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.
Clampett: Is confusion the leading cause of golfers quitting the game?
It seems that lately I’ve had a run of golfers attending my two-day Signature School with similar stories.
“Bobby, I have too many swing thoughts! I don’t know what I should think about when I swing.” Nearly without exception, these golfers tell me that their increased frustration had led to a deterioration of their game. It’s really a shame, because many of these frustrated golfers were at one time low, single-digit handicap players that had fallen to bogey-level golf.
In these schools, I have the time to start peeling back the onion with each student, and I’m hearing the same story over and over. My first question is always, “How did you find out about us?” Usually, it’s through referral or the result of an internet search for instruction help. My second questions is, “What do you hope to accomplish in our two days together?” They almost always respond, “Bobby, my head is spinning with too many swing thoughts. I don’t know what to do. Your approach to impact makes the most sense I’ve seen. That’s why I’m here.”
Statistics indicate that 4 million golfers quit the game in the United States every year. And if you polled each of these 4 million golfers, you’d find confusion to be the common denominator in their decision to quit.
I googled “golf instruction” and received more than 33 million results. Then I went to “YouTube” and typed in “Golf Tip.” There were 932,000 results. Scores of golfers get emails everyday suggesting a new thought or idea to improve their game. They watch television and pick up some more advice. They subscribe to golf magazines suggesting all kinds of ideas. Then they go to the range or course and put as much of it into action as their memories and bodies will allow… only to find it just doesn’t work! They’re farther away from playing good golf than they were when they began seeking out these swing fixes.
Many of my students are avid golfers who come to my schools on the brink of quitting the game all together. One student’s story was so sad. He confessed that no one at his club wanted to play with him anymore because his game had declined so sharply. He was considering selling his membership. In tears, he shared with us that all of his friends were members of his club.
Why is there all this confusion around the golf swing? There are two simple reasons.
The first involves the idea that “style-based” teaching is still the most common approach to improving a golfer’s game, and in my opinion, this doesn’t work very well for most golfers. Style-based instruction centers around a certain look. These teachers ask golfers to set up to the ball this way, get in these backswing positions, make this move on the downswing, look like this at the finish… and so on. Meanwhile, the Dustin Johnsons, Jim Furyks, and Bubba Watsons of the golfing world don’t possess golf swings that look anything like the “style” being suggested. When swing tips are given for “style” reasons, they’re arbitrary, a visual preference, and can’t be measured.
The second reason golfers are more confused today than they’ve ever been is the climate of today’s golf instruction world. We live in a new age, the digital age, and golfers are being bombarded by countless forms of media suggesting how to improve their games. These tips have a very wide range of theories and suggestions, most of which are conflicting.
Set up with your weight on the left foot. No, on the right foot. No, in the middle.
Have a short, compact swing. No, get a big shoulder turn for more distance. No, just swing around your body.
Finish high. No, finish low and left.
You get the picture. Without the ability to discern fact from fiction when it comes to all of this information, golfers go to the driving range in search of that secret pill that’s going to make it all work. The truth is that a secret pill that’s “style-based” just doesn’t exist. The best golf teachers know that the “style” of swing really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters in playing good golf is creating good impact. That’s what Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson all have in common, and that’s why they are all great golfers and great ball-strikers.
Good instructors understand what it is that these great players do to create that good impact, and they have the ability to offer clear remedies that might be built on only one or two simple thoughts. When a golfer is limited to thinking about only one or two key things, their mind is free and so is their swing. It’s not paralysis by analysis that ruins golfers, but rather paralysis by having too many needless and ineffective swing thoughts that ruins golfers.
Good instruction and good swing tips help golfers understand the impact their swing needs to create to be a good ball-striker. When a golfer’s impact isn’t good, a good instructor will help the student understand the specific element of their impact that wasn’t good and provide the appropriate remedy to fix it. Using today’s modern technology helps reveal precisely what was good or bad about a swing’s impact. After the remedy is given, technology will specifically be able to measure and show improvement in the various elements of impact. Game improvement can now be measured and verified by viewing the specific areas where impact is improved. When students see this measured improvement, hope is restored, confidence grows, scores drop and fewer golfers quit the game!
Be aware that it’s fine to read these articles and view these swing tips for their entertainment and educational value, but golfers should only apply the tips when they know they will help them improve a specific element of their impact. Then and only then will their game improve. One thing is for certain in golf, better impact equals better golf. That is where the “hope” of a good golf game is to be found.
The difference between “ugly” and “unorthodox” golf swings
I’d like you pretend for a moment that you were asked to name the five ugliest golf swings by players who had won a major championship. Who would you select, and what criteria would you use to make that judgment? You might say you’re not sure, but you would have no difficulty identifying an ugly swing if you were to see one, right? The question is, what factors would move you toward that decision?
