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A Guide to Golf Fitness for Average Golfers

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In this series of five articles, I will be offering guidelines for golf-specific physical activity aimed at five different golfing demographics:

This story is for club golfers. The average club golfer has a handicap of 26.5 if they are female, and 14.3 if they are male. They don’t play a lot of golf and have limited time to practice because of their busy schedules. And they usually don’t have the time or the inclination to undertake an extensive physical regimen to improve their golf. But that doesn’t mean that the average golfer can’t benefit from some work on their body.

It is difficult to say exactly how average golfers can benefit from a fitness routine without a thorough physical screening and lifestyle questionnaire, which identifies the areas individuals need to work on. But there are a few common issues that tend to crop up again and again in club golfers that come through our academy.

Let’s have a look at the most common complaints and the methods we use to help.

The Issue: “I have pain in my lower back”

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Lots of people play golf in pain. In fact, a 2006 study on golfer health conducted by Golf Digest showed that a staggering 64 percent of golfers suffer from low back pain of some description.

The Solution: Strength, Mobility + Postural Awareness and Control

Once a golfer has been cleared for serious spinal pathology and we are given the green light, we golf fitness experts get to work on making them stronger and more mobile. We often begin with awareness and activation drills for the core, spine and posture in general, along with mobility work on the muscles attaching to the pelvis that are pulling the low back into an uncomfortable position. On the hit list are invariably hip flexors, quads, deep glutes and hamstrings. While working on awareness and mobility, we also start to introduce basic strength exercises for the core, glutes, hamstrings and low back.

See below for a basic program of mobility and stability exercises for key muscles surrounding the pelvis and spine. The ideal equipment for this is a Golf Posture Training Kit, but you can also use a tennis ball, baseball, foam roller and a piece of rubber tubing or theraband.

Low Back Mobility and stability

Release and stretching for the low back, glutes, quads and hip flexors. Stability/strength exercises for the glutes. Click the image to enlarge it.

The Issue: “I want to hit it farther”

The standard club golfer always wants to squeeze a few extra yards out of his or her driver and we can certainly help, but maybe not in the way that you might think we can.

The Solution: Movement Patterns and Sequencing

Rather than simply attempting to increase club head speed with loaded rotational core exercises, we first look at improving the efficiency of the golf swing itself. We do this by analyzing the swing and then prescribing movement pattern drills. This will not only increase club head speed, but also help golfers get more compression and better launch conditions. As we start to make significant progress in this area, we can then look at strength exercises to maximize the new, more efficient action. Below are a couple of the more basic movement pattern drills I use.

I’m pictured using the a 2XU Ramsay Posture Belt and micro power band, but you can also use a piece of rubber tubing for the hands and another tied around the knees.

Dynamic Turn Collage

Two drills that promote dynamic rotation.

The Issue: “I can’t swing it the way my coach wants me to”

In my experience, mobility is often the biggest inhibitor for club golfers when trying to get into the swing positions that their coach is teaching them. If the player does not have the range of motion in a particular joint or length in a particular muscle, then it will be impossible for them to get into the right position without a lot of compensation from other parts of the body.

The Solution: Self Massage, Functional Stretching and Activation Drills

Trail shoulder position (right shoulder for righties, left shoulder for lefties) is an area that is particularly affected by lack of mobility and also has a massive influence on shaft and club face position throughout the swing. Tight pectorals (pec major and minor) and inactive and/or weak “scap control muscles” (serratus anterior, mid and low traps, and the rotator cuff muscles) work together to drag the shoulder forward. From here it is difficult to set the shoulder correctly, and therefore arm and club head in the correct position in takeaway and at the top of the backswing.

We prescribe self massage release and stretching for the pecs and a series of activation drills for the scap control muscles. These can be performed in golf posture to help the player transfer the newfound mobility, control and strength around their shoulder directly into their golf swing.

See below for a mini program of scapula/shoulder setting exercises. Again, you can use a tennis ball, baseball and some rubber tubing to perform these simple exercises.

Shoulder Mobility and Stability

Release and stretching for the pecs, stability and strength for the rotator cuff and mid/low traps.

To access a free exercise guide for the mini programs in this article, you can download the Golf Fit Pro app for iOS and Android. Equipment, training programs and more are available on the Golf Fit Pro website.

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter and Rehab Expert contracted by PGA Tour Players, Division 1 colleges and national teams to deliver golf fitness services. Via his Golf Fit Pro website, app, articles and online training services, Nick offers the opportunity to the golfing world to access his unique knowledge and service offerings. www.golffitpro.net

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. other paul

    Jun 20, 2015 at 9:09 am

    If you play with lower back pain then look up Kelvin miyahira. I started swinging more like he describes and my back pain from golf is gone. Back pain from lifting heavy things in my work did not go away…

  2. Patricknorm

    Jun 19, 2015 at 5:28 am

    Excellent article Nick. I worked pretty hard this past winter and spring to increase my core strength and flexibility. I’ve had many surgeries do to playing sports at a high (pro)level. I also sought out a personal trainer to make certain I was on the right path to my goals.
    What I found, do my issues with a tender back ( due to multiple surgeries on knee and hip), was that when I get tired, my legs don’t help as much as they should or are able.
    I can’t run or even ride a bike because I can’t bend my right knee past 90 degrees. Is there a drill / exercise you can recommend for a lefty, with a strong sugerically repaired right knee ( 5 procedures, last being a replacement) to increase or maintain strength in my legs?
    Keep up the good work Nick . Just ignore the shanks.

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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