There is a lot of cool gear in the golf equipment world that doesn’t always fit neatly into Most Wanted Tests or Buyer’s Guides. You still want to know how it performs. In our We Tried It series, we put gear to the test and let you know if it works as advertised.
What We Tried
Titleist Performance Institute
Hi, I’m Chris and I’m a golf-obsessed member of the MyGolfSpy team. As the Director of Business Development, I generally work as a conduit between our staff and other golf companies. I also spend a fair bit of time in my hot tub collecting thoughts into ramblings on equipment or other golf topics.
And, like many of you, I can’t wait for the next brown box to show up on my doorstep.
What Is TPI?
TPI stands for Titleist Performance Institute.
It could just as well be Temporary Pain and Inflammation. But that’s only if you struggle to touch your toes or complete a backswing with a Fort Knox security tight thoracic spine.
Like yours truly. More on that in a bit.
The premise of TPI is simple: Lead golfers and industry professionals in a continuous discovery that examines how the human body functions in relation to the golf swing. Put another way, TPI assesses a golfer’s physical capabilities and whether that limits or enhances specific movements during a golf swing.
Plenty of golfers would like to swing like Tiger Woods or Adam Scott. But they can’t. As in, they physically can’t produce a kinematic sequence of movements to generate that swing.
Yet, how often does an instructor ask a student to get into a specific position or perform a movement that isn’t possible given the golfer’s physical competence? In my experience, far too often.
Conceptually, TPI is simple. Then again, so is a diet that requires a calorie deficit. It’s in the execution where human elements of grit, dedication and work come into play. TPI isn’t a get-rich-quick panacea for the golf swing. But it is a pathway built around what the golfer can and, perhaps more importantly, can’t, do.
The TPI program was created by founders Dr. Greg Rose and Dave Phillips in 2003. Today, the concept of golf fitness is mainstream. In 2003, it was an island. In the middle of the Pacific. With very few, if any, other islands in sight. In 2003, you probably had a Palm Pilot and hit up the local Sam Goody to snag the new 50 Cent album.
Juxtapose that with the current landscape. At-home smart gyms and app-based workout regimens are as common as flat-screen TVs. That is, you sort of need to stop and force yourself to remember that this isn’t the way it’s always been.
To date, TPI states that it has more than 19,000 trained TPI instructors in 63 countries. The headquarters and primary R&D facility are located inside Titleist’s testing facility in Oceanside, Calif.
STEP No. 1: ASSESSMENT
After a brief discussion with Phillips about TPI, he put me through a series of 16 tasks to better understand my physical competence. Each exercise was assessed and labeled as either red (fail), green (pass) or yellow (partial pass). Based on this, the My TPI app generates a Golf Fitness Handicap. I failed six tasks, passed eight and partially failed (or passed depending on your level of optimism) two others.
My score was 24. Honestly, I thought it would be worse. As a scratch golfer, I asked Dave if that delta (Fitness HC-Playing HC) is abnormal. Indeed, it is. So I’ve got that going for me. For the record, Phillips said that in the past two decades, only a handful of golfers has passed every screening exercise the first time. One such individual is Adam Scott. I can see that.
The most remarkable part of the assessment had nothing to do with the individual tasks or brutally honest results. It was that, based on watching me struggle like a chair with three legs for 15 minutes, Dave told me what my swing looked like. Not sorta what my swing looked like. But dead-nuts on exactly what my swing looked like. He’d never seen me hit a ball.
Results and Trends
As golfers, we tend to be more comfortable overestimating how far we hit the ball while forgetting how often we three-putt. But this is the type of test where you can’t cheat or massage the results. Both Tony Covey, our esteemed Ball Lab expert and equipment editor, and I went through this process. I mention that primarily because at one point, Tony asked if he could get a mulligan on a task. Phillips declined and, in the nicest possible way, suggested that multiple attempts wouldn’t change anything.
In reviewing my test results, two general themes emerged. My setup posture and lower-body action are major roadblocks to hitting the ball consistently. As a result, I compensate with the portions of my body that work better (torso rotation, cervical rotation and forearm/wrist flexion and extension).
