After playing golf for 25 years, Darwin Hutchison decided he needed to see a doctor, a specialist in fact. No, he hadn’t thrown his back out or twisted his ankle in a gofer hole.

His swing was off.

The 56-year-old neighborhood resident, who owns a signage distribution company, didn’t know his posture was affecting his game until he enrolled in an innovative program at Doctor’s Hospital.

“Darwin has been with me three weeks,” says David Mendez, who was instrumental in adding golf to the roster of Doctor’s SportsCare programs he oversees.

“His posture has been a habit for so long that he is a bit tighter. We have stretched him out; he is more stabilized, rotating more. He doesn’t need physical therapy, just stretching.”

Within this specialized program, you can access a variety of packages at the hospital, all beginning with a 30-minute consultation at the Sports and Industry Care Center at Doctor’s. An assessment of a client’s golf fitness and golf swing, with the swing evaluated for structural problems that could result in musculoskeletal injuries and poor performance.

Mendez used a digital camera to show Hutchison exactly how his posture affected his golf swing, and says the visual helps people “see for themselves.”

For his part, Hutchison says he has “really noticed a lot of difference; mainly in my stance because I was bending too far out from the ball. My back is arched (now), my balls are hitting straighter.

“I picked up golf just as a personal hobby, with no formal training. So this helps me be more conscious of what I’m doing. I don’t just go up and strike the ball. I remember to get into my stance, and really concentrate on my follow-through because when he first began working with me, my right leg would not turn all the way through to make the pivot, and I was hurting in my upper body.”

For Lake Highlands architect Mike Lungren, the catalyst was a 40-year-old body that had a good memory about the injuries it had sustained in youthful athletics.

“Mike, when he was younger, was a more aggressive golfer,” Mendez says. “He needs to rest now and…start coming in for physical therapy.”

Lungren works on specific exercises at the hospital and others at home to help his flexibility.

“The things we work on here, you can work on at home,” Mendez says. “I basically just teach them what they need to work on and show them what they need to do.”

Lungren says: “I first came in to just learn specific golf-related exercises to get rid of an old injury. The injury is gone, my flexibility is more than it has ever been, and I have been hitting the ball again.”

Mendez debunks the view some have of golf as non-athletic: “Golfers are all getting stronger, more fit. For golf, you need flexibility, strength; the same things you need as a football player. People used to say ‘golf is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental,’ and I think that’s turning around a bit. Tiger Woods and these young, strong golfers are changing that.”

Mendez works one-on-one with the client through their first few sessions, examining components such as flexibility, strength, hip range of motion, and posture because “if you don’t have those, you are trying to get that range of motion from somewhere else. The body needs to be prepared to do all of the rotating. If not, then it is just going to break down.”

After a few weeks with Mendez, clients are paired with a golf pro and begin to implement what they’ve learned about their game out on the fairway.

“Usually in about six weeks, you can see their handicap go down, their score goes down a bit, and they begin to hit more consistently. And that is the key to golf; in order to be good on the green and on the fairway.”

So, after beginning the program only three weeks ago, how does Hutchison feel? “Aggravated! I wish I would have known a long time ago,” he says. Only half in jest, “I have played with so many guys that complain: Oh, I’m hurting in my back. I want to be able to hit the ball and hit it proper, and keep myself from getting hurt.”

Or as Lungren puts it: “I’m trying to get back to where I never was.”