ANAHEIM, Calif. – If you as a golfer do not pay attention to the overall strength and condition of your body, you probably are adding strokes and losing driving distance.
Whether you are a man or woman, a lack of flexibility or strength can easily lead to unwanted compensations during the golf swing.
These were key messages from the four-day World Golf Fitness Summit that ended Oct. 19 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Trainers and researchers from 10 countries were uncompromising in their belief that poor fitness is a major contributor to poor golf.
The good news, according to these experts, is that most physical limitations to a more efficient and powerful golf swing can be overcome with a sustained exercise routine.
This is the same conclusion reached by Phil Mickelson.
Among the speakers at the summit was Sean Cochran, a 36-year-old strength and conditioning coach from San Diego who is Mickelson’s fitness instructor.
Somehow, American golf fans are stuck on the idea that Mickelson woke up one day in 2006 and decided to remake his body. The simple thinking is that he stopped eating Twinkies and substituted 20 pushups per day.
Oh, if life were so simple. The reality is that Mickelson, slightly overweight and seeking more strength and endurance, hired Cochran as his body blaster in 2002. For the past six years Mickelson has focused on a body that now looks doughnut-proof.
Cochran’s background was baseball. After graduating from the University of San Diego, he worked first for the Milwaukee Brewers and then for the San Diego Padres, where he was strength and conditioning coordinator for the club’s minor-league organization.
And then, out of the blue, “I was approached one day by Phil, and my life hasn’t been the same since.”
Cochran travels 22 weeks per year with Mickelson. He flies on Mickelson’s jet and organizes all of Lefty’s workouts, whether they are longer and more intense (say Monday or Tuesday of any tournament week) or lighter and geared to finesse (weekends).
“When we started, Phil was very flexible in the upper body but had zero flexibility in the lower body,” Cochran said. “He changed that through hard work. At the same time, his core strength improved.”
Cochran’s transition from baseball to golf now complete, he carries a 12 handicap and has vowed to dip under 10 by the end of the year.
“I saw a great opportunity in the golf industry for the introduction and expansion of information about strengthening and conditioning for golf,” Cochran said. “It was not a saturated marketplace in terms of information. The stage was set for more knowledge. I got into it just when it was starting to roll.”
So far, Cochran (www.seancochran.com) has produced two books – “Core Golf Fitness” and “Golf Fitness Over Fifty.” A third, “Junior Golf Fitness,” is scheduled to be published next month.
Cochran’s advice to amateur golfers: “You have to seek out training information that is specific to golf. You can’t necessarily go to a general-fitness health club and find what you need to do as a golfer. You have to find someone who is qualified to guide you.”
Mickelson may work out five or six days per week, but Cochran says amateur golfers can take charge of their bodies with two or three workouts every week.
“Don’t miss workouts, and you will see improvement,” he said. “You need to carve out 45 to 60 minutes, two or three times a week. That’s it. Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about aerobic training. Aerobic conditioning is nice, but it should not be the focal point for most golfers.”
Cochran consults with Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s swing coach since April 2007, to make sure the physical training and swing training are in sync.
“Butch shortened his swing, but Phil’s driving distance is still the same as it was in 2004,” Cochran said. “What does that tell you? With a shorter swing, he’s still generating the same amount of speed. This is because of improved physical strength and improved golf-swing mechanics.”
In 2004, Mickelson’s average driving distance was 295.4 yards, but from 2005 to 2007, it was 300.0, 300.7 and 298.7, respectively. This year it was back to 295.7. So he did sacrifice 5 yards in the name of stability and consistency.
As a side benefit, Mickelson the athlete looks better than ever, although that is not the primary goal of golf fitness. As stated at the World Golf Fitness Summit, the overall purpose of strengthening and conditioning in golf is not to produce a bunch of musclemen with rolled-up sleeves on the first tee.
“The fitness training and aesthetic training that we see in (muscle) magazines is not necessarily conducive to the golfer,” Cochran said. “You want to train the golfer to the specific movements, positions and requirements of the sport. Having big biceps, big triceps or big chest muscles is not in itself beneficial to the golf swing.”
Concluded golf professional Dave Phillips, co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute, which organized the World Golf Fitness Summit: “The future of golf will be guided by fitness. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about junior golfers or senior golfers. Fitness will determine how effectively most all of us are able to swing the club and achieve our goals.”
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James Achenbach is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.