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Performance Training for Golf - Part 1

Until recently, if a trainer was involved in sports performance, the sports were primarily football, basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, maybe lacrosse, some track and field, a little bit of swimming and rarely some tennis. But golf? Not likely.

If you happen to fall into the category above, perhaps you should rethink your comfortable position in the market. Golf isn’t exploding. It has exploded. And if you put a little time and effort into the sport, you will find that golf can become your next big training category. Consider some of the numbers:

As of 2005, 32 million Americans were playing golf, making it the number one recreational sport in the country. Most of these golfers are passionate, usually affluent, and luckily for us, they are realizing the importance of fitness to their game.

These 32 million golfers spend about $23 billion a year on improving their game. That includes equipment, instruction and golf specific training. According to Golf Digest, one of the largest, if not THE largest publication devoted to golf, their average reader had $1 million in net assets. That goes back to spending $23 billion on their game. In addition to being able to bankroll this sporting hobby, the golfers who you will meet will have friends, family and associates who also golf. This translates into referrals for golf training. So, how did this sports segment get so big so fast?

Catch a Tiger by the Tail

In 1996, Tiger Woods decided to end his college career at Stanford University and become a pro golfer. Since then, the golf world has never been the same. A 20 year old golfer who was one quarter Thai, one quarter Chinese, one quarter African, one eight Dutch and one eight Native American would change the look and make up of golf forever. It no longer had to be a game for affluent Caucasians. Kids could start playing, even at age two, like Tiger did. Golfers started hitting the gym. And the serious (shall we say boring?) look of golf transformed into something more mainstream in the way of merchandise, like Nike Golf. Nike’s five year, $100 million endorsement deal with Woods was the largest sports deal to date. Less than 10 years after turning pro, Woods would be the highest paid athlete in the world. That attracts a lot of attention. By bringing golf to the forefront and “down” to the masses, he allowed all golf enthusiasts to bring up their interest and level of play.

Go Pro

Now, not only are more and more people playing the game, mere recreational players are starting to emulate the pros... or are at least trying to. This has been an easy voyage, as the media are catapulting what’s available to anyone who wants it. Both golf shows and golf magazines are more prolific and gaining popularity. On a golf specific channel, there are shows like Golf Fitness Academy, Golf Central, Golf Makeover Challenge, Golf Talk, Golf Fun, Golf Week, Golf America, just to name a few. With regard to golf magazines, many are branching out and specializing with titles such asGolf Digest, Golf Magazine, Golf World, Golf Week, Golf for Women, Golf Illustrated, Golf Tips, Travel & Leisure Golf, Golfer, Golf StylesandAfrican American Golfer’s Digest. As golf information gets more and more abundant, golf enthusiasts get more demanding.

Part of what they’re demanding is a comprehensive approach to golf improvement. This takes a combined effort with a golf professional, using video analysis or a biomechanist doing 3-D motion analysis.

But of more importance to trainers is the fact that training itself is becoming more golf specific. Golfers have struggled at the game, so they’ve gotten analyzed by a qualified trainer. Along with the technological evaluation, a physical screen has completed the analysis. They now know what is stopping them, physically, from improving consistently, and they want to train in a way that corrects it. Also, the word is out that swing faults have underlying physical cases behind them (i.e., they’re fixable). Golf specific performance training is here. It is proven effective, it is coveted, and at a high performance training level, it is in short supply.

Timing and Tempo

If ever there was a perfect time to enter the world of golf fitness training, it is now. Aside from the sheer number of golfers in waiting, the golf industry itself has been embracing fitness as a critical means to improving one’s game. And, with a compilation of 3-D motion analysis at its disposal, the fitness industry has gotten a secret weapon that most golfers wish to acquire: the demystification of the golf swing. Researchers have shown that almost all of the top players in the world sequence their motion of the full swing in the same way. From a visual perspective and swing plane, they all have very different looking swings. But what happens inside their bodies is the same. The rate at which they move their parts may also be different, but the order (sequencing) in which they move them on the downswing is not.

Ideal biomechanics in golf create a more consistent, reproducible swing that hits the ball farther and straighter and reduces unnecessary stresses on the body. But in order to achieve ideal biomechanics, golfers have to be aware of what their bodies physically can and can’t do, what they are currently doing versus what they should be doing. This all leads up to a well timed collision course between golf, fitness and fitness professionals.

