For many years, the words fitness and golf were rarely uttered in the same sentence. But now we can’t go through one commercial break without hearing how athletic golfers are and how everyone can benefit from a focus on fitness. Sure, if we all had a few hours each day to devote to the gym, we’d see an impact. But it got me thinking, can we quantify the impact a focus on proper fitness can play in the golf game of an amateur?
To help answer this question, I reached out to Nick Randall, a GolfWRX Featured Writer and Strength and Conditioning Coach to elite golfers such PGA Tour player Cameron Smith, who enthusiastically jumped on board to help guide me through this process. In addition to his professional clients, Nick offers virtual training to anyone just like what I went through.
The goal wasn’t to simply drop everything and act like a pro. I didn’t get to play golf for a living, and didn’t have the time they have to devote to the gym. The goal was to see if my golf game could improve by utilizing a tour-proven approach to fitness, guided by an elite-level trainer, but adjusted for the time and skill level of an amateur.
Nick was based in Australia at the time (he’s now in Jacksonville, FL), so all our interactions would be done remotely. As a technologist and app developer, this presented another opportunity to test the theory that technology is transforming the way we interact, even when it comes to something like fitness training.
Over the course of four months, Nick guided me through three training programs, a daily motor pattern and mobility program, and nutrition and hydration advice, all via his Golf Fit iOS app, email, and Skype video chats. Our objective was to train the body to rotate more efficiently. This would result in some changes to my swing action, but without the intention of directly manipulating the club face or ball flight. My only swing changes for four months would be a direct result of this training, with no outside input.
I also wanted to be as honest and transparent as possible, so good, bad or ugly, you’ll find links to my DEXA Scans, Trackman Combine results, and swing videos below.
Did it work?
If you are wondering if you should bother reading on, it definitely worked. Physically, I’m stronger and have less back pain every day including after golf rounds or practice. On the course, my misses are tighter, my focus is stronger, and my endurance is better. We’ll cover all of this in detail, but Nick and this experience have fundamentally changed my approach to fitness in my everyday life, as well as my golfing life.
Any new fitness program must start with an evaluation. There are many ways to evaluate someone and ideally, this would be done in person. With Nick in Australia, we couldn’t do the assessment in person, so we spent a lot of time talking via Skype and I answered a detailed questionnaire. I’ve had back issues in the past, and one of the primary goals of the program was to strengthen that area to reduce daily pain, as well as pain associated with golfing. I have had medical assessments done on my back and passed along my charts to Nick for review.
I also sent Nick videos of my current swing, and we used my initial Trackman Combine videos as well during the evaluation phase.
In addition to the written assessment and discussions, I got a DEXA Scan so we could see where I might have imbalances or other trouble areas. A DEXA Scan is a full body scan that measures body composition including total body fat, breaking down bone mass, fat tissue, and lean muscle mass in the body.
To get the scan, I worked with Peter Fisher, the co-owner of DexaFit Atlanta. Let me just say, wow, that was eye-opening. The short, 10-minute scan produced images and reports that laid out how much body fat and lean muscle mass I have. I have too much body fat and that black and white image above was not pretty to see.
We took a look at the reports and decided if I focused on better nutrition, in addition to strength gains, I should be able to take my body fat percentage down to 25 percent (from 32.2 percent). It was a very aggressive goal, but a motivator as well.
Initial Trackman Combine
While we were not planning to make any direct swing changes, such as worrying about my inside takeaway, we did want to get a baseline of my current swing. The best way to do that is with a Trackman Combine, so I headed out to BridgeMill Golf Academy and worked with Tom Losinger, Director of Golf Instruction, who ran me through the combine.
The Trackman Combine is a standardized test that identifies strengths and weaknesses in the golf swing by scoring 60 shots from various yardages. If you haven’t had a chance to take the combine, I highly recommend it.
You can view the full Combine report as well as videos associated with some of my swings, by heading to this site I created.
Overall, I was happy with the results. The Combine was performed on a warm day with very little wind. My score was 69.2. I had 14 shots over 90 points. My max club speed with the driver was 104.8 mph and my longest drive was 278.8 yards.
Nick and I analyzed these results to find areas of weakness that could be attributed to poor body performance. The Combine swing scores are all about distance from the target. While dispersion can be driven by poor swing mechanics, it also is directly related to stability in the golf swing. We identified issues with my turn and posture from the videos and marked my max driver speed down as a baseline for any speed increases I might see.
