Golfing for Science

USF physical therapy researchers study amputees’ golf swings with the goal of advancing prosthetic design

Loi Ho prepares for her drive. Ho, whose limb loss is congenital, is a championship rock climber and says she sees similarities with golf, including core balance.

Loi Ho had never swung a golf club before. John Scarfi is a long-time golfer.

Their commonality isn’t the game of golf. It’s an artificial leg.

The two were among 16 amputees who took part in a golf workshop last week that not only gave them tips for hitting the ball better, but also helped USF physical therapy researchers collect early data that could lead to improved prosthetic design.

“We’re beginning a lower limb study and these are the early stages of research for improving prosthetic design, not just for recreational activities, but for everyday activities, as well,” said Jason Kahle, CPO, LPO, clinical prosthetist and researcher at the USF School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences. “We’re looking at the different prosthetic components currently available, looking at how amputees are using these devices, determining how they are meeting their needs or limiting their activities, and then we’ll work to come up with the best formula for the best design.”

L to R: Welcoming golfers were Jason Highsmith and Jason Kahle, both faculty researchers at the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences, and, from Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club (the event’s host), head golf professional Jeff Anderson and first assistant golf pro Orlando Rabeiro.

Research such as this is a perfect example of translational research, said Jason Highsmith, PT, DPT, physical therapist and researcher at USF.

“We’re taking hard data from here and from the laboratory and carrying it through to the community, to active amputees,” Dr. Highsmith said.

As with an earlier study the group conducted on upper extremity prosthetics, the data from this project will be incorporated into a larger study funded by the Department of Defense looking at lower extremity prosthetic component and training options for amputees.

One of the next steps, Dr. Highsmith said, will be to bring amputees into the USF Motion Analysis Laboratory, where they will record, digitize and collect their every move using specialized equipment.


Left: The workshop drew local media. Right: Golf is completely new for Loi Ho, so golf pro Orlando Rabeiro helps her focus on the basics.

In the Motion Analysis Laboratory, reflective markers will be attached at various points and joints on the body to allow eight high-frequency digital cameras to follow every movement. In addition, the amputee will stand on force plates on the floor so that weight shifting and ground reaction forces can be measured, as well.

The information collected by specialized computer software will provide researchers with high-resolution, 3-D optical tracking that analyzes body motion, from the smallest movements needed to breathe to the broadest motions needed to pitch a baseball more than 90 miles an hour. Or in this case, to swing a golf club.

At the recent golf workshop, the group of 16 gathered with USF researchers and several local reporters at the Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club.

The workshop attracted 16 golf enthusiasts, all lower limb amputees interested in helping improve the design of prostheses for recreational activities.

While you might think the idea of spending a cool, sunny morning on a pristine golf course was reason enough to participate, the amputees seemed to also see the event as a way to help propel scientific research, and it just happened to include a game they love.

There is a huge amputee golf community, Kahle said. In fact, many of the 16 who attended the workshop are members of AVAST (Amputee Veterans of America Support Team), a local support group that began in 2007 and meets every Friday morning for a game of golf in Temple Terrace.

“We’re the longest-running adaptive program for veterans in the country,” said Rudy Salas, president of AVAST.

The community of amputees also includes John Scarfi, who lost a leg only last year. Scarfi said he is a long-time golfer and appreciated the opportunity the workshop gave him to work on his game.

“This has been a year of relearning everything and golf is definitely one of the activities I’m relearning,” Scarfi said.


Rudy Salinas, president of the Amputee Veterans of America Support Team (AVAST), takes a swing (right) and prepares to sink a putt.

But in addition to golf enthusiasts, the workshop included a few who are new to the game.

Loi Ho, whose limb loss is congenital, is a national champion rock climber and found both similarities and differences to that activity at the workshop.

“I’ve never played golf, but I found that it’s all about core balance, with the swing, the shifting, and the balance,” Ho said.

The bottom line of the workshop and the research, of course, is to improve the options available to amputees, Kahle said.

“So we have to ask, is current prosthetics meeting their needs?” he said. “Not fully. Not yet.”

– Story by Sarah Worth, and photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications

Jason Kahle (left), clinical prosthetist, and Jason Highsmith, assistant professor, both researchers at the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences.

Loi Ho lines up her putt

Besides helping research, the golfers had fun learning some tips to help their game.

USF physical therapy researchers have begun gathering preliminary data on the variety of lower limb prosthetic components used by amputees so they can evaluate their effectiveness.