The game of golf has come a long way since Old Tom Morris graced the fairways of the “Home of Golf”. Gone are wooden shafts, golf balls made with feathers and the days of wearing tweed jackets to keep you warm from the elements. Of course the equipment changes have been plentiful since then and one could contend that the changes and advancement of material (both fabric and equipment) has seen plenty of change in the last decade. But what about the material fiber behind the clothes, club-making material and equipment? Golfers themselves have evolved since Old Tom was winning his four Open Championships. The beards in recent times worn by Graham DeLaet and Andrew “Beef” Johnston aren’t that big of a deal. After all “Old Tom” had quite the facial hair masterpiece. All of the other major sports in the world have seen massive developments in technology. Technology from both an equipment and player development point of view. Athletes have gotten bigger, faster and stronger. Golf is no different.
Starting with the elite junior golfer. Parents and coaches alike have encouraged their young athletes to partake in physical fitness regimens. All in an attempt to get a head start on the competition while working towards golf scholarships and paid educations. A few years ago I was a coach for a Novice (6-8 year-olds) Rep hockey team. In a trainer’s course they made one thing very clear. At no time should athletes under the age of 12 start working out for mass. At the time, we were given the explanation that children hadn’t reached the time in their lives when they were physically ready to develop muscles (hormones). Flexibility and mobility yes.
There has been a lot of debate in recent times regarding golf and working out. Working out definitely has it’s place in golf. Since November, I have been serious about adding a workout regimen in my life. Both for golf and self-betterment. I have been toying with the idea of competing again and thought that maybe if I lost some weight and gained some strength it might give me an opportunity to keep up with the kids coming out of “golf factories” (College and University golf programs). While I have been successful in losing weight (to date 25 pounds) and several inches off of my waist (7″) I have been careful not to gain a lot of muscle mass. The goal here is to get stronger and faster… not necessarily bigger. So far mission accomplished.
In recent memory, much has been made about professional golfers and their workout regimens. Admittedly, I don’t watch anything on Golf Channel like Morning Drive because more often than not I feel like they are just blowing hot air and re-capping the same stuff. It wasn’t long ago when it was all over social media that Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee was absolutely destroying Rory McIlroy for his workout regimen and they way that his physique became. As a matter of fact the two of them engaged in a sort of “quasi-feud”. Chamblee basically saying that Rory’s working out was over the top and Rory countering with a long-winded (to paraphrase) “mind your own business”. Here we are several months later and right on the heels of signing a reported $100M multi-year deal with TaylorMade Golf Rory is out with a rib injury. Tough break for the investors. Like him or not maybe Brandel had a point.
Tiger Woods. As legendary as his career has been his physical exploits have been nearly as legendary. Remember when a young Tiger Woods emerged on the scene? He was lean and lanky but he could still pound the golf ball. As time wore on we saw that Tiger was evolving. Slowly getting bigger and bigger! Before you knew it he looked like a linebacker in the NFL. There was speculation that he was using HGH (Human Growth Hormone) to help him along the way and whether he was or wasn’t doesn’t really matter. But it is pretty ironic that since he got so big he has seen nothing but injury, surgery, re-hab and injury resulting in a vicious cycle. Most of these injuries occurring after bulking up with the most recent setback prior to the tournament in Turkey (he withdrew from his tournament the Safeway Open). Which begs the question. Is getting big good or detrimental? Does more muscle mass mix well with the forces of the golf swing?
I remember years ago a conversation that I had with my mother. The conversation took place in 2010 not too long before she passed away later that year. Out of all of the conversations that we could have had we talked about golf. My mother was a nurse most notably in the Emergency Room and she of course knew a lot about the human body and injuries. We talked this day in particular about the golf swing and I remember her saying “I don’t know how you (golfers) do it. That swing and the motions. There is so much twisting and contorting like you are a Chinese acrobat. How does the body not get injured more often?” My only response was by stating that “we stretch”. It was a weak and uneducated answer. But the more that I have learned over the years of learning, playing and teaching the golf swing the more I heard her question in my mind. Factor in the observations of Mr. Chamblee and her words become even louder in my mind.
The “cookie-cutter swing” that has become the norm has a ton of torque placed on so many parts of our anatomy like my mother suggested. The golf swing is a powerful movement and strength does play a role in the search for more distance. I think “Smash Factor” is far more important. We have to be efficient in striking the middle of the clubface. But bulking up…is that good? I am by no means a kinesiologist but in my opinion there is a very fine line between working out for the golf swing versus working out to get “jacked”. The golf swing and getting more distance is not about brute strength (although tell that to the guys and gals in Long Drive). Some of those guys and gals competing in LDA events are “beasts and beastettes” but there is a huge difference in technique. Where Tour swings are for the most part all about being tight and compact the swings on the LDA are a little more “loosy-goosy”. Not every golfer on Tour has gotten injured but it is ironic that the guys who became huge have found themselves injured. Bigger hitters like Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler don’t have the physiques of McIlroy, Woods or any NFL linebacker. Evidence of this is in their spring break videos. While they are slim and in good shape they aren’t the bearers of rippling muscles on top of other rippling muscles. Ironically enough, they have not suffered long-term injuries that have forced them out of action. The era is different and the information wasn’t as readily available like it is in this the “Information Era” but when did you hear about Jack Nicklaus, John Daly, Tim Herron or Joey Sindelar have numerous knee and/or back injuries? None of them could have body’s that would be described a “ripped temples of flesh and skin”. As far as that goes what about Bubba Watson? Unfortunately, in the case of Fred Couples and many others herniated discs have been an “Achilles Heel”. Ironically, none of these golfers had the “modern golf swing” that is being taught nowadays.
So what’s better for player development and injury prevention? Being ripped or over-ripe? A swing that is full of torque or one that is more “loose”? Does one type of swing suit a certain type of physique? Or is there a delicate balance between all of the above?The debate will go on for years. What say you?
Until The Next Tee!