? It was the lockout year. The season didn’t start until Christmas day. Meaning Steph had another two months to play golf! Whatever he lost in golf time he likely gained right back. He’s still playing golf tournaments in late September, 2011. When training camp would usually be starting.

Within two weeks of starting the 2011 season he’s already out with a sprain. He ends up only being able to play about a third of the season, and gets the second surgery on the ankle in late April 2012. This one had him out from basketball activity for 3-4 months, where he himself says he couldn’t even bear weight on the ankle for two months. From the way he describes it, he probably wasn’t playing golf on it for at least another month after that, which would bring us to August at the earliest he plays, with training camp starting six weeks later.

In other words, this is probably the least amount of golf he’s been able to play in years.

He has some mild issues in 2012-2013, but still plays the most minutes he’s ever played, and has his best season to that point.

But then we get to the off-season again, and…they go a month deep into the playoffs! The Warriors are starting to become a better team. Better teams play longer, which means he has less time for golf.

2013-2014 goes even better for him. They make the playoffs again, although they get knocked out a little sooner. Yet Curry is becoming a big enough name at this point you wonder how much of his summer isn’t being taken up by other activities. Watching Kevin Durant’s off-season documentary you see how much stuff he’s doing besides basketball. Camps, commercials, shoes, etc.

2014-2015 goes even better. Steph wins MVP, and the Warriors play until mid-June, winning the championship. Even less golf time.

2015-2016 goes for the best shooting season ever. And another MVP.

He still has some sprains during this time, but none of which were as bad as previous ones.

It seems the less time Stephen Curry has for golf, the better he, and his ankles, perform. Coincidence?

A few people have mentioned I should try and contact Steph / the Warriors about this. I figured why not. I’m on Facebook and going to try and find a few email addresses, but I’m not on Twitter or other social media. If you are, e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, I would really appreciate if you sent this over to them.

Note I’m viewing this as a means to get their thoughts on the matter. Not as a way to criticize someone. (Someone over there may very well have thought of all this already.)

Possible people on Twitter (people I can’t find emails or Facebooks for)-

@StephenCurry30

@AyeshaCurry

@andre

@KlayThompson

@SteveKerr

@acceleratebball (one of his trainers)

@LachlanPenfold (head of the Warriors’ physical performance and sports medicine department)

Thank you.

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