In this week’s Limerick Leader golf column, Ivan Morris visits a Limerickman in Belfast to try and revive his golf game.
Growing up as a keen young sportsman in Kilmallock, County Limerick, Leo Neenan was a more than competent hurler with Sexton Street CBS, Kilmallock and the Limerick minors before he took up soccer with distinction at Wembley Rovers, where he spent three enjoyable years with a great guy called Jimmy Collins was in charge.
From firsthand experience, Neenan knows what it takes to compete at a high level. He had brief stabs in the League of Ireland with Limerick and Waterford. An IT graduate who became bored by his desk job, Leo studied Biomechanics so he could fulfill his dream of earning his living through sports; something he always wanted to do.
Meeting his ‘Waterloo’ at a wedding in Galway, resulted in Leo marrying a woman from Northern Ireland and moving to Belfast where he now runs his own Sports Biomechanics Clinic (www.nibiomechanics.co.uk ) on Ormeau Avenue right in the centre of a thriving, impressive city.
Becoming an expert in golf is quite a change from the games at which he excelled himself but Leo has served his time, diligently studying the physical sides of a complicated game that is underestimated for its ‘athleticism.’ Gradually, he has built a solid reputation, recently expanding his practice to Dublin where he has opened a second clinic that he attends personally on one day per week.
I first met Leo at Dromoland GC where, from dawn until dusk for two days, he gave a surprisingly large number of local golfers the benefit of his expertise; helping them to identify their various physical strengths and weaknesses and telling them how best to deal with them.
Athletes do things instinctively far more than they ever realize. Often what they think they do and what happens in reality when they swing a golf club is different. Neenan concentrates on helping golfers to identify the correct feelings of an optimum, efficient movement.
My one-on-one session began with Leo stating firmly that his specialty is not the techniques of the golf swing but ‘his view on how my body functions (correctly and incorrectly) when swinging.’ Very often, an apparently trivial physical limitation or dysfunction can hamper and hinder optimum performance in golf; a stiff ankle, a sore toe or stiff back can have a disastrous effect. In my case it was a ‘reluctant’ hip that causes a chain reaction of incorrect movements that were not easily overcome by the ‘subconscious compensations’ I was making during my swing.
“I hear of guys crediting equipment for the increased distance achieved by top golfers today but the quality of the golfer-athlete plays just as big a part. If you don’t work out and are not flexible and strong, you can’t play golf at a high level. You just won’t be competitive because everybody else is doing it. Golf is a full-body movement and you have to be flexible, fit and strong. My job is to identify whether it might be a physical or swing flaw that could be impeding a player from functioning at his ultimate level. There’s no one swing that works best for everyone but there is a specific swing that works best for each individual. All of the top players that I’ve tested seem to hit the ball as well as one another even when the functionality of their bodies varies,” says Neenan.
Well-chosen words that have given me pause to reconsider a decision I had made to more or less retire from golf. After undergoing a biomechanical appraisal with Leo, it seems my perceived difficulties were more physical than technical (or even mental!) Some good, old fashioned Shiatsu Therapy and exercises are already helping me to swing ‘freer’ without having to make any difficult, technical changes to my golf swing. Perhaps, retirement can be postponed for a little while longer?
“Good, better, best. May I never rest until my good is better and my better is best” has always been my approach to golf but I was beginning to wonder if waning physical abilities at 67-years of age would no longer sustain my commitment to playing reasonably close to the standard to which I have always aspired?
Until I met Leo Neenan, I was unsure if the steady slippage in my golfing form last year was due to physical or technical deficiencies? If it was technical – I may have found it too difficult to learn new tricks but because my poor play seems to have been due to ‘repairable’ physical problems, I am fairly sure that I can deal with them and overcome them. I will continue to aspire for a little bit longer and who knows what will happen along the way?
Words of the Wise
Instead of studying photographs and trying to copy static positions frozen by the camera, watch good players in the flesh, and emulate their actions and rhythm – John Jacobs
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