Golf Pros

Even though conditions are favorable for trainers to prosper at golf training, the odds are they aren’t going to be able to do it alone. No matter how proficient they become at golf specific exercises and conditioning, trainers are going to need a source of golf training clients. In essence, they need someone to open the door. That someone will most likely be a Golf Teaching Professional, who is trusted by students and whose recommendations always land on fertile ground. Golfers look up to their instructors in an almost religious way, having complete faith in their suggestions. But still, can one such person really impact the nature of a trainer’s business? If it’s the right one, that pro can turn a business around completely.

In 1999, a New Jersey Country Club’s Director of Golf was approached about the possibility of adding some innovative golf training to his regular fitness regime. (For reasons regarding privacy, his name is being withheld.). He believed that, since he already understood the importance of exercise, he was ahead of the pack. Here he was, a PGA Golf Pro AND a die-hard workout devotee... what could he possibly need to “help” improve his golf? Since he was offered the training for free, he had nothing to lose. Now, after eight years of working together, he is playing the best, healthiest golf of his career. And his new-found understanding and appreciation for the physical preparedness behind the technical rigors allow him to teach better and have more proficient students. Of course, his insistence on proper golf specific training and conditioning spills over to his students and, by way of referrals, then to their families, friends and associates.

Remember, golfers are passionate, often affluent and committed to spending whatever it takes to improve their game.

What could the bottom line be? As a direct result of training, this one respected Golf Teaching Professional’s income was supplemented by roughly $50,000 per year. That’s a nice bonus. Golf, anyone?

Start at the Beginning

At an introductory Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Golf Fitness Instructor certification course, golf instruction expert, Dave Phillips, warned about reaching out to that ONE teaching pro unprepared. He said that if he were to be approached by an eager trainer about golf specific fitness, he would want to be absolutely confident that that trainer understood all of the converging aspects of the game on the body, and the body on the game, including how biomechanics would affect choices on equipment. Everything that happens in golf is related and has consequences. So, if you were to make headway in convincing a pro to try your stuff out, be prepared to understand what he means when he initially says, “I have a slight reverse pivot and often cast coming over the top. To make up for that, I tend to slide, which causes me to slice most of my shots. And when I overcompensate for the slicing, the result is snap-hooking it.”

Start at the beginning. Learn the game and its history, the language, the scoring, the different clubs and decisions about equipment’s impact on one’s game. Over the years, as golf became more popular and technology started to be applied to equipment manufacture, golfers realized that their bodies had to compensate. Or conversely, they realized that they could select different equipment types to alleviate certain problems of strength, power, control, etc. Changes in materials led to changes in swing style. This relationship between the technical and the physical needs to be understood. In golf, everything is related in terms of cause and effect. The more trainers understand the physical characteristics of the clubs and the ball, the more they can relate the physics of the swing to predictability of ball flight or swing result, and the more impressed/devoted the golf clients will be.

Parlez-vous Golf? Learn the Positions... in their Language and Yours

Perhaps one of the reasons golf is looked upon by “foreigners” as such an exclusive game is the fact that it has a language all unto itself. Golf shots, for instance, have many more names than the number of clubs in a bag. But once trainers understand the shot itself, it becomes easier to correlate the biomechanics of the golfer to the shot he or she just unleashed.

But even beyond terminology for types of shots, both good and bad, there is a golf specific description for the actions themselves. Learning the specifics of these phases of the swing will become paramount in understanding joint mechanics, musculature, physical assessment and ensuing golf specific performance training. Understanding the positions needed to have an efficient golf swing enables trainers to assess if golf clients have physical restrictions negatively impacting their swing.

The phases are:

Set Up Transition Impact Finish

Looking at the proceeding photos, trainers will quickly realize the complexity of joint movements within the golf swing. Trainers need to understand that golf training is much more than doing twisting/rotational type exercises. It involves making sure clients have adequate range of motion in all the joint movements shown above. Some of the most limitations found are: internal rotation of the hip, external rotation of the shoulder, mobility of the thoracic spine and weakness of the glutes, to name a few.


