Most men would kill — but not hit the gym — to have Rory McIlroy’s physique. Since he burst onto the golf scene nearly a decade ago with a mediocre build, the Northern Irishman has transformed his body into one worthy of a Men’s Health Magazine cover.

One thing Rory didn’t shed, however, were his critics.

Several members of the golf media have recently voiced their pointed opinions about Rory’s beefed up body. Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee went public with his worries early in 2016, saying “it does give me a little concern when I see the extensive weightlifting that Rory is doing in the gym.”

McIlroy famously shrugged off Chamblee with this unforgettable response:

NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller joined the attack during the 2016 British Open. While explaining why Rory hasn’t won more majors (he’s stuck at a lowly four, double Miller’s career total if anybody’s counting).

“I think he overdid the weight room,” Miller said. “I don’t think that helped him at all. Same thing with Tiger Woods. You just get carried away with wearing the tight shirts and showing off their muscles.” 

Golf Magazine columnist Alan Shipnuck also has an opinion on the matter, recently firing off this tweet regarding the muscle madness on Tour:

If you didn’t already know who Rory McIlroy is before reading this, based on these criticisms, you might assume he’s a washed-up meathead who can’t put a coordinated swing on a golf ball. And like Chamblee, Miller, and Shipnuck, you’d be dead wrong.

Despite the fact that his major championship “slump” sits at nine events without a win heading into the 2017 U.S. Open, and a nagging rib injury that has kept him on the sidelines for much of the year, Rory holds the No. 2 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings. How can this be, you ask, given Rory’s dedication to the gym? Golf fitness expert Carolina Romero, the woman behind the social media persona the Fit Golfer Girl, uses a simple formula to explain.

“When we think about the ability to hit the ball and generate swing speed, force equals mass times acceleration,” she says. “When Rory was tiny … he didn’t really have a lot of mass, he had to accelerate his little body a lot,” Romero told my At The Turn podcast, referring to McIlroy’s physique when he was noticeably less muscular toward the beginning of his professional career.

“This was actually hurting his lower back,” she said. “This was not exactly good for longevity. If he’s going to continue to play for many, many years … he needs to make sure that he continues to generate these speeds without putting so much pressure on his body. If he just increases his muscle mass a little bit, he’s going to be able to reach that same amount of force — meaning his same distances and his same speeds — with a lot less acceleration, which is going to put less stress on his body.”

To refute the critics even more, Romero goes on to explain that the added muscle Rory has built might actually do more to preserve his career than damage it.

“Even if his mass is a little bit higher, this is actually going to protect his back and his body and give him longevity in the sport,” she said.

Rory’s longevity remains to be seen, but his results speak for themselves. With four majors and a No. 2 world ranking, there’s no need for McIlroy to defend himself on Twitter… but it’s quite entertaining when he does.

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Nick Heidelberger writes about all things related to golf, from the world's best players to the weekend warriors, although he can only relate to the latter. When he's not writing or golfing, Nick co-hosts the @AtTheTurnPod, hikes with his dogs and roots for his wife's soccer team. Twitter: @njheidelberger

51 COMMENTS

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  1. The article is poorly written because he just restates what he quoted.

    On another note everything is relative. In the world of golfers, Rory could be considered jacked because of his muscle mass. Compared to long driver champs, no way. Compared to body builders and powerlifters, nah. But again, putting it into perspective, compared to most golfers he’s pretty jacked. Ripped on the other hand is another story. Ripped is definition and lean. Villegas is absolutely the most ripped player on tour. Is he jacked? Not really, considering his muscular toning, he’s more ripped than he is jacked. Yes that is possible.

    Those making the comparison of a golfer to a jacked football player, are comparing bananas to pineapples…they’re not even remotely related when it comes to golf and being “jacked.”

    Write something new next time. Don’t just re-summarize past events and then quote them to be redundant. If you’re gonna write an article, do it the way Johnny miller thinks golf anchors should commentate. Don’t be afraid to make your own speculations about things and possibly be wrong. It’s not interesting if you wait until AFTER the shot and just comment on what happened. There’s no need for a sportscaster if all you do is repeat what we just saw. Be intersting. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t think he’ll make this putt.” When they do, just say “oh, well I guess I was wrong.”

  2. I bet 10 years from now Rory will be pulled over by cops in Northern Ireland in the middle of the night for driving under the influence of all the painkillers he took to deal with his injuries from weightlifting from years past…

    • Funny how Gary Player has been a fitness advocate his whole life, known for “weightlifting” and he is still very fit and strong at the age of 80 years old. He still trains 4 to 5 times a week and iss much better off than Jack Nicklaus physically at an old age. But you don’t seem to include him in this discussion. Who’s to say that Tiger wouldn’t have had these problems regardless if he weight lifted or not? More than likely its genetic and he would have had those problems regardless due to the strain he puts on his lower back with his swing. Without weight lifting he would have been worse off.