Based on my physical screening, Phillips had a firm grasp of the basic limitations of my swing. Basically, I get into a relatively playable position at the top of my back swing. At that point, my upper body takes over. My transition starts with my hands and I rely too much on my arms and upper body to (try and) square the clubface at impact. Meanwhile, my hips stop turning, leading to some early extension. I’ve seen my swing on video before and these issues are nothing new. My tendencies are the same as they were several years ago.
That said, the real purpose of the swing diagnosis is to connect the screening exercises with specific swing movements. For example, I knew I couldn’t touch my toes. But I didn’t understand how that impacted my setup posture. I’ve seen a million still images of professional golfers with open hips (you can see both back pockets) at impact. But I never understood why I wasn’t able to achieve something similar. As Phillips told me, for each limitation you have two options. Think of it as a fork in the road with two paths.
First, you can work to change the movement. Most often, these are slow changes that occur over weeks and months as a result of an individual training program. And it’s important to remember that perfection shouldn’t be the enemy of progress. My swing tends to get short and flat (laid off). I won’t ever look like Dustin Johnson but there are specific exercises that will allow my swing to get longer and more vertical.
The other option is to modify your swing to work around certain limitations. Some golfers simply don’t have the time or desire to go down that path. Some don’t have an option. Case in point, Jon Rahm. The No. 1-ranked golfer on the PGA TOUR was born with a club foot. As a result, he has a much shorter swing than many professional golfers. Therefore, he employs specific techniques that allow him to generate a driver swing speed of 118-plus mph.
To clarify: if you can’t rotate your torso effectively, you can either a) work to increase thoracic spine mobility or b) Allow your lead heel to lift and/or open both feet to help encourage a more complete turn/backswing.
PLAN OF ACTION
Improvement is a process. And it isn’t linear. And sometimes it’s slow as well. I knew all of that going in but I figured that I couldn’t get any less flexible so what the hell.
Based on Phillips’ complete assessment of my fitness screening and swing video, he created two training protocols. The first is a series of 10 to 12 dynamic stretching exercises that takes roughly 20 to 25 minutes, three times per week. The other is a shorter list of swing drills built around developing a body awareness of what a solid impact position feels like.
Right now, the goal is to stick with this routine for five to six weeks and then reassess. We’re currently in Week 4. So, TBD.
I should probably note that after your initial evaluation, all necessary information is housed in the MyTPI app. Beyond that, it serves as a repository of individualized training programs, screening results and a communication portal with your assigned coach.
Throughout this experience, two takeaways stand out. The first is something that most of us probably already know. Chiefly, that most facets of golf improvement exist in silos. You go to one place for a club fitting and a different one for lessons. If you’re into fitness and health/wellness, you probably go somewhere else for that as well. And, for many reasons, this makes sense. Not the least of these is that most people specialize in a single area. Many instructors aren’t expert club fitters. And if you find someone with the requisite biomechanics and fitness chops, I’d bet you a C-note that they can’t tell you about shaft EI profiles.
The other key lesson is that every golfer has an optimally efficient swing that is a function of your physical makeup. Unless you have a clear picture of what your body can do, you’re likely trying (or wanting) it to do things that aren’t entirely reasonable.
With that, the benefit of any holistic approach is rooted in the time and effort you’re willing to dedicate. Personally, I tend to do best with shorter, structured workouts. In this case, I allocate 20 to 30 minutes per day, four to five days per week, to either MyTPI exercises or speed training (Stack System). Could I be doing more? Sure. But I’m not the guy who is going to the gym for 60 to 90 minutes five times per week. And I’m not going to give up ice cream or premium River Bear bacon. So be it.
That said, I want to know that the time I am willing to allocate produces maximum results.
Therein lies the problem with overly generic tips like “three must-have moves to boost driver distance.” Maybe those moves just happen to be the three exact movements that 1) you aren’t currently doing, 2) you have the ability to perform and 3) you can master relatively quickly.
Or perhaps it’s why shotgun instruction has a rather low ceiling. It won’t necessarily do any harm but it’s unlikely to produce any prolonged benefit.
A final note. Most basic exercises won’t require more than what you likely have laying around the house. That said, if you plan on getting the most out of any program, no matter how elementary it might feel, it’s likely worth your time to invest in some basic equipment. Here’s the list of what I purchased to get started.
Basic Equipment List:
As always, let us know your thoughts.