Sederquist’s swing receives Steadman’s services |

Sederquist’s swing receives Steadman’s services

SPRI Golf Sports Medicine Program can get you ready for the season

Director of the Golf Sports Medicine Program at The Steadman Clinic Steve Atherton gives instruction to Ryan Sederquist during a lesson.
Marisa Selvy/Courtesy photo

Famed sports columnist Grantland Rice, a closet golf pro who started many of his nationally syndicated columns with poetry, would have loved writing this story.

But he wouldn’t have benefited from it as much as yours truly. Equipped with a handicap north of the last two Presidents’ combined ages and straddled with a swing as deplorable (and about as repairable) as the worst aspects of both administrations, I walked into the Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI) Golf Sports Medicine Program with golf pro Steve Atherton keen to see how he’d approach my mess.

“So, what’s your golf experience?” asked Marisa Selvy, a fellow budding golf enthusiast and student of Atherton.

I almost replied, “Watching the Masters with my grandpa every Easter.” Standing in the state-of-the-art, golf-specific performance lab, however, I figured I needed to at least attempt to align my childhood closer to Bobby Jones’.

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I answered, “Well, there was this par-three course my cousin and I played during the summer,” deftly leaving out the part about us feeling proud anytime we broke 45 for nine holes. My standard golf attire — Swix ski tights, running shoes, and a University of Maine Nordic ski team dry-fit — betrayed my true athletic commitments. Atherton would have his hands full.

First, we toured the lab. As each vaunted feature was presented, it felt like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to this former exercise physiology student turned reporter.

Research assistants apply wearable sensors to a participant in SPRI’s golf sports medicine program.
Lynda Sampson/Courtesy photo

The former vice president of GOLFTEC, Atherton has used every tool of technology to analyze golf swings in his 22-year teaching career. “I was using measurement tools that nobody was using then,” he said of the common practice a decade ago of applying a measly two or three shoulder sensors.

The SPRI Biomotion lab utilizes advanced technology to measure joint function while the body is in motion.
SPRI/Courtesy photo

Walking me over to the fancy toys currently at his disposal, he proclaimed, “Now, this thing takes it to a whole new level.”

Including golf as the component in the performance lab was Dr. Philippon and CEO of SPRI and The Steadman Clinic Dan Drawbaugh’s idea.

“Dr. Philippon initiated a golf sports medicine program in Pittsburgh when we worked together years ago,” Drawbaugh said in a November press release. “When we considered this new program at SPRI, we looked into simulator technology to blend the idea of a sport-specific golf program with our world-class advanced imaging and biomechanics research in our Biomotion Lab.”

A primary goal is helping people get back to playing golf post-injury.

“Foot, knee, shoulder, hip — they’ll come here and I can help them adapt their swing to the new part or piece or correction that they have in their body and help them get back on the course sooner,” said Atherton. “We watch how the swing works and say, ‘well this thing your doing is putting a lot of stress on your back,’ or that sort of thing.”

Time constraints prevented me from getting decked out in reflective markers so the Qualisys motion-capturing system could do its thing, but Atherton kindly showed me data from athletes who had. The combination of biomechanic, physiological and swing-related information was overwhelming. Forces expressed in the feet, hands and club across time are at his fingertips. Atherton balances the raw kinematic and biomechanic data with his undetectable sixth sense — derived from decades spent in the game — synthesizing everything to provide diagnoses for how potential weaknesses, immobility or prior injuries manifest themselves in the golf swing.

“Those kind of things, we can quantify,” he said.

The SPRI Golf Sports Medicine Program utilizes state-of-the-art golf simulator technology alongside the cutting-edge advanced imaging technology within the Biomotion lab.
SPRI/Courtesy photo

The performance lab currently houses three ongoing peer-reviewed research projects aimed at how particular injuries can impact the complex intricacies inherent to the golf swing.

“We want to understand the swing better so that when someone has a shoulder repair and they’re 60-years-old, (we learn) what the outcomes are when it is a reverse total shoulder versus an anatomical shoulder replacement or a rotator cuff versus a reverse total shoulder,” Atherton explained.

