Consider the muscles that go into a typical golf swing. There’s the back, the shoulders, the forearms, the biceps, the wrists, the triceps, the hips, the knees, and the neck. To become a scratch golfer, more than 50 muscles and bones have to work in perfect synchronicity. One twitch, one glitch and that Big Bertha doesn’t mean a thing. The ball is headed to a bad place.
So with so many muscles having to work in a perfect balance, why is physical fitness being pursued by so many on the PGA Tour? Why are players trying to change their muscle structure to find 10 more yards off the tee? At Ponte Vedra Beach for The Players in May, the fitness trailer was packed and it wasn’t for the free food. Golfers are trying to find a balance between working out, getting stronger, but still adjusting their newfound muscles to make sure the sweet spot hits the right spot.
How do you find the balance? There are a lot of theories. Some say the key is flexibility and mass muscle has nothing to do with distance or club speed. Others say that, yes, muscle mass can help. Others say the main thing golfers need to do is work on their back and spine and their core strength and forgetting how they look at the beach.
Michael Milhoan is a professional long driving champion and can knock it 400 yards off the tee when he isn’t making movies in Hollywood. He competes in driving competitions all over the country and said that muscle mass might not hurt, but that the back is the important thing for any gym rat who hits the golf course.
“If you don’t take care of your core your back will go out and your game will go away,’’ Milhoan said. “You have to notice that, on the PGA Tour, most of the players aren’t ripped, but most of them are healthy. Muscle doesn’t mean all that much, but it doesn’t hurt if you have the flexibility.’’
Bob Buchanan owns two Gold’s Gyms in West Florida and is a 2-handicap. He was asked if added muscle could affect the trajectory of a golf swing. He thought about it for a few days. He said that muscle mass can definitely be of help.
“Muscle can add a few yards and distance, but flexibility is more important,’’ Buchanan said. “If you muscles are too tight, they are like guitar strings. They can snap and you can get hurt. Yes, muscle is important, and it can really help, but only if you keep your flexibility.’’
Some PGA professionals have thrived from lifting weights. Gary Player is a competitive player on the Champions Tour at the age of 73 and can outwork almost anyone in the PGA fitness center. He lists physical fitness as his hobby and, except for a different shade of hair; he is as fit as he was when he won his eight majors.
Others have struggled with the change in muscle growth. Tiger Woods went through a much-ballyhooed “slump’’ between 2003 and 2004 when he astonished the golf world without winning a major. It was also right around the time he was adding about 30 pounds of pure muscle to his once-slim body. It may have taken some time, but no one is arguing with the success once Tiger’s swing and muscles became one with each other.
Building muscles mass doesn’t always work out for the best. In 1998, David Duval won The Players in his hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach and was the world No. 1 player. In 2001, Duval won the British Open to grab his first major. Duval even had Woods in his rear view mirror. Around that time, the golf world started commenting on Duval’s ripped body, muscles everywhere, and his commitment to the fitness trailer.
Duval looked great. He also dropped to No. 80 on the money earnings list by 2002 and hasn’t been close to the top 150 since. Duval struggled with a back injury, but did the muscle growth have anything to do with the slump?
Larry Yack works as a physical therapist for the PGA Tour and is in the fitness trailer at most events. He said that Duval’s freefall had nothing to do with his growth. It was all about back problems, Yack said, and he said that golfers don’t need to worry about hitting the gym.
“We have guys on this tour like Mike Weir who won a Masters and he weights 140 pounds,’’ Yack said. “Golfers don’t need to be looking for bulk. It’s all about range of motion and if you have range of motion you can still get some strength from that.’’
Experts all say that the back is the most important part of the golf swing, at least when it comes to physical fitness, but Yack said that ignoring the back in favor of muscles mass can be almost dangerous.
“The golf swing is about rotating the spine,’’ Yack said. “If you can’t rotate the spine you can hurt yourself by building your muscles. Just look at the PGA Tour. Ninety percent of the golfers are not bulked at all. Look at Jay Haas, Look at Jonathon Byrd. They can hit the ball and they aren’t overly muscular, but they have the right swing and worry about the things they need to think about instead of looking good on the beach.’’
Yack said he always recommends players who come into the workout trailer to lift light weights with a lot of repetitions. He said flexibility and range of motion are key to the golf swing, especially over a long summer of golf.
“Strength has nothing to do with a golf shot,’’ Yack said. “I’ve seen too many guys hurt themselves by doing the wrong things. The guys who do well know it is all about fitness and not about strength.’’
Milhoan said that muscle mass is a secondary benefit, but it can add to the drive. He also said that it is obvious that, even though he can hit the ball 400 yards nothing matters without a short game.
“Most golfers don’t need to get bulky because it can affect the short game and that is where you play most of your shots. You only hit one shot off the tee, but you still have a few more to go so muscle won’t help all that much except for off the tee,’’ Milhoan said. “If you can incorporate weightlifting with strength and the golf swing, it is a benefit, but it’s hard to do.’’
So can an extra millimeter of muscle on the forearms affect the entire plane of the golf swing?
”Yes it can,’’ Buchanan said. “It can affect it completely, but you don’t have to be muscular to hit a golf ball far. The extra muscle can affect the swing, but it can also help. But if you want to play golf at a scratch level, flexibility is still the most important thing.’’
When it comes to muscle mass, every millimeter matters from the arms to the club to the ball to the trajectory to the landing area.
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