Lady Golfer columnist Mickey Walker on golfing injuries
I can vividly remember how excited I was as a shy 21-year-old in the mid 1970s to be off on an adventure to America in order to prepare to attend the LPGA Qualifying School. America was the only country then which had an established professional tour for women, and I turned professional under the management of Mark McCormack’s International Management Group, specifically with going to the United States in mind.
Nowadays, the world is a much different place. By the time Lydia Ko reaches 21 she will have played professionally for five years. It does seem that the girls who turn professional really do start swinging a club almost as soon as they take their first steps, whereas I only took up the game aged 15, and when I turned professional aged 20, was considered to be a baby!
I can’t recall anyone who did specific exercises to keep fit, or help prevent themselves getting injured, I know that I certainly didn’t! Another thing that I remember about my early years on Tour was the number of my fellow pros who often seemed to be nursing injuries. I can recall thinking how unfit they must be, and how on earth could playing a lot of golf produce such problems, which were mainly confined to backs, wrists, elbows, knees, necks and shoulders. Little did I realise then that it wouldn’t be too long before I joined them, although I think that I got off relatively lightly throughout my playing career suffering occasionally with right hip pain and the odd stiff neck.
I can’t recall anyone who did specific exercises to keep fit, or help prevent themselves getting injured, I know that I certainly didn’t! Most of us were fit to play golf, but not much more.
Annika Sorenstam was the first player who I recall who worked extremely hard on getting stronger and fitter – she employed her own trainer, Ky Fuser, and regularly worked out. So much so that her appearance became noticeably different as she developed certain groups of muscles.
Annika, rather like Tiger, changed the way that she applied herself to being the best player she could possibly be, and in doing so left no stone unturned in her efforts to achieve that. As a consequence many players followed her example.
Since becoming the head professional at The Warren GC in Essex in 1986 and retiring from playing professional golf in the early 90s, I gradually became less fit. At some point around the mid 2000s I became aware of catching my right foot occasionally and my balance becoming less stable. With my ‘foot drop’ and balance deteriorating I soon was only able to play golf if I had access to use a buggy. With my balance also deteriorating, I soon became unable to play on courses that weren’t flat.
Earlier this year I was sent for an MRI scan of my lumbar spine, which revealed a catalogue of problems caused by acute scoliosis, which in turn is putting extreme pressure on several discs, hence the trapped neural pathways to my sciatic nerve in my right hip, lower back and right foot. It would seem that I have probably had scoliosis since I was a child but, until the scan, it hasn’t been discovered.
I have now made contact with a highly regarded neurosurgeon who will operate on my lower back to perform a two-level fusion which will alleviate the pain in my hips and lower back, as well as stabilise my lumbar spine. He has warned me that post operation I will have to work very hard as I have avoided using those muscles for some time. Yes, it has been really frustrating not to be able to walk any distance or without the use of a stick, and to have to stop playing golf because of my physical disability.
Although I have no desire to get back to playing tournament golf, I am looking forward to getting back on the course, playing some fiercely competitive matches and being able to play when we go on holidays. So, in a strange way, I am looking forward to having my operation in November and starting the process of getting stronger and fitter. You’ll know how I’ll be spending my time this winter!