First off, I’d love to start off with a quick follow up to the previous fitness column. There were a ton of great comments on the front page and in the forums about both the philosophy and methodology of the exercise routine I described. With that in mind, it seems important to emphasize a critical point that might have been lost in the shuffle—fitness routines are very personal. Much like a golf swing, for optimum success it’s both important to:
- Find one that works for you
- Find a professional that can help you along the way
With that being said, this second fitness column will be broken into a couple parts. The first will focus on establishing a routine of simple stretches that can be done anywhere (without any equipment, etc). The second will focus on golf-swing specific strength aids.
Disclaimer: Just like weight training and cardio, it’s critical that you stretch correctly–if you have any doubts, please consult with a professional.
Here are some general rules for stretching:
- Stretching is not a warm-up, and is vastly more effective if you’ve done some light cardio before hand.
- Stretch in a balanced fashion. If you stretch your right hamstring, make sure you stretch your left as well.
- Don’t bounce. This can tear muscles and create scar tissue, leaving you less flexible than when you started.
- Pain is bad. Tension is good, but it you’re pushing it to pain, you’ve gone to far and run the risk of doing real damage.
- Keep stretching. Much like weight training and cardio, stretching works better if you do it 3-to-4 times a week, rather than “when you’re feeling stiff” (I suck at this one).
Here’s an example of a golf-specific routine I do. When applicable, I’ve included images and paraphrased descriptions from the Mayo Clinic for illustration. I recommend doing each stretch for 30 seconds, or 2 reps of 15-20 seconds (which I prefer). Do some research and find out what will be best for you.
Lie on the floor near a corner wall or door frame. Rest your leg against the wall, keeping your knee slightly bent. Gently stretch the knee out, until you feel the back of your leg stretch. Repeat with the other leg.
Kneel on your knee, placing your other leg in front of you. Place your hand on your waist so that you avoid leaning forward (keep your back straight). Slowly lean forward, putting more weight on your front leg. Repeat with other leg.
While standing, hold onto a wall or a sturdy piece of furniture for support. Pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your leg. Repeat with other leg.
Stand at arms length from a wall or a sturdy piece of furniture. Place one leg in front of the other as shown. Slowly lean forward while keeping your back heel on the ground, holding your back straight and hips forward. Repeat with the other leg.
Bring your arm across your body. Hold it with your other arm (either above or below the elbow) as shown. Repeat with the other arm.
Mayo doesn’t have an image for this stretch, but it is achieved by standing perpendicular from a wall. With a straight back, place your hand flat on the wall, and gently turn your body away from the wall, feeling the stretch in you pec muscle. Repeat with the other side.
The back is a place where I spend a great deal of time, as I had an L5/S1 micro-discectomy when I was 22. If you have a healthy back, you probably don’t need to spend as much time as I do on the lower back.
LOWER BACK–KNEE TO CHEST:
Lie on a firm surface with your heels on the floor and gently pull one knee towards your chest, keeping the opposite leg in a relaxed and comfortable position. Switch legs and repeat, then do the same stretch with both legs.
LOWER BACK–SEATED ROTATIONAL STRETCH:
Sit in an armless chair. Cross one leg over the other, and brace your elbow against your knee (see picture). Twist and stretch to the side, then switch to the other side.
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your gluteal and abdominal muscles and raise your hips to form a straight line between your knees and your shoulders. Hold for three breaths and repeat. (try to work your way up to 30 reps).
Stand in a relaxed position with your arms extended in front of you. Pull your shoulder blades back with a slight bend in the elbow—your arms should spread a bit wider as you do this.
Sorry, no pic again, but this one has really helped my posture at address. It’s very simple—just roll up a towel, and set it between your shoulder blades as you lay flat on the ground. Make sure your outside should blades are touching. This one you can do in two sets of 60.
Of course, these are just a few of the thousands of stretches a golfer could do. What I love about these is that I can do them all at home or in a hotel while watching TV. And remember, they’re significantly more effective after a short warm-up.
GOLF STRENGTH AIDS:
Again, there are hundreds of these on the market, and I’m sure that almost any of them could lead a faithful golfer to some noticeable success, I’m just going to talk about a couple. In addition, I would not use these in the place of actual strength training, just as a supplement.