Last of all, get on a course and play. Even if someone understands all of the ins and outs of the game, he will still lack one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle by not understanding what it feels like to actually play the game. How does the body feel going through the different motions? Starting with a keen awareness of the body’s movements, trainers will start to comprehend what might be needed, where and why. This experience and sports “empathy” will make for better training.

Learning the Course

The next thing to do is figure out a) where and b) who to focus on. There are several types of clubs/courses. Some will be a far better bet to approach. Municipal courses are owned and operated by local authorities and open to all. The lack of exclusivity usually means that the golfers there are not looking to spend much money on things like individualized golf specific training. Not that they wouldn’t like it, but the stream of ready and able golfers is not a good one. Hotel and resort courses probably have a clientele that can afford training, but that type of business is more of a revolving door. The lack of continued training means their results are limited, and therefore, the appeal of training is not as compelling. (Resident members of such courses are another story and worth considering.) Private members’ clubs have the highest probability of success for golf fitness trainers finding clients. The more expensive to join them, the better.

Knowing the club name is the beginning, because there will be policies surrounding a non member’s ability to actually get onto the course to have a conversation with an instructor. Trainers must call first. By now, they’re well versed in the subject, and an initial conversation should go relatively well. But before making the call, the trainer must also be sure, given that club’s roster of instructors and pros, that they will be talking to the professional who actually gives the golf lessons.

To start, not all PGA professionals teach AND not all instructors are PGA professionals. The following classifications clarify some titles at the clubs:

Pro vs. Pro: What can YOU teach THEM?

Trainers should be prepared for the fact that many golf instructors are part of a system entrenched in history and philosophies. They believe what they believe because it’s what everyone’s believed for so long. Technology has only recently changed the way they could look at it. And, though the research has revolved around golf, and the technology has been developed in response to golf, most golf instructors aren’t aware of the research, the results, the ramifications and the potential for success for themselves and their students. The process of convincing them that a sports performance trainer could actually impact their golf performance will require equal parts compelling education and deferential diplomacy. Do not begin by discussing technique or sequencing but instead by sharing the fact that many swing faults have underlying physical causes. With all the diagnostic information available, TPI has correlated the 12 most common technical swing faults of golfers to probable underlying physical causes. This information should thrill golfers and their instructors alike, as many (if not most) physical problems can be corrected.

So, why should instructors send you their clients? Many components of the golf swing can be enhanced through training: power, speed, strength, balance, timing, sequencing. These are not things gained through routine fitness, no matter how frequently someone is in the gym. The average person will not even understand how these are related to golf, let alone how they could improve one’s game.

It is productive to educate the instructor about their own game first, even before moving onto their clients. Everyone is interested in how something new can affect them. And golf is all about visible results. In an effort to ease them into understanding how golf performance can benefit from golf fitness training, it is helpful to explain how golf instruction might be part art and part science. The science is understanding how the body must move to be efficient, by testing and diagnosing both physical and technical abilities. And the art is being able to utilize the information gathered to make improvements. That sets up a trainer and an instructor to act as a team, each with their own insights into the body’s working at a swing.

A golf instructor might be “cutting edge” enough to understand golf fitness principles, but he or she will probably not be equipped with the biomechanical knowledge needed to pinpoint limited range of motion, muscular imbalance or weakness. These physical limitations will defy technical improvements. And they will eventually set the golfer up for injury as well. By correcting physical “handicaps” in a golfer, trainers create more “teachable” students for the instructor. Their bodies are more able to do what the instructor asks. The technical skills come easier. The results become consistent. The instructor seems more successful.

Odds are, the instructor will be intrigued but not necessarily ready to offer up clients as guinea pigs. By recommending a trainer, that instructor puts his reputation on the line, as the referral will be viewed as testimonial. In order to start the process, the instructor will probably have be the first golf fitness client. They will be quietly skeptical, and trainers might just have to offer to work with them for free. This time is a great investment. Improvements to their own game will create shock waves to the trainer’s business, for the instructors are the gate keepers to the golfers. Once impressed, they will open the floodgates, and the golf clients will come pouring in.

Part 2 will pick up the idea of performance training for golf and will focus on the proper exercise progression for golfers, including some effective exercises for each phase of training.