Patrick Cantlay knows better than most the value of rotation – power on the tee matt is delivered by the golf swing, and that requires you to rotate through your core. Ironically, Cantlay’s career-threatening injury came from achieving 55° of rotation from the lower body to the upper body, when most golfers hit 40°.
Doctors told him the spine fracture he suffered in 2013 – as the world’s leading amateur – was “inevitable”. His hopes for a quick return to action were dashed as a drawn-out recovery period of three years played itself out.
Now back to his best, and consistently inside the world’s top 10 golfers, the 2021 FedEx champ can look back on those challenges in a positive light. “They have defined who I am today, and I am cool with that,” he says.
RSNG Are you surprised that people still reference your back injury, even though that was so long ago now?
PATRICK CANTLAY, 2021 FEDEX CHAMP “I think the injury has defined me, and now I am back to playing the best golf of my career, it becomes more acceptable to reference it.
“I am always happy to talk about it because I think, in a way, it might have been the thing that actually saved my career.
“The fact I was forced to sit out for three years and really start again means I wasn’t able to become one of those players who perennially struggles with an injury, which hampers them for years and years without ever actually taking them out of the equation.
“In contrast, my back injury gave me a total ultimatum – find a new way to train, and play, or give up completely, and thankfully I was able to do the former.
“What my injury also taught me was that sometimes standing back and doing less will get you to the end destination quicker, and that was so valuable to me.”
The secret essentially became all about strengthening the areas around my back
RSNG What did that ultimately involve, then?
PATRICK CANTLAY “The key to my back injury was rest, and yet the secret to ensuring I didn’t go back into that dark place essentially became all about strengthening the areas around my back.
“In short, there is only so much you can do when it comes to the lower back because it’s the place where all the rotation will take place. My only option for lessening what was an excessive amount of rotation, was to try to move that rotation into other areas.
“So, for instance, if I could do more in my hips, that would take some of the requirements off the back itself. And in the same way, if I could do a bit more in the mid-back, then again that would keep the lower back in place a bit more and alleviate some of the strain.
“When we worked out there was a way I was going to get back to playing the golf I wanted to play, it felt like a huge weight off my mind.” [ED: scroll to the end of this article for the actual workout Cantlay used to bring new resilience to his lower back and core.]
RSNG Anything else?
PATRICK CANTLAY “Well the other thing I had to try to improve was general posture. This would ensure that in the instances where I was putting perhaps excessive strain through my back, my general postural health was in a better place to cope with the stresses, and while giving me more chance to stay injury-free, would also help ensure a more constant and consistent swing at all times.”
RSNG You talk quite freely about your mental and physical struggles, yet people have often labeled you as an introvert. Would you say that was a fair assessment?
PATRICK CANTLAY “I like to keep myself to myself in times when things are going well. What’s strange is that when there is a problem or an issue, I become the opposite of that person and really find myself wanting to reach out and garner support from wherever I can.
“I think at the heart of it is the fact I’m quite a modest person who doesn’t like to trouble other people too much. Yet if someone I know reached out asking for help I would like to think I would be the first to give it, so in the same way when I am struggling with something I am not afraid to ask for help and support.”
I don’t think any golfer will ever tell you that they have achieved enough
RSNG You say you will never take anything for granted again after the things you have been through both on and off the course?
PATRICK CANTLAY “I think we all go through challenges, and the purpose of some of those challenges is to remind us how valuable the things around us are.
“It is a natural human reaction to become complacent about certain things in life, and when it’s brought into focus that one day those things might not be there – like a career, or people who mean a lot to you – I think it’s good and healthy if we are shocked a little by those things, and we perhaps cherish them slightly more in future.
“I certainly look at life in a way now that respects every day and every opportunity I am given.”
RSNG Do you feel you have achieved enough?
PATRICK CANTLAY “I don’t think any golfer will ever tell you that they have achieved enough – if you ask Tiger if he wants to win more tournaments then I think you can guess the answer that will come.
“In a sporting sense, I am comfortable where I am at the moment, but for as long as I have the potential to win more titles I believe I will always be unfulfilled.
“Away from the course I have ambitions maybe to travel or get into the business world, but the way I see it I have a lot of time to pursue those things, and golf must come first and take priority right now.”
WHAT NEXT? Try the following workout – which saved Patrick Cantlay’s career – for yourself and take the pressure off your lower back, while improving your game…
Patrick Cantlay’s Exercise Regime For A Resilient Lower Back Full-time PGA Tour Strength & Conditioning coach Marnus Marais worked with Patrick Cantlay to build a battery of exercises that improved his rotational biomechanics by mobilizing and strengthening the areas supporting his lower back. Do the following drills to benefit in the same way:
- Self-massage Glutes, Reps: 45 seconds each side.
- Cross Leg Glute Stretch, Reps: 30 seconds each side.
- Prone Glute Stretch, Reps: 30 seconds each side.
- 90 90 Hip Mobility, Reps: 5 each side.
Mid-back (Thoracic Spine) Exercises
- Self-massage Mid and Upper Back, Reps: 1 x 60 seconds
- Upper Back Extension, Reps: 30 seconds
- All Fours Rotation, Reps: 5 reps each side