The Fitness Program
Our fitness plan was broken up into three 1-month long programs. Each week included six days of routines: three strength days and three mobility and movement pattern days. That meant six days a week I was training my body with strength, mobility and movement pattern drills.
To track the progress, we used the Golf Fit iOS App, which Nick created for use with his athletes. Golf Fit is laid out to make it very easy to view your program, which includes photos and descriptions of the exercises, and complete your reps and sets.
Month 1 was a primer month. It introduced me to some new exercises and eased me into my strength program. Month 2 switched up the exercises and ramped up the intensity. It also added some cardio to the warm up.
Month 3 was the hardest program and the one I found most interesting. It added more dynamic, golf specific exercises such as the Sidestepper with Band. I felt like I was able to better connect the exercise with how they would help my game. The Sidestepper, for example, was designed to activate the glutes and promote lateral stability, something very important during the golf swing.
In addition to the training programs, my favorite part of the Golf Fit app is the progress tracker. Most apps let you track your food or water intake and even how you feel, but they are cumbersome. With Golf Fit, you can easily score your progress, which brilliantly uses your averages as a default option. This made it very easy to track my progress every night.
I had many times over the course of the program, like when we had family in town over the holidays, where I wanted to do almost anything except my workout or nightly program. Everyone would be sitting in the living room, laughing and having a great time, and I’d be standing at the back of the room, Thoracic Pro strapped on, turning back and through over and over. But it felt great when I finished, especially on days like those.
I ended the program strong and even though our research for this story is technically over, my workouts continue. You can view my Month 1 program here and the free Golf Fit iOS app includes photos and explanations of each exercise
Essential Gear and My Spiky Ball Addiction
I bought two pieces of equipment — a Spiky Ball and the Thoracic Pro — to assist with my exercises, but you don’t have to. You can pick up some fitness bands at your local sporting goods store and be good to go.
I’m in love with my spiky ball. It’s this perfect little ball with raised rubber spikes you can roll anywhere you need to relieve tightness or discomfort. I used it every night to massage my lower back, legs and even chest and arms. Because it is smaller than a foam roller, you can get it into very specific problem areas. If you roll it around a sore spot, you’ll be amazed how loose that area becomes.
I also purchased a Thoracic Pro. My posture and scapula control wasn’t as good as it could be. The Thoracic Pro is a harness you slip over your shoulders and when you properly engage your shoulder blades, a spiky ball in the middle of your back as well as two points on your shoulders, gives you feedback you’re in the right position. All I had to do was pull my shoulder blades back and slightly down. By doing this, I had pre-engaged my shoulder blades. My posture looked shockingly better and my turn was instantly tighter with less moving pieces. Every day for the next few months, I used my Thoracic Pro during the movement and motor pattern routine, and now I feel like it is second nature. I even took it to the range and hit balls with it on, which had a huge impact.
Movement Patterns and Nightly Routine
In order to make any meaningful change in my motor patterns, including the way I turn back and through the ball, I needed a nightly routine. Nick broke this into two programs, one for days where I was training and one for off days. They consisted of a mix of motor patterns with the Thoracic Pro as well as stretching and massage with the Spiky Ball.
These routines quickly became something I really looked forward to every night. It would take about 30 minutes to complete the motor patterns and stretching, and I enjoyed every minute. I got some funny looks from my wife as I was rigged up to the Thoracic Pro, turning and stomping behind her, but it really did work. I cannot guarantee I’ll continue my fitness programs with as laser-like a focus, but I definitely will continue my motor pattern and mobility work every night.
The motor pattern work consisted of the following routine:
Nutrition and Hydration
Nick also offered basic nutrition advice, and he started by getting me to understand the majority of weight loss, which is something many of us want, is driven by nutrition. So eating cleaner became a goal. The Golf Fit app was a huge motivator to eating well and staying hydrated. Each night, the app asked me to score how I did on a scale of 1-10, ten being perfectly clean eating. I never did score a 10, but had quite a few nines. My average was 7-8, which as someone who works long hours and travels, is a comfortable way to start eating healthier.
For this story, the main takeaway is on-course eating. I’m amazed at how little my playing partners eat during a round. I used to only eat one protein bar around the turn. Nick’s recommendation was to take at least two snacks on the course and eat one mid-way through the front and back nines. For his players, he likes the Vega Sport Protein Bar or Macro Protein Bars, although there are others on the market. Adding an extra protein bar to my round made a big difference in my energy level. Below you can see what I typically have in the bag during a round.