I struggled with this exact question when it was posed to me and others who were members of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100” panel at the time. In making my decision, I was concerned that I did not confuse UNORTHODOX with UGLY. The fact is that some of the greatest golfers throughout history have been considered to have had unorthodox swings.
- The word “unorthodox” is defined as that which is contrary to what is usual, traditional or generally accepted.
- The word “ugly” is defined as that which is unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.
In comparing the two definitions, they are clearly quite different. The word “unorthodox” suggests something that is different from the norm, while the word “ugly” relates to the appearance of an object regardless of its status. The problem with labeling any golf swing as unorthodox is that the definition of that condition varies with time. What was once considered to be unorthodox may later be considered perfectly acceptable, and we’ve seen this happen over and over again in golf instruction.
Case No. 1
It was considered unorthodox when Harry Vardon moved his thumbs toward the top of the shaft and placed the little finger of his right hand over his left forefinger knuckle. The standard grip in his era featured both thumbs to the sides of the shaft. The club was held more in the palms of both hands and with all ten fingers, rather than more diagonally through the palm as in Vardon’s Grip. As Vardon began to win, however, his competitors copied his grip. What once was considered unorthodox became orthodox.
Case No. 2
Hogan and Nicklaus were paired together in the final round of the 1957 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. The dichotomy between their backswings couldn’t have been more evident. This was due to the way in which they utilized their right elbows in the backswing. Nicklaus allowed his right elbow to work up and away, pointing more outward at the top. Hogan’s right elbow was closer to his body and pointed more downward.
At the time, Hogan’s backswing was considered orthodox while Nicklaus’ swing was considered unorthodox. As Hogan faded from the winner’s circle and Nicklaus began to emerge, what was once thought to be unorthodox later came to be considered orthodox.
There are some swings that most observers would agree are both unorthodox and ugly. For example, most observers would say that Jim Furyk’s swing is not pretty — they might even go so far as to categorize it as ugly. This is despite the face that Furyk has had an outstanding career and has a U.S. Open victory to his credit. What is it that observers find so offense in his swing? The answer is the differential in planes between the backswing and the downswing, or what might be referred to as a “loop” in his swing.
In Furyk’s case, the club is taken well outside what might be considered the traditional backswing plane. Then it is looped well to the inside and back into position on the downswing. This is is a perfectly acceptable way to play golf, which is evidenced by the size of his bank account and the number of trophies on his mantle. As you might surmise, because of his golf swing, Furyk has not been asked to write any full-swing instruction books.
The problem is that, in the eyes of the observer, the combination of the two distinctly different planes gives a disjoined appearance to the swing. Does it follow then that the variance in the backswing and downswing is the primary factor in determining if a swing qualifies as being ugly? The problem with reaching that conclusion is that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with other players who employ a similar pattern… beginning with Freddy Couples. He begins his swing by lifting his arms well outside the traditional plane line. With a delayed turn of his torso, he then brings the club back into a more traditional plane at the top.
In the case of both Couples and Furyk, their backswings operate well outside the traditional plane line with both players “looping” the club back into position prior to impact. And yet Couples’ swing is universally admired, while Furyk’s swing is in some quarters ridiculed. This begs the question of why Couples’ “looping” swing motion is considered more acceptable than Furyk’s. The answer to that question is two-fold.
- Furyk’s loop is created ostensibly by a change in plane with the arms and the hands, giving the swing a frenetic appearance.
- Couples’ loop is created with a graceful turn of his body with the arms following in perfect harmony.
And so, when taking the swings of Couples and other “loopers” into consideration, it would seem that the dramatic change in plane between the backswing and the downswing in and of itself does not warrant the classification of ugly.
Author Footnote: A point worth considering as part of this discussion is that there have been other accomplished players throughout the history of the game whose backswings have operated on the same principles as Couples. This would include perennial Champion’s Tour winners Kenny Perry, and earlier Jay Haas, whose swings were generally admired despite their unorthodox approach to the backswing.
What does this all mean? First, while a loop in the golf swing may be unorthodox, is not necessary considered ugly provided that the club is routed into plane with the turn of the body rather than just the arms and the hands. Second, as stated earlier, the definition of unorthodox can and does change depending on the era. And third, an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly. The two classifications are very different.
As you evaluate golf swings, remember this adage; an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly, but an ugly swing is always unorthodox.
TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?
Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
For more info on the topics, check out the links below.
- Rory’s putter: www.golfwrx.com/503976/rory-mcilr…rmade-soto-proto/
- Tiger’s driver: www.golfwrx.com/503940/tiger-wood…irms-notah-begay/
- LA Golf Shafts: www.golfwrx.com/503818/la-golf-pa…s-la-golf-shafts/
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