  3. One thing nobody ever talks about and is the fact that working out and building up your physique actually helps you mentally in the sense that you become more confident which directly translates to the golf course. The idea that working out and building muscle hurts your game is ridiculous, no you do not become less flexible, quite the opposite actually it can allow you to become more flexible as long as you stretch. If your muscles grow too big to properly swing the golf club then yes it could have an impact but nobody on tour has this problem and certainly not Rory. Building up muscle will help prevent injury and you will deal with less joint issues, muscle and strength training helps with this. I’ve had knee problems since I was a teenager due to damaging my meniscus and my knee would pop out of socket frequently. But ever since I’ve built up the muscle in my legs with squats and leg workouts I’ve never felt better. Working out will help you no matter what anybody says, its ridiculous to think otherwise. I would say one thing you have to be aware of is not to be too tight from a workout and be aware when to workout so as not to affect the day you play. But a lot of times even in Tiger’s case he said when he was younger he was too loose and I can agree with that because I’ve personally felt/seen that.

  4. 14 months ago I weighed 125 lbs at 5 foot 4, now I weigh 150 lbs and have put on 25 lbs of muscle with only the help of free weights and body weight exercises.

    14 months ago I had to swing out of my shoes to get a 100 mph driver headspeed, now I just have to effortlessly turn and release to reach 102 mph.

    As I don’t have the leverage of someone 6 ft tall, I have to produce head speed by createing more torque through larger muscle mass. It took me a while to stop forcing but now it’s easy-peasy just to let go.

    I look good, feel good and haven’t had an injury all season. At 58 I’m quite happy with the change.

    If the guys want to workout and play it’s ok with me.

  5. He ain’t ripped, whatch’all talking about? He’s a shrimp! Make him wear some baggy shirts and not them skintight swimsuit shirts, you’ll see how he’s really not ripped at all.

  6. It’s awesome how people here know more about training and physical fitness than the top golfers in the world, their coaches, and all the trainers in professional sports and the PGA Tour. Congratulations! Seems like you should ply your advanced knowledge to put some of these people out of work and turn Rory, Tiger, etc, into the perfectly fitted athletes that you know you can sculpt. Or are you all wealthy and busy enough already?

    Your superior skills and knowledge are wasted in comments sections of blogs. The real world is just like the internet, only taller.

    • But the body has to be able to support those mass and acceleration, otherwise you won’t get solid contact with proper momentum (mass X velocity), therefore if you’re weak like you are, you can’t get distance fnar fnar

  7. Golf is a game, not really a sport. You don’t have to be powerful, fast, or even fit to play the game well. Golf has become all of a sudden cool in the media world since mid 90s. Today, the game is not what it used it be – for kids and older people who cannot play other real sports. So I guess the top guys need to look like real athletes. It’s the image thing I guess. They need to be good models for the apparel their sponsors are trying to sell.

    • sport

      /spôrt/

      noun

      noun: sport; plural noun: sports

      1. an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

      Navigating undulating and changing terrain, spinning and placing the ball for positioning for the next shot, etc. Are you sure it’s not a sport? 300+ yard drives, hitting high 185 yard 5 and 6 irons from 2-5 inch rough is pretty physical, and the skill set necessary to compete at the highest level. It’s funny when people say golf isn’t a sport just because we don’t run or they believe that the physical exertion isn’t as high as other sports yet the same top tier athletes that are so great at their sports can’t beat the majority of amateurs that play this GAME.

    • oh and about being fit or fast, so what exactly is Curling or Table Tennis or competitive shooting or archery, are they not sports? I guess the big 5 are the only real sports, American Football, Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, and Baseball maybe even Cricket? Well Basketball and Baseball are debatable, if you are 6’9 – 7’2 with no coordination, you can get into the NBA nowadays as long as you can get 4 rebounds, 3 points and 1 block a game even though you can’t jump higher than a frog and everybody else outrun’s you down the floor and I guess baseball isn’t either when the most recent Triple Crown winner looks like all he did was sat around and ate donuts all the time.

