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Vienna physical therapist helps golfers improve their game

Photo by Jeff Baughan Natalie Cooke, PT, DPT, CGFI is a physical therapist and certified golf fitness instructor at InMotion Physical Therapy & Golf Fitness in Vienna.

VIENNA — Natalie Cooke has a lot of letters after her name. That usually means the person is pretty smart.

She is a physical therapist (PT), has a doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) but she also has CGFI, which means certified golf fitness instructor, which comes from being certified through Titleist Performance Institute (TPI).

She has taken the worlds of golf and physical therapy and merged them, using the understanding of muscles, the techniques of a golf swing and the effects on those muscles. Technology has allowed her to show patients/clients where their golf games are weak, which muscles are weak and which muscles need to be strengthened to strengthen their golf game.

Cooke said she is the only practicing TPI golf fitness instructor certified in West Virginia.

“There are three other people with that certification in the state, however, I’m the only one that uses it in practice,” she said. “Two of the people, one is in Parkersburg and is letting his expire this year because he doesn’t get to use it and one is in Morgantown at Healthworks, that are certified.

Photo by Jeff Baughan Natalie Cooke watches Isaac Prine begin his kettlebell workout as he attempts to sit up while holding it over his head.

“Both are friends of mine and they work in an outpatient clinic that does not provide them the room or time to do the golf swing analysis and TPI evaluations,” she said. “The third that is certified is the physical therapy/strength conditioning coach for the golf team and other sports teams at West Virginia University. He works full time for the college so a regular golfer would not be able to get an appointment with him. So technically I’m not the only certified TPI instructor in West Virginia, however I’m the only practicing TPI instructor you can get an evaluation with, other than that, the closest practicing TPI instructor is in D.C., Cincinnati, or Cleveland.

“There are golfers from Morgantown to Beckley, Huntington to Lewisburg coming here to improve their golf game,” she said. “I’m going to Huntington in February to work with the Marshall women’s golf team. All the equipment travels.”

Cooke also has certification in the K-Vest 3D Technology, which is what she uses to help the golfer scientifically see what they are doing right or wrong.

“It fits over the core of the body,” she said. “The sensors send signals to the receivers which measure what the body is doing during the swing.”

It’s a small harness which obviously doesn’t impair a golfer’s swing. A separate belt fits around the waist for the other sensors. The golfer swings, driving the ball into a net, standing approximately 8 feet high. There are no sensors in the net. It’s just there to stop the motion of the ball. By the time the ball reaches the net, the computer is sending data to Cooke’s laptop.

Photo by Jeff Baughan Parkersburg High School golfer Isaac Prine follows through his shot while wearing the K-Vest 3D Technology vest and belt, which measures a golfer’s posture, balance and flexibility.

“There are three components with the movement screen which measures posture, balance and flexibility. There are 16 different tests in the entire procedure,” she said.

The day’s subject was Isaac Prine, a member of the 2017 Parkersburg High School golf team. Prine is using the technology to improve his game.

Prine said he has yet to make a decision as to a college, but said he “would be playing golf for somebody, somewhere.”

Cooke was a member of the Parkersburg High golf team from 2002-04, she still competes yearly in the West Virginia Women’s State Amateur, and played her freshman year at Marshall before transferring to West Virginia University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with a bachelor’s in chemistry. Add to that the doctorate in physical therapy from Florida Gulf Coast University in spring 2012.

“The thesis was golf fitness and core strengthening testing before and after with a group of eight women between the ages of 55-70,” she said. “There were six weeks of training. We measured the club head speed before and after those six weeks. With the training, the women picked up 10 percent club head speed. That equaled out to be eight miles an hour, which gave them an average of an extra 16 yards of carrying distance in the air.”

Photo by Jeff Baughan Natalie Cooke straps Parkersburg High School golfer Isaac Prine into the K-Vest 3D Technology vest and belt before he begins his testing.

Cooke said the golfer who was at “the forefront with the fitness movement early was Tiger (Woods) with his big chest and biceps. His core is the problem. If you don’t have the core and glutes — that’s abs and tush — you’re going to have problems. His swing was a violent one and it put a lot of strain on the lower back.

“If you don’t have the abs and glutes strong, the golf swing will strain other portions of the lower back,” she said. “People can build a strong core and glutes by doing squats, lunges, planks, kettlebells and deadlifts.”

Prine is set to begin his session, with the harness and belt in place, he begins to hit balls off the tee, into the net. Cooke sits off to his right, laptop in place. The session begins.

“The sensors measure angles. There’s about 18 angles being measured per swing and swing sequence,” she said.

“We can see the swing sequence. We see what is strong but we also get to see what is weak,” she said. “We can see what is firing at the top of the swing, which should be in order: the hips, lower body, trunk and arms.”

Photo by Jeff Baughan Natalie Cooke sits at her laptop as she receives information from sensors as Isaac Prine swings while wearing the K-Vest vest belt.

It’s not always the urge to be a better golfer for which Cooke is sought out, “sometimes I have to incorporate this into physical therapy. Most who show up want to be better golfers but through bad mechanics they’ve hurt shoulders and backs most commonly.

“I can get them moving better, get moving better in the core and can get them an online account set up to do the exercises they need to and then with a golf instructor to tweak their swing.”

One of the golfers she works with is Christian Brand of Teays Valley who is competing with the Web.com tour.

He finished 15th at the qualifying school in December and if he finishes in the top 25 in the Web.com tour he gets an exemption to the PGA.

“He kicked off the season in Hawaii,” she said. “That’s going to be a season which is really nerve racking and exciting!”

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