With golf season just getting under way, the last thing you'll want to do is miss any real time from the sport while recovering from a fracture. Unfortunately, a small bone at the base of your pinky finger could do just that if you're not careful with how you swing, and how you train.
The hook of hamate, part of your hand's skeletal structure, absorbs a lot of punishment every time your club strikes the ground. It also is compressed as you attempt to stop the club. The most common injury for golfers is a hairline fracture and, here's the bad part, recovery can take a couple of months off your valuable golf season. Just ask the PGA Tour's Ryan Moore who hurt it early in his career. Even worse, these breaks are often so tiny, X-rays don't detect them. Not trying to scare you here, but if you feel acute pain at the base of your hand or find it difficult to grip a club normally, or even feel numbness, damage to this bone might be the reason. It can also manifest in damage to the ulnar nerve, which is connected to the pinky adjacent to this bone. The ulnar nerve provides valuable sensory information in the last two fingers of the hand as well as the palm on that side. In short, you'll either feel pain or lose some proprioception.
So what can you do to protect it? First, understand that you can take all the necessary precautions and still fracture this bone. The danger is inherent if you play golf. With that said here are some tips:
On the course
Lighten your grip: It's nearly impossible to not squeeze when you swing a club through impact. But you can do your best to squeeze less than you do now. This will allow some impact absorption to occur up through the arm instead of entirely in the hands.
Grip down: Often injuries occur to the hamate because the butt end of the club slams into it during the swing. If you grip down, the butt end won't give the hamate a direct blow.
Shallow your attack: Taking big divots might look cool, but a thin slice indicates you shallowed your angle of attack and put less stress on your hands through impact.
Finish the swing: Hitting knockdowns is great for control, but if you stop your swing short, you also put more stress on the hands. Let the club's momentum dissipate on its own after impact.
In the gym
Squeeze a ball: Tennis balls, rubber balls, anything where you can work on grip strength. Stronger muscles in the hands will allow you to absorb more shock when you swing a club.
Strengthen the forearms: The hamate bone can damage the ulnar nerve, which runs all the way up the arm. This nerve can provide a jolting pain, like an electrical shock. Strengthening the forearms helps reduce stress on the spots where this nerve is unprotected. Dumbbell forearm rotations, and exercises that move the wrists through all ranges of motion will help.
Don't forget the shoulders. The muscles around the sockets, and also the shoulder blades, play a key role in stopping a golf club safely, absorbing shock, and providing stability to the way the arms swing. Exercises such as rows, lat pulls and push-ups are important.