Even those who were rooting for the first place winner from North Carolina or even the thirteenth place winner from Illinois in the 2010 US Pro Mini Golf Tour (USPMG) may think of golf as more a game than a sport.
It wasn’t too long ago that the general public didn’t really consider golfers as having specially honed athletic abilities. This was partly due to the body type and apparent fitness level of a large number of golfers and partly due to the perception that golfers mostly walk around and occasionally swing a stick.
How difficult could that be? After all, in America’s favorite sports of football, basketball, and baseball, the athletes have to run and interact with each other strategically as a team. Golfers appear to be out for a stroll . . . or even a ride, if they use a golf cart.
One hint that these opinions are missing the boat is that professional athletes in other sports respect golf as not only a sport requiring general athleticism but a demanding one at that. “There’d be a lot of guys doing it if it were such an easy sport,” retorts Rick Rhoden, former major league pitcher.
And Sterling Sharpe, former wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, is of the opinion that golf should be counted as a member of the “Big Four” of sports, taking pride of place along with football, basketball, and baseball.
Toby Dawson, Olympic bronze medalist in mogul skiing in 2006, sums it up like this: “These days if you’re not working out and don’t have a build like Tiger and all these young guys, you’re not going to be as competitive. You’re not going to be able to get the clubhead speed, you’re not going to hit the ball as far and you can’t hit it out of the 7-inch rough that they’re going to put everywhere to keep up with technology.”
The advances in golf club design are somewhat responsible for the mixed messages. Golf clubs for relatively inexperienced players are now designed to get a good shot from even a mediocre swing. With clubs made to lift the ball no matter what part of the face strikes it, a spectator could be forgiven for thinking that the sport looks easy.
Pro clubs are designed differently so that the tiniest alteration in angle or striking point has an effect. Professional golfers must be able to vary the big motion of their swing so that these tiny, delicate alterations occur as the speeding club strikes the ball. But if you don’t know this, you won’t realize what precision is required.
So what do golfers need besides being generally fit?
Both for a competitive edge and to prevent injury, specific, golf-focused fitness exercises are essential. In addition, golfers have to be mentally fit. In a sport that is played on a constantly changing field of play, the golfer’s analysis of the situation and choice of tools are as important as having a biomechanically successful swing. Professional golfers have fitness programs that they undertake off the golf course, plus a pre-round warm-up routine, plus a cool down. These days, even the golfers who don’t look like they have fitness coaches have fitness coaches.
As Tim McDonald, veteran golf writer says, “When you look at Phil Mickelson, the term ‘personal trainer’ doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Doughnuts, maybe. Or vanilla fudge. Yet, he has one and credits him for much of the success he’s had on the PGA Tour.”
According to Mikelson’s trainer, Sean Cochran, Mickelson does daily aerobic exercises and uses medicine balls, stability balls, and elastic bands. But these are not just for general fitness. The focus is on rotational exercises, since they are so much a part of golf, and Mickelson’s performance in the last nine years has demonstrated how this training has paid off.