By Ann Liguori
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Timing is everything.
And if you’re in the prime of your golfing career and the No. 1 golfer in the world, hoping to defend both the British Open title next week and the PGA Championship title beginning August 13th, then you’d be ultra-careful and conservative in trying to prevent injuries.
Or since you love soccer, are fanatical about Manchester United and have played in several pro-ams with former stars from the team — and every once in a while you enjoy a kick-around with some buddies — what’s the harm? It’s a great diversion. You can’t just practice and play golf 10 hours a day!
Poor Rory McIlroy. It was an unlucky occurrence, as the 26-year-old was just having some fun with another sport he’s so passionate about. And now, after suffering a “total rupture of the left ankle ligament and associated joint capsule damage,” McIlroy finds himself in a most terrible situation. All that talent, all that athleticism, all that determination and positive energy. And the top-ranked player in the game will most likely miss huge opportunities to further distinguish himself.
A total rupture of the ankle ligament is a Grade 3 complete rupture of the ligament, the worst on the scale of grades 1, 2 and 3.
Dr. Jeff Poplarski — the wellness director for 12 U.S. Open golf championships, a golf performance specialist and a sports chiropractor from Amityville, New York — broke down the injury for me.
“There are supporting ligaments around the ankle that act as rubber bands that support the stability of the ankle,” he said. “One of those ligaments has completely ruptured, which forces the other ligaments to try to help stabilize the weakness of one of the ruptured ligaments. If Rory’s other ligaments can support the injured ligament, he might be able to avoid surgery.”
“The rehabilitative process is going to include strengthening and supporting the uninjured ligaments in his ankle. The team around Rory certainly has the knowledge and experience to give Rory the best possible chance to rehab the ankle without surgery. If the rehab process fails, then surgery could potentially be an option to stabilize his ankle for the long-term.
“He’s walking 6-7 miles per round, putting excessive strain on the left ankle with the down swing. There is a lot of weight shift to that ankle where the injury is, and if there’s instability there, the ankle will get worse — more instability to the point where they’ll have to go in and tighten up the ankle to give him more stability.”
Not to sound overly pessimistic, but long-term, anytime you have an injury like this you’re never quite the same. There’s an exercise apparatus called the Somax which golfers use to increase hip speed.
“Rory uses the Somax regularly in his workouts,” Poplarski added. “His hip speed is No. 1 on the PGA Tour, and that’s one of the reasons he hits the ball so far. The kinematic sequence is a process that starts with the movement through the foot first, the ankle second — the knee, the hips, the lower back, the mid-back, shoulder, elbows, wrist and hand — and then through the implement of the club.
“Considering that he has an ankle injury, the kinematic sequence is going to be thrown off. One of the things I’d be concerned about is that there may be some delay in that sequence from the injury. He may have to play a little catch up and compensate for the weaker ankle — which can alter the swing — like use his hips more or his shoulders more.
“His sequence is going to be off because the foundation of the golf swing is injured …And now that sequence is going to be thrown off. There’s going to be some compensation in the body for the weakness of that ankle.”
I asked Poplarski if there is a possible swing change in McIlroy’s future (similar to another former top-ranked player in the game who has changed his swing at least four times.)
“Until that ankle is completely secure with proper strength and flexibility, there’s definitely going to be some change in his swing,” Poplarski said.
Could this be a career-threatening injury?
“It depends,” he said. “I’ve seen it go both ways. A lot of these ankle problems, they’re very difficult to deal with. It’s a weight-bearing joint, unlike a shoulder injury which is non-weight bearing, and it becomes a chronic problem.”
Is Poplarski optimistic about McIlroy’s future?
“I think, just like with Tiger (Woods), Rory is a dedicated guy,” he said. “He has the best support structure. I thought Tiger could overcome his back problem and he has. Rory has a high level of conviction to the sport, and to the fitness component and taking care of his body.
“He has the psychology of a great athlete. His level of conviction is very strong and that will certainly play a major role in this process.”
But let’s be serious. The ankle is a terrible limb to injure. It could never be the same.
We’re pulling for McIlroy to overcome this most recent challenge, which could prove to be his biggest ever.