Drive Performance for Able-Bodied and Disabled Golfers – Ian Kenny

Golf is an extremely popular sport, played by people of all ages and skill levels across the world (McHardy et al., 2006). According to Farrally et al. (2003) a total of 55 million people played the game of golf on 30,000 golf courses worldwide at the beginning of the 21st century. It is one of the most popular sport and exercise activities in Ireland (Lunn & Kelly, ESRI, 2017). This popularity is not restricted to able-bodied golfers. Golf is also one of the most popular sporting activities among individuals with lower limb amputations (Rogers et al., 2004; Bragaru et al., 2011), and disability golf is becoming increasingly popular in Ireland, evident by the amount of disability golf societies and unions currently available to golfers with special needs. These societies and unions include The Irish Blind Golf Society, The Irish Deaf Golf Union and the Society of One Armed Golfers.

In order to accommodate golfers with disabilities, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA) have produced a modification to the rules of golf for golfers with disabilities (R&A Rules Ltd., 2014). Their document contains advice and modifications to the rules ensuring that golfers of all abilities can play the game of golf equitably. One of the most attractive aspects of golf is that there is no sex, age or skill limit to participation (McHardy et al., 2006). This is in part due to the 1926 golf handicap system that allows for people of all ages, abilities and skill levels to compete against each other. The Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) developed the CONGU handicap system for the United Kingdom and Ireland to ensure that each player’s playing ability is reflected by his or her golf handicap (CONGU, 2012). Unfortunately this system does not take into consideration either the possible unique challenges of playing golf with any form of disability, or the potential effects of a disability on performance.

The body’s upper extremity can be described as a coordinated, multi-articular system with many degrees of freedom where each joint of the arm moves in combined motion in order to produce effective movements and function (Carey et al., 2008). When a person loses an arm or part thereof, a significant amount of function, such as reaching for and manipulating objects are lost (Bouwsema et al., 2010). Even though the use of a prosthetic device restores a great deal of function, it falls short in providing the complex and comprehensive movement of an intact limb, especially with regards to degrees of freedom, sensory feedback and proprioception (Bouwsema et al., 2010). Lower limb amputee golfers may also exhibit significantly altered swing kinetics and kinematics. Lower limb amputee golfers may not have the weight shift control force generation needed to facilitate the acceleration of the hips during the downswing, influencing the kinematic chain and timing of the swing.

Myself and PESS Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology lecturer Dr Mark Campbell were funded by the European Commission EMMAPA to team up with colleagues at Stellenbosch University in South Africa for the first study of its kind to critically examine golf outcome performance for able-bodied and disabled golfers.

What did we do?

  • Twenty-seven able-bodied golfers (handicap average 12.4)
  • 15 disabled golfers (handicap average 18.2, amputees single leg, below and above knee, deaf, visually impaired, polio, Les Autres and arthrogryposis)
  • Hit 10 drives each
  • Drive shot performance recorded by high-speed camera ball launch monitor


What did we find?

  • Able-bodied golfers hit longer drives than disabled golfers (208.1 m Vs 157.6 m carry distance)
  • Able-bodied golfers were less accurate than disabled golfers (22.8 m sideways from fairway centre standard deviation Vs 17.0 m sideways)
  • Ball sidespin and backspin components were lower for disabled golfers, showing more control

Wk 14 IK Figure 2 accuracy graph

What did we learn?

  • Despite the biomechanical and outcome performance differences, the disabled golfers in this study still achieved similar category 3 golf handicaps when compared to their able-bodied peers.
  • These golfers developed effective compensatory strategies to overcome the challenges presented by playing golf with their respective disabilities. Disabled golfers utilised increased ball launch angle at impact to compensate for decreased club head velocity and reduced the ball side spin component to achieve shot accuracy.
  • An adjustment in the golf handicap formula for disabled golfers could be considered by the governing bodies of golf to account for their consistently shorter drives.


What next?

  • This research started in 2012 and is ongoing and part of the planned PGA Golf Academy to be built at UL.
  • Putting and drive shot visual gaze ‘quiet eye’ and movement coordination has been examined for additional physically disabled and able-bodied golfers where we aim to identify some of the mechanisms of high performance playing characteristics.
  • Translating this information to golfers and coaches is key to encourage everyone to play!

Wk 14 IK Figure 3 abstract ii

Wk 14 IK Figure 4 photo

Researchers and golfers in South Africa

For Further Information:

  • Read the journal publication “Drive Performance for Able-Bodied and Disabled Golfers” Here!


Ian Kenny is a Lecturer in Biomechanics here in the PESS Department at the University of Limerick. View Ian’s profile Here!

Ian’s Email:



Tagged with: