Genetics and Golf

“It’s easy to build up a tournament into something so huge that you can’t play.” – Curtis Strange, 1988 US Open Champion

How do you reach the balance between readiness and not losing yourself in the moment? Trevor Immelman took a different approach than most. After winning the 2008 Masters Tournament, Immelman admitted he didn’t know he was leading the tournament as he walked to the 18th green to make his final putt. Not to mention, this was all within 4 months of having a tumor removed from his back.

This begs the question, is it better to be in the moment, or removed from it? Mental resilience and adaptability plays a huge role in sports, golf in particular. What some people may not know is that your genetics can be vital in the area of sports psychology, making genetics – and how we use our knowledge of our body’s – a critical component of golf today.

Stress, novelty seeking behaviour, and even how well we maintain focus in high-pressure situations are all influenced by genetic markers. With the correct information this can benefit athletic performance and training.

A marker (rs4680) in the COMT gene, also known as the warrior/strategist gene, may influence a person’s ability to maintain focus and emotional control while under stress. In regards to golf, this may be the difference between laying up on a Par 5, or risk going for the green for a possible eagle putt (à la Tin Cup).

There is also significant physical strain on a golfer’s body which can be avoided with the right knowledge of your genetic makeup.

Lower back, elbow, wrist, and shoulder injuries are common among golfers, professionally and amateur alike. One particular example is the occurrence of elbow injury suffered by golfers. Approximately 24% of amateur golfers, and 4% professional golfers suffer from elbow problems. Strengthening the supinators, pronators and the wrist in flexion and extension, as well as exercises to stretch the extensor flexor muscles in the forearm will reduce risk for reinjury of the lateral epicondyle (Stockard, 2001).

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Approximately 24% of amateur golfers, and 4% professional golfers suffer from elbow problems.

Pain in both amateur and professional golfers is most frequently caused by medial and lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow. This condition is the result of repetitive, forceful extension of the forearm accompanied by a twisting motion, which can be aggravated by excessive gripping of the club. Frequently striking the ground during downswing, or taking large divots puts additional stress on the elbow’s structure and increases medial epicondylitis risk.

Understanding how our genetic markers are associated with tendon injury risk (COL1A1), ligament injury (COL5A1), and inflammation and soreness (IL6) can provide the insights needed to tailor our training to push the limits of our training while mitigating risk of injury, specifically those which are often found among golfers. Variants in the COL1A1 and COL5A1 genes are associated with compromised connective tissue structure and resilience, resulting in a slightly increased risk for injury in those with the unfavourable versions (September et al., 2012). Proactive actions such as stretching, warm-ups, and emphasis on proper swing mechanics will help to avoid injury.

As we have rigorously reviewed before, sleep is another vital factor that plays into an athlete’s performance. Quantity and quality of sleep directly impacts recovery and performance, but for a golfer there are many factors influencing sleep, including stress, that could impact focus and mental performance. Take PGA-pro Jason Day for example, who has said he gets little sleep the night before the last round of a tournament.

Genetic research has revealed to sleep scientists that we don’t all have the same sleep requirements. Your circadian rhythm is tightly controlled by your genes, like the CLOCK gene that plays an important role in regulating the signals critical for a normal circadian rhythm. Variation in this gene is associated with shorter sleep duration and increased insomnia.

Your genetic variants at different markers under the category of sports psychology, when combined with environmental factors, have the potential to unlock your best performances. This means that understanding your genetic variants at markers associated with sleep can help you fine-tune your nightly routine to get the best performance outcomes possible.

An improved knowledge of your innate characteristics coded by your unique genetic sequence empowers you to make personal data-driven decisions based on a one-size-fits-one model. In conjunction with the new Iris monitoring app, making these improvements is now easier than ever.  

References:

September, A. V., Posthumus, M., & Collins, M. (2012). Application of genomics in the prevention, treatment and management of Achilles tendinopathy and anterior cruciate ligament ruptures. Recent Patents on DNA & Gene Sequences, 6(3), 216–223.

Stockard, A. (2001). Elbow injuries in golf. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 101(9), 509-16.

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