2005: Features - Hardcore

Look out. As you and your golf game turn the proverbial corner, you may bump squarely into the future.

If you ask me, the future of golf is the side-by-side combination of swing training and body training. It is the symbiosis of core muscle training with core golf training – in other words, the best way to exercise is bonded with the best way to swing.

Core, in this case, means center of the body, or trunk. It is the connection point for many of the crucial muscles and joints used in the golf swing.

This marriage of fitness and instruction is incredibly important and is the formula that will produce future champions. Titleist correctly predicted the future with its Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, Calif., which opened officially in January 2004.

The TPI combines fitness and flexibility instruction with swing instruction. For touring pros, it is their lifeline to a long and successful career.

Tiger Woods got lucky. He was born with a near-perfect golf body. He is slim, supple and strong. When I first saw Woods play at 12, he was a skinny kid with amazing power. Watching him, other juniors just gulped. He was like a golfer from another planet.

Woods was introduced to a comprehensive fitness program at Stanford University. Although he continues to train religiously, he no longer enjoys an otherworldly advantage on the competition. Today’s younger players know all about flexibility, strength and stamina, and they hit the ball with an authority that might best be described as Tigeresque.

On Saturday of this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, I was in the Denver Marriott Tech Center health club at 8:30 a.m. when 15-year-old wunderkind Michelle Wie walked in. Never mind that she was two strokes off the lead and her tee time was 11:50. She was determined to work out. When I left at 9:15, she was still there.

The world of golf is changing.

At Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, a blockbuster golf fitness lab opened shortly after this summer’s U.S. Open. The lab was developed in conjunction with doctors and trainers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is internationally recognized as a leader in sports training and sports medicine.

The Pinehurst experiment is designed for groups and individuals, and it focuses on injury prevention as well as golf performance. UPMC has conducted extensive studies on conditions such as lower back injuries in golf, as well as golf injuries to the shoulder and knee. Programs at Pinehurst are designed to address these ailments.

The future is unfolding all around us.

Body Balance for Performance, headquartered near Philadelphia, has golf training centers in many major markets in the United States and Canada. Furthermore, Body Balance is unveiling an ambitious schedule of fitness seminars for golf professionals.

“When the golf professional and the physical trainer work together and communicate to each other what they are doing with the golfer,” said David Ostrow, president of Body Balance for Performance, “the golfer wins big because we all now are working on the same page. We have even co-authored a book with three golf professionals on the topic of the body and golf swing, and we hope to publish it soon.”

This combination reflects the future, and, as astute golfers already know, the future is now.

It never is too late to start a fitness program for golf. Many golfers who go through the Pinehurst lab are expected to be corporate clients of senior age. Ostrow says that most Body Balance for Performance golf customers are ages 35-70.

Roger Fredericks, who trains dozens of touring pros and has gained publicity because of his work with Arnold Palmer, is something of an evangelist in the movement to enroll older golfers in flexibility programs.

I will say this about Fredericks: He is a golf professional and gifted teacher as well as a fitness instructor, and he has changed my life. After adopting his exercise program for two months, I no longer require the Aleve or Advil that had become a mandatory prelude to practice or play.

As with injury prevention, the benefits of golf fitness can go far beyond the course. I haven’t felt so loose and pain-free in years. I credit this to Fredericks, based in the San Diego area. Now if only I can harness my four-piece golf swing (dream on, big boy).

From my youth, I remember stories of tournament players who partied and stayed up most of the night, then broke par the next day. Perhaps they were just stories.

Anyway, times have changed. The winning golfer of the 21st century is one who understands the training needs of the body and the swing.

Turn the corner and, wham, you’ve bumped head-on into Mr. Exercise, and he isn’t going away.

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