I also started keeping a bag of honey glazed almonds with me. I’m not sure Nick would love that I took a perfectly healthy almond and covered it in sugar, but it is a delicious snack packed with protein and healthy fats. And I noticed when I offered my playing partners a protein bar or almonds, almost all of them took the almonds.
As for hydration, I’m convinced the majority of golfers don’t drink enough water, myself included. Why? Because it’s really hard to be fully-hydrated. Based on Golf Fit’s recommendation for my body weight, I need to drink about 110 ounces of water a day (or 7 standard bottles) to be well hydrated. On the course, I tried to drink one bottle every three holes, and I would put a Nuun electrolyte hydration tablet in one of the bottles on each nine holes. I also downloaded a Water App to track my intake through the day which notified me with a reminder to drink every 1.5 hours. You will have to try it for yourself, but when I was fully hydrated I truly felt stronger and less fatigued, which dehydration can cause.
Shots like this awkward sidehill fairway bunker shot (pictured below), where stability and focus are so critical to executing the shot, was where I really noticed the training, and on-course hydration and nutrition pay off.
Before and After a Round or Range Session
Pro golfers don’t just show up on the range or the first tee without warming up, so Nick recommended I perform one round of my Motor and Movement Patterns routine before practicing or playing.
One round of the routine takes about 10 minutes, and I noticed a difference when I completed the routine before hitting the range. I didn’t feel like I needed to hit as many short wedges to fire up the body. This helped on mornings where I was first off the tee and the range was barely open. I could roll a few putts and tee off knowing I had already made about 20-30 full turns warming up the main muscles I would need.
I completed the same routine as a warm-down after a round or practice session. Try the following routine from Nick, before you head to the first tee.
Checking in with Nick
Throughout the program, Nick was checking in with me regularly, providing that extra motivation I needed. I was also sharing videos with him like the one below from early in our training program. These check in videos were especially helpful at times when I wasn’t seeing the same on-course progress as I was seeing during practice.
What Can You Do If You Can’t Go All-In?
I went “all in” over the past four months, but I recognize that isn’t for everyone. I’ve talked about this program to avid golf friends of mine and they are intrigued, but likely won’t devote the time I have.
With that in mind, Nick put together a routine anyone can do that will have a positive impact on your game. Click here to download a PDF of the routine.
The Final DEXA Scan
Once I had completed the last of the workouts, it was time to get a follow-up DEXA scan, so I went back to DexaFit Atlanta and worked with Peter Fisher.
We were hoping to see a decrease in body fat percentage and a small increase in lean muscle mass, and I was nervous about how the scan would go. I could tell I had lost weight and was getting stronger, but let’s be honest, if I said I was working out for three months and then got a body scan that shows no weight loss, you probably wouldn’t believe I had actually been in the gym.
I didn’t want that to happen, so I was happy to see I had decreased my body fat by 3 percent (-8.4 actual pounds of fat). Again, if you want to see the raw data, you can view the full results here.
I was initially disappointed by the loss of lean mass. It seemed counterintuitive, because I had been training more, but after talking with Nick it became more clear. I was eating cleaner, and likely taking in less calories despite trying to focus on eating more and better proteins. Our strength program wasn’t about big muscle gains, and we also only had three months. He was happy to see I essentially held onto the muscle mass, while decreasing my body fat. What I also found interesting is that I shed pounds without spending much time doing cardio. Sure, cardio is important, but it showcases the positives of better eating decisions, and what effect they can have on your health.
The Final Combine
I went into the final Combine with a healthy combination of nervousness and confidence. Almost every day for four months, I had focused on modifying my motor patterns or strengthening my body with the specific goal of improving my game. I was seeing improvement on the course, so one test on one day wouldn’t define all the work Nick and I had done. But I wanted to see results in plain, clear data. I headed back to BridgeMill Golf Academy and worked with Tom Losinger again.
We were hoping to see more clubhead speed with the driver and better dispersion overall, driven by a more stable lower body and more solid turn back and through the ball. In plain, clear, data, I saw the results I was hoping for.
I had more shots closer to the pin, more shots scored above 90, more “perfect” shots, and 3 mph more max clubhead speed with the driver. Below are some high-level stats comparing the two Combines. You can view the full report and videos here.
I left the Combine on a high. All the effort looked to be paying off… but we don’t play golf by hitting 60 shots during some test. My year-end trip to Florida, where I would play at least 5 rounds, would be the ultimate test.
