Are golfers athletes?
by Max Vaclav
In short, of course they are!
This is a question that has been debated back and forth for ages and goes hand in hand with the question as to whether or not golf is a sport – which again, of course it is!
I think part of the misunderstanding stems from the fact it may be one of the few sports you can enjoy a beer while participating (disclaimer: I have tested the theory out and it does not offer any performance enhancing effects).
Golf incorporates endurance, physical exertion of skeletal muscle, strength, explosive power, gross motor coordination, mental focus and a competitive nature. These are all attributes inherent in any sport to varying degrees depending on the skill level of its athletes.
Should golfers be in the gym?
I hope so, otherwise somebody should let the top professional golfers in the world know.
Golf is in a new era of distance where players like Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Rory Mcllroy, and Brooks Koepka are pushing the limits of how far the ball can be hit and how far the body can be pushed for the sport. The world’s best are gifted athletes but not all of their work is done on the course.
The players mentioned are among many on tour who are
regularly putting hours into the gym to improve mobility, strength and power so that they can stay in the shape required to perform at the highest level and to resist injury throughout their season. Benefits that come from the gym are advantageous for every golfer.
When looking at the impact of exercise and training on golfers, there are 3 points of interest that come to mind:
• Improvements in strength and power and their correlation to performance in golf
• Injury prevention and preventative maintenance
1. In golf, distance plays a critical role in scoring better during a round. Hitting the ball further can mean the difference between hitting a fairway over a water hazard and digging for another ball; or approaching a green with a wedge instead of a long iron.
One of the most important determinants of distance is club head speed (CHS) – or how fast the club head is travelling when it reaches the golf ball. More and more, the research is drawing a link between sport-specific and non-sport-specific exercises for golf and improvements in
performance markers like CHS. One study conducted by Fletcher and Hartwell (2004) found an increase in CHS and driving distance in a group of subjects following an 8-week resistance and plyometric training program. Another study by Cummings et al (2018) found increases in CHS after completing a resistance training program that used fat grip attachments to further challenge grip strength when completing the prescribed exercises. As more research comes out demonstrating the link between the gym and improvements on the course, there will continue to be a shift in mentality for this type of training to become the norm.
2. Endurance is something all golfers need in order to simply participate. On average it takes about 4 hours to complete a round of golf. A common complaint for golfers is that they lack energy on the back nine or in the last couple of holes, and as a result performance suffers.
The initial thought is of cardiovascular endurance and while there is a cardiovascular demand associated with golf, a commonly under-appreciated culprit for this fatigue is muscular endurance. Muscular endurance refers to the ability for muscles to maintain consistent or repetitive contractions over a period of time. A prime example of where muscular endurance is important in golf is in the postural and trunk stabilizing musculature. These muscles support the spine throughout the round and play a role in allowing for efficient energy transfer from the hips and lower extremities during the swing. The solution to combat this late-round performance killer is strength training – as muscles can be subjected to similar stresses and workloads found in the fairways.
3. The golf swing is dynamic and explosive and generates a considerable amount of force in a very short period of time – with swing speeds surpassing 100mph. The stress created by this force coupled with the repetitive nature of practice and play create a potential environment for overuse or repetitive stress injuries that are frequently reported in the forearms, elbows, knees, hips, shoulders and backs of golfers. The risk of obtaining one of these injuries is heightened by poor body mechanics, low muscular endurance and limitations in either range of motion or stability in one or more segments of the body. Corrective exercises along with cross-training in an appropriately tailored golf-specific program serve as effective means for addressing and improving underlying deficiencies.
For example, the use of resistance band exercises in a golf-specific strength training program can be used to address limitations in flexibility or balance that might lead to disproportionate distribution of stress across multiple joints.
There has always been an emphasis on swing mechanics and repetition to improve golf performance, but now there is also a promising present and future for those using exercise to elevate their game.
It’s nice to see the benefit of physical efforts in the gym translate to game-changing performance on the course.
Golf is a sport and we should be training like it.
The best already are.
Cummings, P. M., Waldman, H. S., Krings, B. M., Smith, J. W., & McAllister, M. J. (2018). Effects of Fat Grip Training on Muscular Strength and Driving Performance in Division I Male Golfers.
Journal of strength and conditioning research, 32(1), 205–210.
Fletcher, I. M., & Hartwell, M. (2004). Effect of an 8-week combined weights and plyometrics training program on golf drive performance.
Journal of strength and conditioning research,
18(1), 59–62. https://doi.org/10.1519/1533-4287(2004)018<0059:eoawcw>2.0.co;2