If you're off to a bad start this golf season, struggling to hit the ball the way you want, it's natural to think the cause is a fault in your swing. "But sometimes the fault isn't the cause, it's a symptom," says Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear. Sometimes poor shots are the result of a physical dysfunction that causes poor swing mechanics. The symptoms: poor contact with the ball even when you're consciously trying to hit it solid; struggling to swing the club through the impact zone without straightening up; and routinely pulling shots left of your target or slicing them right of it—or both. If any of these describe the state of your game, stand with your back to a wall and take these three physical screening tests to see if you lack the muscle function necessary to hit great shots.
TEST NO. 1
Stand with your upper body against a wall and your feet angled about 12 inches from it. Make sure your pelvis is tucked under your torso. Extend one arm so it's perpendicular to the wall, and raise it over your head without bending it. The goal is to touch the wall while maintaining the body's other contact points. Repeat the test with the other arm.
IF YOU FAILED: The inverted triangular-shaped muscle of your upper back, known as the latissimus dorsi or "lat," is too tight. This causes your swing to be short and narrow, resulting in thin and fat shots and/or slices. To improve mobility, lie on your side, leaning back slightly on a foam roller. Roll from hips to armpits for three minutes a few times a week. Also, stretch your upper-back muscles before you play.
TEST NO. 2
Stand against the wall just like you did in Test No. 1 and extend both arms at the same time, pressing the palms together. Raise both arms over your head. The goal is to touch the wall with your two thumbs without arching your lower back or losing any of the contact points created when you began the test.
IF YOU FAILED: The muscles around the thoracic spine (mid-back) aren't functioning properly. This causes a loss of posture and limits your ability to rotate when you swing. Lie on a foam roller, and move it up and down your back. Stop in the middle and let your shoulders gently sink toward the floor while keeping your butt on the ground. Also, strengthen your oblique muscles with exercises like side planks and seated torso rotations.
TEST NO. 3
Stand with the majority of your body—from heels to head—against the wall. Bend one arm 90 degrees, and place the upper portion of the arm against the wall at shoulder height. Now raise the lower portion of the arm, maintaining the 90-degree angle. Your goal is to touch the wall with the back of your hand while keeping the bottom part of your back from arching or pressing into the wall.
IF YOU FAILED: Shoulder mobility is an issue for you, and this likely causes you to hit shots fat, thin or your path into the ball is noticeably out-to-in (slices/pulls). Work on stretching the pectoral muscles (chest) and exercises that improve the external rotation of the shoulder joint. Even repeating this test can improve mobility.