Florida Trip and My Golf Game Now
I’ve been going to Florida for a week of golf and vacation every year for the last six or so years. I play at least five rounds during the week and look forward to it all year. I brought my spiky ball and Thoracic Pro with me so I could continue my mobility and motor pattern routines.
Just like the Combine, I was nervous and excited to hit the first tee. It wasn’t a testing bay anymore; it was the first tee on a real course after fully-dedicating myself to this program and plan the last few months. I “needed” to see a meaningful difference in my game.
After my first round, I knew something positive was happening. I was hitting more greens, splitting more fairways, and keeping myself out of trouble. I’ve never been more consistent or had as much control over my swing as I did over the five rounds during the trip. Not only did I lower my handicap and post my cleanest card on a front-9 (1-under), but I didn’t wake up midway through the trip with lower-back pain.
Here is a comparison of five rounds prior to starting this program, five rounds from last year’s trip and my five rounds during my trip this year.
A focus on fitness can improve the game of amateurs. Whether you go all-in or take it slow, you can see results. To help get started, you can follow the mini-programs laid out in this story, and there are trainers like Nick all across the country ready when you are.
I won’t say the past four months have been easy. But they also haven’t been hard. Eating healthier, drinking more water, and sticking to my fitness and mobility routines have become a part of my day-to-day life. I can only continue to improve from here, and the longer I focus on fitness, the more likely I am to be able to play this great game for many years to come.
The 19th Hole (Ep 63): Valentino Dixon talks Golf Channel documentary; Marvin Bush remembers his father
Valentino Dixon shares his amazing story in an exclusive interview with Michael Williams. Also in this episode: a tribute to George H.W. Bush, featuring a conversation with his youngest son, Marvin.
Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
featured image c/o Golf Channel
Hidden Gem of the Day: Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois
These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!
Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member lawsonman, who takes us to Park Hills Golf Course in Freeport, Illinois. The course sits west of Chicago, and in lawsonman’s description of the course, he cites the immaculate condition of the track as one of the reasons he feels it’s a hidden gem.
“Always in pristine condition. 36 hole layout that is as hard as you want to make it. Trees (big) and water are everywhere. Pace of play is usually very good. Located about 90 minutes west of Chicago’s western suburbs.”
According to Park Hills Golf Course’s website, 18 holes around the course costs just $23, no matter what day you wish to play. There is a $16 charge should you want to use a cart for 18 holes.
Louisville Golf: Post time for persimmon
“I knew I had to give it a shot. If I had tried and it didn’t work out, I would’ve been okay with that. But I had to go after my passion and see where it went.”
Jeremy Wright gets it. Taking over at Louisville Golf is not for everybody. This isn’t a multi-billion-dollar revenue generating machine with private research facilities and elaborate corporate complexes. It’s not about money…or fame…or 385-yard drives. Gerard Just, the youngest of the Just brothers who started Louisville Golf might have summed it up best:
“You know, I guess you could say we’re simple people. We don’t really go on vacations. But we work hard and we enjoy what we do. We don’t make a lot of money. I don’t think my kids could afford to work here to be honest, but they hate their jobs. We never really had that problem.”
Louisville Golf was established in 1974 by Elmore Just and Steve Taylor when they left Hillerich & Bradsby (crafters of Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Power-Bilt golf clubs). Elmore ran the business side of the company and Steve oversaw the manufacturing aspect. Back then, in the heyday of persimmon, the club manufacturers were on an allotment. Since persimmon (remarkably well-suited for golf clubs due to its strength and density) is a relatively slow-growing wood, there was only so much material to go around and upstart Louisville Golf had to fight for every block they got. Eventually, they built the business into a major player, making 800 clubs a day for the likes of Hogan, MacGregor, Wilson, Spalding, and others.
Some of Louisville Golf’s more well-known woods that won on the PGA Tour were the Wilson Whale that Payne Stewart used to win the 1989 PGA Championship and the Hogan Apex that Tom Kite used to win the 1992 US Open at Pebble Beach. Then metal woods came into the picture and sales dwindled. When Callaway launched the Big Bertha, sales basically dried up overnight.
Though metal woods took off like a rocket in the 1990’s, there were some holdouts. Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, and Mark Calcavecchia held onto their persimmon woods into the late 90s. The last man standing was widely considered to be Bob Estes, who used his Louisville Golf Smart ProBE (a club Just developed specifically for Estes) in the Accenture Match Play in 2001.