  8. good grief what has the golf world come to…we consider a guy who is 5 foot 9 and weight 165 to be jacked. No wonder other athletes make fun of us! Not even in the realm of muscular, let alone jacked. Rory and Day just keep wearing shmedium size clothes, not getting jacked

  9. The problem is these golfers are injuring themselves with improper lifting techniques. They are utilizing ballistic movements such as Crossfit, plyometrics, and Olympic Weightlifting which have far higher rates of injury. If you notice, the golfers who lift are those who are the most injured (Dustin Johnson, Rory, Tiger, Jason Day, etc.).
    As an athletic trainer, I always had athletes implement Powerlifting techniques with a focus on strength, not size. Such techniques have low injury rates and shield the body from sports related injury.

  10. I love all of these people who think they can diagnose Rory’s golf “problems” (as the world number 2, it’s debatable that he even has any golf problems). How would anyone be able to tell for sure that his weightlifting has negatively affected his golf game? Jordan Spieth’s performance has dropped off considerably since 2015, and he hasn’t been bulking up in the gym. What do the “experts” have to say about his “struggles on the golf course”?

    The simple truth is that golf is just an incredibly difficult game to play consistently at the highest level. Tiger made it look easy by dominating the game for nearly 10 years, and people who know absolutely nothing about golf expect other players to be able to do the same with ease. Well, it doesn’t work like that, and there really is no issue here to be discussed.

  11. Actually, he’s not that ripped. If you can find a recent photo of him with his shirt off while on vacation, you can see that he is not ripped like some of the long-drive guys at all. It only appears that way because of the shirts he wears and the designs that make it seem like he has massive pecks and thick arms. But he’s actually quite svelte, he’s only 5’9″ at 165, and his arms are about as normal for a fit guy at his height and weight. When he plays, he’s quite limber and knows how to stretch every muscle to get the speed he generates.

  12. This is just my uneducated opinion here so be gentle. Is it the swing before and at impact that is where damage is inflicted on the body or is it the follow through and the body having to stop the rotation of the swing? If the latter and Player A does not work out and swings at 110mph and player B does work out and has the same 110mph swing I would assume player B’s muscular frame will be better equipped to handle the forces generated by the golf swing, that is true unless Player B has worked out to the point that the muscles are fatigued then this could have the adverse effect and more impact and force would now be put on the skeletal structure in turn causing more injuries to joints.

    Now take into consideration if player A and B have the same weight club player B would most likely be able to swing the club at a faster speed (I know there are other aspects to the swing that can effect speed) but for the sake of argument player B should be able to swing faster in turn the forces to stop the swing need to be larger which run the risk of (possibly) being transferred to the skeletal structure.

    I am not sure I understand the effect of a golfer having more mass being able to hit the ball farther, I am sure some of this added weight is transferred into the swing but at a very small percentage would be transferred to the head of the club. Now if the club head has more mass I can see how this would compress a ball more given the same swing speed which could effect ball speed as long as this has not increased backspin.

  13. Citing “social media persona Fit Golfer Girl” as an expert – wow!
    This is not an article this is a quick google search of what some people have said on this subject. No own research on the subject, no direct statements from the people involved and no laid out arguments for any thesis, antithesis – not speaking of synthesis. This is a clickbaiting waste of time. Shame on you!

  14. The lack of understanding of exercise physiology and how it relates directly to the golf swing, from your expert, is laughable. There are undoubtedly workouts and exercises that will increase a golfers ability to work his/her swing.

    That said however, immobility from mass is a common issue among professional athletes. Take Dwight Howard for instance…the guy is massive and naturally so, but, his mass has limited him on the court for years. Every team he’s played on has had that concern, and still do. Now, if he were in the NFL, the story would be different. The point remains though, that mass doesn’t necessarily create power. Speed creates power, at least as it relates to golf. Adding large amounts of mass restricts mobility – look at your nearest beefcake in the gym tomorrow – and it actually can limit speed.

    Rory working out is NOT the issue. It’s how he’s working out that is the issue. Factually speaking, the muscles of the lower back are small muscle groups, and even combined together, they’re still a small group. When those muscles are stressed from having to carry the added mass (muscle weighs more than fat) from the upper back muscles, that’s when problems start to develop. And we’ve seen that time and again…

    Think back to the last world number 1 before Tiger’s reign, David Duvall. Somewhat chubby, but loose and limber. Now, think back to when he went on the fitness/working out train. It destroyed his back and body, and he’s admitted that himself. His career essentially ended because of injuries.

    We’ve seen it with El Tigre, as well. Make no mistake, Tiger’s back issues are almost directly a result of the violence of his swing and the added mass he has to carry. That creates uneven “push & pull” duties to all the muscles and that’s when tears and rips start happening.

    The real question is, did Jack look like that? What about Gary Player? Tom Watson? Arnold Palmer? Seve? Trevino? Any of the historical greats of the game? There’s a reason they didn’t, and it’s not because there wasn’t weights to do it. Arnold Schwartzenegger and Reg Park were in their primes in those guys’ hay days. The methodology was there, however, those guys understood that being limber is better, especially in golf.

