As the U.S. Open shines a national spotlight on San Diego, a local physician has some tips on how recreational golfers can look more like the professionals hitting the links at Torrey Pines.

Start with checking your balance, said Alvarado Hospital physician and avid golfer Michael O’Leary, MD. Maintaining balance throughout your swing often produces dramatic results.

And how do you know if you’re in balance? "Try holding steady in the follow-through position until your golf ball finally touches the ground,” Dr. O’Leary said. "Interrupting movements, stutter steps and adjustments are clues to the deadly diagnosis of ‘swing imbalance.’”

As a neurotologist, Dr. O’Leary is a board-certified otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat physician) subspecializing in ear and balance disorders. He has studied the importance of balance in golf and has presented his findings to other physicians.

"We have all observed the beautiful, smooth swings, which the pros make appear effortless, but are really the picture of balance and timing,” he said. "They provide a stark contrast to the swings of us 'lesser mortals.'”

As part of his research a couple of years ago, Dr. O’Leary videotaped golfers at a driving range, and found that at least 90% of them were out of balance. The results were immediately obvious to the observer and often quite humorous, yet apparently invisible to the subject.

"Many golfers required extra steps before, during or after their swing to compensate for losing balance,” Dr. O’Leary said. "Imbalance in the golf swing leads to much greater variability in results, usually with a loss of power and control — and in the end great golf is really about being on target with minimal variation.”

Balance is equally important for shorter shots. The videos of golfers around the greens reveal the common tendency to look after the shot before it has fully cleared the wedge. By the time the head has elevated several preparatory movements have already thrown off the shot.

Dr. O’Leary advises golfers to remain "centered” after striking a chip or putt, and instead listen for the sound of the ball striking the green or "plopping” into the cup before looking to check the results. The timeless admonition to "keep your head down” remains applicable.

"Golfers are usually so excited to see what happened that they look up too soon,” he said. "But watch the Tiger. When he putts, nothing moves except his arms and shoulders, often until the ball disappears from sight. Then you see the fist pump. Throughout the swing he stays in total balance.”

Dr. O’Leary recommends three ways golfers can develop better balance:

  • The Flamingo Dance. Stand on one foot. Center yourself, and then lift up the other foot and wiggle it in the air for about a minute without tilting. As you get better at this, you can randomly kick it to the right and left, fore and aft. When your leg gets tired, switch to the other side. Repeat as you become more comfortable. While this may provoke stares in line at the bank, market or airport, you will be surprised how much you improve in the course of a week.
  • Core Exercises. Stand in front of a mirror. Keeping your shoulder height steady, wiggle your waist and hips in a circular grinding motion. Stability radiates from the feet up. The farther out you can move your hips without also moving your shoulders, the more control you will have over your core body..
  • Skip The Golf Cart. Walking the course takes full advantage of the hills and uneven soft ground, which is the ideal environment for balance conditioning. "It’s all about keeping the right perspective and realizing the game is more about life than just hitting a ball with the fewest possible strokes,” Dr. O’Leary said. "If you’re upset about not shooting your age or better, you‘re missing the point.”
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