“We’ll know changes in the swing; we’ll know what to expect from different age levels. We’re trying to not only do performance enhancement but studies to learn more about the swing and fixes that the doctors upstairs help people with,” he added.

“We can know what to expect from the swing after a knee replacement, for example.”

It’s a place for healthy individuals looking to take their game to the next level, too.

“We’ve got all the tools here to help you get better — more technology than any place in the country,” he stated.

Recently, a top-20 PGA player ran through the SPRI gamut.

“When you’re playing really well, come in and gather data,” Atherton advised.

“I want to get video of it, I want to get motion capture, I want to know what your weight does. Because the more tools you have to understand what you’re doing when you’re working well — golf is a fickle game — when things go a little off and you’re like, ‘I can’t quite get it,’ we will know exactly what it is,” he added.

“It’s a really good thing for them to do to get their baseline when they’re hitting really well.”

By combining the research of ‘pros’ with data points from ‘Joes,’ Atherton can help both populations.

“Now it’s like, ‘let’s measure what you’re doing and let’s analyze with these studies how other people who are good at your age with your injury move,’” he said.

“Let’s get closer to what they’re doing or let’s make a movement that doesn’t hurt you.”

Dynamic Stereo X-Ray system offers more than 120 stereo X-rays per second, capturing joints in motion.
SPRI/Courtesy photo

One of the tools that provided the most ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ was Director of Biomedical Engineering Dr. Scott Tashman’s Dynamic Stereo X-Ray system. Capable of shooting more than 120 stereo X-rays per second, it allows physicians and researchers to watch a 3D view of a joint during sports movements such as running, jumping or a golf swing. “Yeah, it’s pretty wild,” Atherton praised.

Dr. Scott Tashman and Steve Atherton review a participates golf motion.
SPRI/Courtesy photo

“We designed the SPRI Biomotion lab and our Dynamic Stereo X-Ray (DSX) system to see what others cannot,” Dr. Tashman said in a written statement.

“What is happening inside of our joints during sports activities, what movements put joints at risk for injury, how injury affects performance and joint health and what the most effective treatments are for getting people back to sports.”

He considers the lab in Vail — the sixth he has built — to be “by far the most advanced.”

“The opportunity to use this equipment in collaboration with some of the best orthopaedic surgeons and regenerative medicine scientists in the world is what really makes the SPRI lab special,” he stated.

“The addition of the Golf Sports Medicine Program and Steve’s expertise to the lab has been differentiating, as we believe we can really help people keep playing a sport they love to the best of their ability level.”

Lesson time

Ryan Sederquist tests out the golf simulator in the SPRI Biomotion Laboratory.
Marisa Selvy/Courtesy photo

I could only delay the inevitable by inquiring about the fascinating research-related apparatuses for so long. Eventually, I was handed a pitching wedge and told to stroke a few shots on the simulator, capable of sending me to Pebble Beach or Augusta National if I so choose.

“We’re airborne and forward,” Atherton said as I hit my first ball. Yes, at least we have those two things, I thought … for now.

“When you have played golf, Ryan, do you notice any common things that happen a lot?” he asked. I quickly discovered this experience wouldn’t adhere to a rigid agenda, but would be a personalized, patient-driven endeavor.

“I don’t get any loft,” I succinctly replied. Noticing the simulator’s lack of a “cuss correction feature,” I conveniently left out a few other regular occurrences, such as my penchant for chucking clubs into the woods or holding up parties waiting to tee off as I struggle adding triple-digit numbers.

“The club speed and ball speed being the same is a bit of an issue,” he politely observed as he deftly scoured the dozens of statistics lining the floor-to-ceiling screen.

Director of the Golf Sports Medicine Program at The Steadman Clinic Steve Atherton gives Ryan Sederquist a lesson in the SPRI lab.
Marisa Selvy/Courtesy photo

After gathering my natural swing data, the master went to work.

“How I tend to use this stuff is, as you’re hitting, I’m watching what you’re doing, and I look at this information,” he said, walking up to the simulator.

“The right side is showing what the club is doing, and this (left side) is what the ball did. In your case, there are probably two data points that need a little bit of work.”