    I have been saying for years that what golfers should be doing is stuff like Yoga, Pilates, Tabata, or other techniques that work around keeping the weight down, the tone in the middle (not too ripped) and flexibility high. Guys that are doing deadlifts and working with heavy weights, are eventually going to limit themselves. This is obvious to most exercise physiologists…..myself included.

    • This is an excellently written reply.

      Johnny Miller was another guy who bulked up and ruined his golf game. Chopping wood, or something like that if I remember.

      Nicklaus was pretty darn smart. He played (and continues to play) tennis to stay in shape.

    • I cannot refute anything you are saying but would like to add that I think the main issue is how theier swing needs to ADJUST to their new body which is the issue. When you put on muscle, you usually loose flexibility and that is the trade-off.

    • In the golf swing speed will always be king, and some obtain that through strength, if we look at the longest hitters in the world on the long drive circuit they are massive guys, but if you are not 6’6 and have the body able to support that mass I have always loved jamie sadlowski’s swing/physique for its ability to produce incredible amounts of speed in a body that doesnt need to be 300 lbs. He is great shape but in ways that help his golf swing like flexibility and balance to control that fast motion vs mass that would slow his body down. Could be incredibly wrong but that’s my 2 cents.

    • I’m not an expert, but I’ve done extensive reading on the subject of bodybuilding and athletic training to know that your generalization of what added mass does to an athlete is absolutely false. Added mass can restrict a golfer’s ability to swing freely, but only if he/she does not incorporate mobility, flexibility, and myofascial release exercises into the program. From what I can tell, Rory is no bigger than a high school or budding collegiate gymnast. He’s no bodybuilder. What everyone always seem to ignore is the fact that Rory is working with a personal trainer and his programming focuses primarily on making him a more complete and balanced athlete. The issues Rory had with his back are well noted and if you did a quick search you would also learn that he originally had stability issues in his legs (primarily his non-dominant side). The goal of his training (as it should be for any athlete) has always been to improve the areas in which he has the most issues. There may be some things he has done solely for the purpose of physical appearance, but none I can see which are cause for any concern. His training (and that of almost any other pro-golfer) is a world away from what Tiger was doing.

    • Agreed on the Pilates, Yoga.

      There’s an element of machismo in how golfer’s work out. Dead lifts, Squats, Bench presses are macho. Stretching, flexibility regimes like Yoga are not macho.

      It’s the same as Driving versus Short game. Bombing the driver 300+ yards is macho. 3 foot putts and chipping are not. But they all count the same on the scorecard.

      Ask any Pro if they would rather a mediocre long game with a tour best short game or a tour best driving distance with a mediocre short game, they would always stump for the superior short game.

      Any intelligent golfer recognizes that. As they also recognize that routines that focus primarily on increasing flexibility, limberness etc are far more important are more appropriate for their longevity than heavy compound lifting and their risk of getting career stifling injuries.

  15. I’m okay with Rory getting stronger to a point. Everyone has a particular build (meso, ecto, endo) based on their genetics. There is a point of diminishing return and it happened to Tiger where his joints could handle the torque from his swing. Something has to give whether it’s your knees, back or ankles.
    Golfers do strength training to prevent injuries and if they get a little stronger then it’s a bonus. I always believe the focus on strength training should always be core related. It’s not important to squat or bench or dead lift massive amounts unless your a power lifter. Golf is a pretty violent rotational movement and when core muscles are stressed, something has to give.
    Finally it’s easy to get addicted to the gym. Especially when those muscles get bigger. Like I mentioned earlier, there is a point of diminishing return.

    • Weight lifting is the “easy” way to try to get in better shape, but not the best. Playing a different sport, like tennis, or squash, would improve fitness and not put on unnecessary muscle bulk. And then we have Camilo Villegas who takes long bike rides for fitness. I would endorse that.

      Rory, statistically, was a little longer before the gym routine. I can see some moderate weight work to protect his back, but the bulk in the shoulders and biceps is totally unnecessary for a golfer. For a golfer, all you need is the strength in the upper body to maintain width. The force comes from the core and legs. One can keep that in shape through cross training – tennis, squash, bicycling, stand up paddling. Heavy weights are unproductive. But, they are addictive.

      Rory was a better, more natural golfer before the weight room.

        • He was a better golfer when he was pudgy.

          So was Bobby Jones, and Jack Nicklaus. When you are a golfer who can hit the crap out of the ball, and score better than everyone else, you shouldn’t mess with what Mother Nature gave you.

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