How Much Does Body Conditioning Factor into Your Golf Game?
by John Callahan, PGA Professional, Golf Magazine Adjunct Top 100 Teacher, College of Golf Instructor
In the 1940’s and 50’s, Ed “Porky” Oliver, also known as “Old Pork Chops” won eight times on the PGA Tour and was runner-up in three major championships.
At 5’9” and 250 pounds, he is one of the golfers that people often point to as proof that body conditioning is not a major factor for good golf.
Although that perception started to change in the 1980’s and accelerated with the emergence of Tiger Woods in the late 1990’s, some observers of the game still argue that golf is not really a sport and golfers are “not really athletes.”
In Ed Oliver’s case, there are a couple of points to consider. First, like all tour players, Ed walked about 30-40 miles a week and hit hundreds of golf balls.
So Ed should not be put into the same category as the out-of-shape executive who rides a cart and retires to the 19th hole after the round—the common prototype golfer in the public’s mind.
Second, what if Ed “Porky” Oliver had pushed away the second and third helpings of pork chops, had gotten in shape, and was known as Ed “Superman” Oliver?
Some would say he may have played worse. I think he would have played better—perhaps he would have doubled his PGA Tour wins and won three majors instead of finishing second.
Of course, we will never know, but one thing we do know, the current players on tour believe that getting fit is a benefit—the vast majority work out and look more like NFL wide receivers than out-of-shape executives.
The good news for the average golfer who does not have the inclination and/or the time to work out like the crop of young golfers on tour, is that good golf is possible by matching your swing to your current physical capability.
If you have a mismatch, something bad is going to happen—you might slice the ball or you might hurt yourself.
Let’s look at an example.
Assume you are a golfer with limited ability to turn your torso on the backswing (a common limitation in middle-aged males).
In an attempt to make a full backswing you might lose your posture and/or tilt your spine excessively toward the target at the top of your backswing in an effort to lift the club to where you think it should be.
All other things being equal, this will cause impact conditions that slice the ball. Do it enough and it will also hurt your lower back.
The cure is to stop your backswing at the end of your physical capacity to turn your torso.
The Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) has done physical screenings on thousands of golfers and states the concept of the body/swing connection well, “TPI does not believe in one way to swing a club, rather in an infinite number of swing styles.
But, we do believe there is one efficient way for every player to swing, and it is based on what the player can physically do” (Rose, 2016).
How much does body conditioning factor into your golf game?
The answer is—a lot. If you have the time and determination to be the best golfer you can be, get fit.
Don’t be influenced by a few exceptions to the rule, that’s the lazy person’s path.
Maximize your chances of success by modelling what the majority of successful golfers are doing.