2006: For your game - Get strong to go long

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Gerry James is a PGA golf professional, but any similarity to other instructors ends there.

James is a muscle man. A former winner of the Mr. California bodybuilding title, he also won the 2005 senior division crown in the Re/Max World Long Drive Championship. To do that, he clobbered a 366-yard tee shot at night with the temperature near 60.

Now he tees off on a different subject: He believes most golfers are too lackadaisical in their exercise routines. He preaches intensity in the gym. He advocates carefully supervised strength training with heavier weights. He says most golf training programs are too light and easygoing.

Want more distance? Get stronger, James says. With the help of a qualified trainer, push yourself a little harder.

This is a controversial approach to modern golf instruction, but James stands his ground. He believes seniors need strength training more than any other group of golfers. He asserts that working out in the morning and playing golf in the afternoon is something most golfers can do.

Furthermore, James offers one of the most irresistible guarantees in golf: If a student doesn’t gain 20 yards off the tee, there is no charge for the lesson. He is completely serious.

Who is this man?

James grew up in Grand Haven, Mich., dreaming of heroes. At 18, he hotfooted it to California, where he found Arnold Schwarzenegger and other bodybuilding icons. He watched them. He copied them.

Schwarzenegger and friends liked this enthusiastic kid. They helped him with his workouts.

In 1990, James became the top bodybuilder in the West. But something was missing. He felt directionless.

And so, at 29, he became a golf professional. No matter that he hadn’t played the game since high school. His saga once included a pitstop as a professional wrestler, where his best-known persona was that of the evil Agent Orange. Suddenly he was Agent No Slice.

James’ fame, though, came in the long-drive arena. He finished second, third, fifth and sixth in the World Long Drive Championship. Crowds loved the muscle man. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he was, in bodybuilding jargon, ripped. He talked with fans as if they were family, and they made him their hero.

The boy who had dreamed of heroes became one for long-driving aficionados.

In 2005, he turned 45 and was eligible for the senior division of the World Championship. When he won with his 366-yard bomb, spectators went nuts. He never saw the winning drive, however, because he had fallen to the ground with a torn lat muscle in his upper back.

James still competes, although he focuses most of his energy on exhibitions and teaching. This isn’t ordinary teaching. This is regimented, Gerry-in-your-face teaching. He is a motivator in the way that a drill sergeant is a motivator. His method is to take golf by the throat.

He combines strength and flexibility training in a regimented workout.

“Why wouldn’t you train heavy (with weights) and then train flexibility?” he asks. “I train fast-twitch muscle fiber (for speed in the golf swing) with explosive training. I believe the best way is to do heavy, full-range training.

“I see people using this so-called functional (slower, lower weight) training. To me, it’s a flawed theory that has never been tested or put through the fire.”

Trial by fire. That’s James.

In 2003, James moved from California to Florida, where he charges a minimum of $1,000 per day to teach conditioning, nutrition and the golf swing. He prefers that new students spend three days. That’s three full days, including workouts, meals, golf swing analysis and playing lessons.

“I don’t care who it is,” James says. “I can find them a minimum of 20 extra yards. I absolutely guarantee it. If they aren’t convinced, they don’t owe me anything.”

James insists that 20 more yards isn’t the big deal. Keeping it is the big deal. Learning how to maintain it is the big deal.

“That’s what my training is all about,” he says. “I have spent most of my adult life learning how to hit the ball farther. This is what I do for a living.”

Former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman seems convinced.

“There are a lot of pretenders in golf, but Gerry James is the real deal,” Beman says. “I ran into

Gerry and he showed me a training program he has used for himself that I believe is the best I have ever seen.”

James doesn’t exactly run a boot camp.

“I meet ’em where they’re at,” he insists. “I have students who are overweight. I work with all my students to identify their goals, then I give them a road map to get there.”

James calls his method Center Force Golf System because he believes the center of the body (hips, stomach and the aptly named “core”) is the key to developing power and consistency. He never stresses strength training over flexibility training, saying the two belong together and cannot be separated.

“I will train your butt off,” James says.

– For more on Gerry James,

visit www.gerryjames.com

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