I already explained how sometime around 1990 I invented the hybrid (I kid, I kid), so I might as well take credit for inventing the weighted club as well. My dad used to experiment with clubmaking back in the wood-wood era, and decided to make a head out of some ridiculously heavy wood (might have been mahogany). He then filled up the shaft about halfway with buck-shot. Next thing you know, we had a very heavy (and very loud) weighted club.
These days you can choose from several weighted clubs, the most popular being the Momentus. I bought one of these a while back, and can definitely feel how it makes you stronger. I always had some concerns over what it did for my golf swing, as it tended to mess with my tempo and slow down my transition a bit, though.
I believe an improvement has been made on the idea of the weighted club, and that’s the Powerchute. It’s a similar technology to the parachutes “real” athletes started using in the late ’80s for resistance training. The Powerchute quickly attaches to any driver, and only provides resistance on the down swing, therefore allowing your swing to remain “normal” (or at least as normal as a swing can feel when it’s attached to a parachute). I’ve been swinging the Powerchute in the mornings during my indoor range sessions, and really feel like it’s been helping a great deal with both my strength and my control.
NEXT COLUMN: Breaking the monotony of an indoor range session.
A breakdown of NCAA golf’s 2018 early-signing period
With the early-signing period for college golf ending about a week ago, I wanted to examine the numbers and see how they compared to last years. As you may remember, I reported last year that the average National Junior Golf Score Board (NJGS) ranking for a player that signed at a Division One Institution was 365. Likewise, the average NJGS for Power 5 Conference School was 114, while 52 percent of signees where from in-state. This year during the early signing period there were 173 players who signed at D1 schools. Of these the average NJGS for all division one signees was 262.6. The average for the Power 5 Conference signees was 113.76 and again 51 percent of players signed from in-state.
An important question is “what do we know about the 263-ranked player in NJGS (the average rank for D1)?” At the end of the signing period, this player was Ben Woodruff. The native of Huntersille, NC signed to play in-state for the University of North Carolina Charlotte. According to NJGS, Ben played 9 events with one top-5 finish, an overall rank of 507 and a scoring differential of .35. Historically, we see that the average Division One player has a scoring differential very close to .5 or better.
For the second consecutive year, the number one player chose a non-power 5 Conference school; Ben Wong decided to play his college golf for Coach Enloe at Southern Methodist University (SMU), located in Dallas, Texas. This means, Wong a native of Spring, Texas (a northern suburb of Houston) will be playing college golf about 3 hours north. He will also be joined by NJGS second-ranked player Noah Goodwin, giving SMU a formidable pair of recruits! Florida, Louisiana State University, Pepperdine, North Carolina and Texas also all nabbed two players each from the top 25 in their class, while UCLA grabbed three!
Among the most interesting trends in recruiting is the preference for college coaches to recruit “in-state” players. Over the past two years, the number of “in-state” signees have remained about 50 percent. This number, in my opinion, is based largely on limited recruiting budgets; less than 20 percent of schools have major recruiting budgets. Instead many coaches rely on recruiting budgets of a couple thousand dollars, which is not going to “travel” well.
It is also interesting to note that of the signees for Division I listed on NJGS, only 24 of 197 players where international. This means that international players make up 12 percent of the signees. This number is steady from the previous data collect. Of these players, Wake Forest signed players ranked 305 ad 702 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR), while UAB signed a player ranked 2476, Iowa State a player ranked 1098, UTEP a player ranked 2132 (also 325 in NJGS), Western Carolina a player ranked 3699, Stanford a player ranked 208, Arizona a player ranked 141, Colorado a player ranked 754 and 1050, Louisiana Monroe a player ranked 1524, Washington State a player ranked 3251, Northwestern a player ranked 332, Oregon a player ranked 527 and 2229 (also 291 in NJGS), VCU a player ranked 3216 (also 168 in NJGS) and George Washington a player ranked 2851 (also 276 in NJGS). The average WARG for these players is 1,558.5 (please note these represent their current WAGR rankings).
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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
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