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Striking the Right
Striking the Right


UPDATE: In 2012, Body Balance for Performance became FitGolf

Better golf, and more of it. That's what Body Balance for Performance, a golf-fitness program with facilities in Chicago, Highland Park and Oak Brook, offers its clients. Are physical factors precluding you from achieving your potential on the course? If so, Body Balance may be the answer.

Any golf offering that claims "to reduce a handicap by four-five strokes in five months" catches my attention. It also makes me instantly skeptical. Club and ball manufacturers, as well as a few teaching pros, have made variations on that claim for years and years. Few get the results. Seeing promotional literature for Body Balance for Performance making the same claim gave me pause.

"We call ourselves 'the missing ingredient,'" says Betsy Voyles, national instructor for Body Balance for Performance. "The equipment and ball manufacturers aren't swinging the club." In fact, those who enroll in Voyles' program are.

I remained skeptical until spotting Bill Shean, the former U.S. and British Senior Amateur champion, in workout gear when I visited Body Balance's Chicago headquarters (...), Shean, who is on the mend from back surgery, assured me without any prompting that Voyles "knows her stuff." That was good enough for me.

Clients of Body Balance for Performance range in age from six to 85 and span all ability levels, from beginners to tournament players. Here, Betsy Voyles works with junior golfer De'meco Deanes (Top). At Body Balance, video analysis focuses on physiological factors contributing to the golf swing, not the
swing itself. Voyles reviews findings with client Ray Deanes.


"Unfortunately, we didn't see him [Shean] until after he had his surgery," Voyles remarks. She believes Shean's health problems could have been prevented with an earlier introduction to Body Balance. "Our goal is to get to people before they come for injury [treatment]," Voyles explains. "Usually they come to us too late. Anything that prevents injury improves your performance."

Body Balance's founder is Dr. Paul Callaway, the first director of physical therapy for the PGA Tour. He has established about 60 locations nationwide, three of which are in the Chicago area. In addition to the program at the Illinois Golf Academy, Body Balance is available at Green To Tee Dome, on Route 41 north of Park Avenue in Highland Park, and at 2625 Butterfield Road in Oak Brook.

As for Voyles, in 1993 she developed Back in the Swing, a golf-injury prevention and wellness program that was recognized by such diverse publications as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, the Washington Post and Better Homes & Gardens. Voyles was one of Callaway's first instructors and conducted lectures on the program from 1996 until 2001, when she opted to cut back on her travel.

Before you learn what Body Balance is, you should know what it's not. "We're not golf instructors," Voyles, who works in partnership with Chris Kendall, quickly points out. "We know a lot about the swing, but we're not into teaching. Golf professionals are experts in what they do, and we're experts in what we do."

What Voyles and Kendall do is get prospective pupils physically ready for golf professionals. "A golf pro looks at what they [students] are doing. We're looking at why they're doing it," Voyles explains. "We're here to make a golf pro's job easier. We'll allow them to teach the swing without dealing with compensations."

"Compensations" are what golf teaching pros must deal with when they see the physical limitations of their pupils during lessons. Body Balance tries to eliminate those physical limitations, making the lessons far more productive.

"Every physical restriction has a swing fault directly related to it," Voyles relates. "Of the two main [physical restrictions] I see with men, one is the inability to turn the hip in. That leads to swaying, the reverse pivot and straightening of the knee. The second most common [restriction] is the inability to turn or rotate the shoulders through the ball. That creates elbow breakdown and lateral sway."

Those swing flaws, of course, aren't uncommon. Voyles had her own physical restrictions after first playing tournament racquetball, then high school golf. "I ruptured two discs by the time I was 20," she recounts. "My mechanics were atrocious. I was told by two doctors that I'd never play golf again."

She analyzed her own physical shortcomings while working toward bachelor's and master's degrees in physical therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine. From 1990 to 1999, she was a senior physical therapist at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch. "While I was at school I realized golf didn't have to hurt," she says. Now, while still a double-digit handicapper, she is able to play plenty of rounds when she's not maintaining office hours.

Voyles' golfing patients range in age from six to 85 and span all ability levels, from beginners to tournament players. The Body Balance program starts with a two-hour evaluation covering all body parts from head to toe for flexibility and strength. It's all done with a hands-on approach. No machines are used in conducting the full orthopedic physical assessment. After the results are in, a comprehensive program is devised to correct any shortcomings.

betsy voyles

(Top) Body Balance's Betsy Voyles notes, "We're not golf instructors. We know a lot about the swing, but we're not into teaching...We're here to make a golf pro's job easier. We'll allow them to teach the swing without dealing with compensations." (Below) Voyles maintains detailed records on each client. betsy voyles

"Everything is totally customized," Voyles relates. "Some people need two to three sessions. Some see me every week. When they come in, I don't want them to do exercises. We teach them what exercises to do, and they do them at home. When they come in, we check to see if they're doing them and will upgrade their exercise programs as needed. While they're in
with us, most need hip stretching, shoulder work and spinal joint work."

That comes through hands-on physical therapy. It can include video analysis (but not swing analysis, which is saved for the teaching pros), health club visits during which exercise programs on available equipment are prescribed, and even consultations on nutrition. The initial two-hour evaluation costs $250. After that, it's $160 per one-hour session for adults and $120 for juniors. The fee is reduced to $135 an hour for adults who sign up for 10 sessions.

Group sessions have been offered, but they haven't been well-received -- especially among the juniors. Five or six of Voyles' young pupils are on college golf scholarships and prefer the one-on-one work in an effort to get the competitive edge. During sessions, Voyles teaches such things as posture, balance, injury prevention and stretching at the first tee.

It apparently works, for both golfers and those who teach them. One of Body Balance's prize pupils is Nicole Jeray, a former Illinois Women's Open champion who returned to the LPGA Tour this season. She is sponsored on the circuit by Body Balance, the program's logo emblazoned on her golf bag.

"I had always thought my fitness routine was sufficient," Jeray recalls. "I may have been doing a few good exercises, but doing them properly was a different story. Now that I'm doing these correctly, they specifically target my weak and tight muscles. I am stronger and more flexible in the areas I need to be, making it easier to make the proper golf swing."

John Esposito, just one of the Chicago teaching pros using the program, also finds it most helpful. "By teaching the principles I learned in the program, I've been able to help my students get their spines in order and gain back their alignment and balance," Esposito enthuses. "The result is a better swing, more balanced ball contact, and more directed ball strike and greater hitting distance, without question. I often refer the program for those students who are interested in or require more intense training in body mechanics or [golf-specific] exercises."

From the medical side, the program also works, according to Dr. Leonard Cerullo, medical director of the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch. He is also chief of neuro-surgery at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital. "Our patients have been uniformly enthusiastic," Cerullo says. "I don't know of any golfer who doesn't want to golf more, and I don't know of any golfer who doesn't want to do better. And particularly for those golfers who have a spine problem, whether it be their neck or their lower back, the golf clinic has proven to be nothing short of miraculous. Participants not only find that they're able to golf better, but they're able to golf more because their game is not associated with painful repercussions."