Relieved at the small diagnoses, I almost made the fatal error of registering for the Grand Am when he kindly pointed me to the figure indicating my angle of attack — whether I hit down or up on the ball – as well as the direction of my club face, which was closed three degrees.

Essentially, I was chopping at the ball to the left.

With a precision belying his decades-worth pedagogical knowledge of the game, Atherton gently and effectively scaffolded my swing to a new place in about five minutes.

SPRI Golf pro Steve Atherton demonstrates a drill to correct my swing.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

We corrected my grip, fixed my knee angles, and drilled my motion to follow a proper plane which was led by my hips instead of … well, whatever clueless gut-intuition had been leading it before.

In seconds, he produced a video file of my swing next to PGA Tour athlete Tommy Fleetwood. Replacing Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt from Mr. and Mrs. Smith with some random couple named Mr. and Mrs. Smith is about what it felt like when the gathered spectators watched Fleetwood followed by Sederquist. Amazingly, as the session neared its close, my tangible improvements had closed the gap. My improved set-up increased my club speed, corrected my launch angle and purified my left-arcing hook.

“Wow!” I exclaimed looking at the third video showing my improved form. “Maybe there is hope after all.”

Getting ready for spring

In a ski community where hearty go-getters walk right from the final “aprés” to the links and expect results (and no injuries), the SPRI program is a prudent choice for those looking to holistically approach the 2022 golf season or are coming off of an injury or surgery. Participants can choose one or two-hour sessions employing the unique capabilities of the SPRI’s Biomotion lab, launch monitor and simulator.

“There is nowhere you can get this level of expertise and technology. Nobody else is doing this to get people back to playing golf,” Atherton declared.

In a community full of active athletes, the local value is obvious.

“You’ve got a lot of 60-70 year-old people who are very active, are wearing out joints, they still want to ski; they wipe out a knee and they’re like, ‘look, I play golf three days a week. Get me back out there,’” Atherton reiterated.

Under Atherton’s guidance, participants utilize force plates, video analysis, and Foresight’s GC Quad Launch Monitor and simulator system to either lay baseline data or diagnose possible health issues which manifest themselves in particular kinematic data sets.

“So, you use stuff like this to analyze the movement, make changes, quantify what’s working better, and set baselines when it’s working well so they can get back to it when it’s not working well,” he summarized.

Atherton works in tandem with Steadman’s other professionals to provide athletes with exercises and drills to strengthen weak points or correct form errors.

“In that regard, my business is very much like PT,” he said.

“Here’s what’s wrong, here’s what we measured, here’s what we need you to be doing to make it better.”

Like I did, participants receive coaching videos from the lesson in their email inbox.

“They can pull them up on their phone when they’re on the range and go, ‘what did he tell me?’ And they just play the videos and it’s right there in front of them and they can work on it right there.”

Those looking to go a step further can choose the golf instruction plus motion analysis, where the lab’s integrated Qualisys system provides “unmatched movement analyses” through the use of reflective markers placed throughout the body. While you appear to be helping EA Sports develop the next Madden, the 20 infrared cameras placed throughout the lab are actually capturing the most detailed biomechanical swing profile possible.

For those looking to commit a full day’s worth of analysis, the Golf Performance Assessment (GPA) offers an immersive morning session with Atherton followed by an afternoon appointment with Titleist Performance Institute-Certified (TPI-C) experts at Howard Head Sports Medicine. There, TPI-C physical therapists work in an injury-preventative method to improve speed, strength, balance and movement.

“The combination of the most advanced golf performance technology and coaching with unmatched physical assessment provides GPA clients with the most accurate and comprehensive analysis of their golf game possible,” reads the SPRI homepage.

Participants receive coaching videos from the lesson in their email inbox so they can replay key tips and drills when they’re on the range.
Ryan Sederquist/Vail Daily

The back nine

Each summer, I venture back north to play a round of nine-holes with my dad and two brothers. It’s our “Masters.” Just to scare my familial competition, I forwarded a clip of Atherton walking through the side-by-side video of me and Fleetwood. As I watched lines and angles get posted to the screen and listened to the golf pro’s soothing instruction, I was assured of at least one fundamental truth hearkening back to that opening verse: There are ways to take at least five shots off of my next round.


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