When Elmore Just passed away in April of 2001, his brother Mike assumed control of the company. Elmore is actually buried at Persimmon Ridge Golf Club in Louisville, an Arthur Hills course he developed in the 1980’s. When Mike took the reins, though the company had successfully limped along through the metal wood revolution, the hard reality was that they needed to reinvent themselves if they were going to remain profitable. Mike left his mark on the company in 2004 by deciding to leverage Louisville Golf’s unique expertise into crafting period-correct hickory shafted golf clubs and restoring vintage specimens. That decision marked a resurgence of sorts, as the niche has served Louisville Golf well. Today, Louisville Golf and St. Andrews Golf Co. are the only large scale manufacturers of such equipment.
It’s a peculiar set of circumstances to be sure, but oddly enough, many golfers in the 21st century have found Louisville Golf through 100-year-old golf clubs. This is exactly how Jeremy Wright came into the picture. Jeremy was a medical sales representative in Houston, TX with a wife, three kids, and a serious golfing hobby. He had recently gone on a search for an exotic shaft upgrade for his Scotty Cameron putter. On a whim, he googled wooden shafts, stumbled across hickory golf clubs, and the rest was history.
“One of the things I learned in that search was that, when the golf industry transitioned from hickory shafts to steel, a lot of players either kept their old hickory putters or would fit their new putters with hickory shafts for decades after that transition because the feel was so much better.
“So I kept digging into hickory golf and tried to learn what it was all about. I discovered there were hickory tournaments and the winners shot like 75-78 and I thought, ‘I can do that. I’m going to get a hickory set together and figure this out.’ From that point on, I was hooked. There was no going back.”
So hooked, in fact, that when Jeremy heard the Just family was fielding offers for the company as a result of Mike’s passing in October of 2016, he put his name in the hat. It just so happened that Jeremy and his wife were both at a point in their careers where they were looking for more. Burned out and tired of the cyclical corporate rat race, they decided to go all-in on Jeremy’s passion, submitted an offer to the Just family, and ultimately were selected from multiple potential suitors to carry on the legacy of the company.
As for where Louisville Golf goes from here, you can probably expect a lot more of what got them here in the first place. After all, one of the biggest reasons Jeremy was selected to take the reins at Louisville Golf was his commitment to preserving its heritage. Louisville Golf may not be rubbing elbows with the major OEM’s anymore, but these days, they’re not trying to either. Just like the rest of us golfers, they’re getting by with grit, optimism, and respect for the game. They’ve also seen the fortunate bounces and bad lies that come with a life dedicated to golf, but as the old adage says, the most important shot is always the next one. Time marches on. And so does Louisville Golf. They remain committed to what has brought them this far and see that as a springboard into the future.
“We’ve got some products in the works that I think are really innovative and will show what persimmon is really capable of. I think if you’re a better player who can find the sweet spot on a consistent basis, you really should think seriously about persimmon. Especially if you’re looking to get a specific yardage out of your clubs like with a fairway wood or hybrid. There was a video circulating a few years ago with Rickie Fowler using a steel shafted persimmon fairway wood and he was getting a 1.49 smash factor. You can’t get much better than that. The way the bulge and roll is shaped on a persimmon wood and also the location of the CG allows for a bigger gear effect than modern titanium woods. Persimmons do impart more spin on the ball (especially on a mishit), so we acknowledge the ball may not go as far, but that spin also brings the ball back to the target, too. That’s one of the biggest advantages of persimmon. You’ll be shorter but in the fairway as opposed to long and in the trees.
“The people that find us are looking for a deeper connection to the tradition and the spirit of the game. They’re tired of paying for marketing fluff and silly catch phrases. We make viable alternatives for the modern golfer, we make classic reproductions of the steel shaft/persimmon head era of golf, and we make spot-on hickory shafted clubs as well, so we think we have a place in just about everyone’s bag depending on how you prefer to experience the game. Nothing compares to the joy of a purely struck golf shot with a wooden golf club. You just feel like you’re playing golf the way it was meant to be played.”
A visit to Louisville Golf reveals a group of people who have dedicated their lives to exactly that: playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Hard work, attention to detail, a commitment to quality, and having a lot of fun along the way are the hallmarks of their operation. One strike directly on that persimmon sweet spot will send all of those vibes straight into your bones. Playing golf with persimmon woods in the 21st century may be taking the road less traveled, but it could make all the difference.
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