In a week’s time the world’s greatest golfers will meet in Ayrshire, Scotland for the British Open Championship. What is it exactly is it that separates elite golfers from the average Joe? Golf is a sport open for people with a wide variety skill levels and physical capabilities. Nonetheless, it is an extremely complex sport, that at the elite level requires a high degree of fine motor control, large power output capabilities, aerobic endurance, and of course mental toughness. The swing alone requires a whole body movement; where power is transferred from different segments in the body, to propel the ball as far and accurately as possible (Fletcher and Hartwell, 2004). In an average round you are required to swing at this intensity 30-40 times a round (Wells, Elmi & Thomas, 2009). We have recently seen a revolution in golf, namely by Mr Woods, whose intense physical preparation (balance, flexibility, core, strength, power and cardiovascular training) rivals many other elite athletes in sport. So what physical attributes distinguish elite golfers from the average weekend warrior? This question was hoped to be addressed by some of Canada’s leading researchers in the field of Exercise Science. Wells et al, attempted to identify physiological correlates of golf performance by analyzing elite golfers from the Canadian National team. There is a gap in the current literature about the relationship between physical conditioning and golf performance. Everyone has been told in the past to train to prevent injury and increase performance, but what exactly do elite golfers do better in comparison to the normal population?
The physiological capacities that were evaluated were: (a) balance, (b) flexibility, (c) abdominal muscle performance, (d) peripheral muscle performance, and (e) cardiovascular function. The golf variables that were evaluated were driver and 5-iron ball speed and distance, total score, greens in regulation, measures of short game, sand shot making ability, and putting efficiency. The subjects in this study were 24 healthy Canadian National Golf Team members (9 women and 15 men). These golfers were the best amateur golfers in Canada, competing in the NCAA and some of them representing Canada in the World Amateur Golf Championship.
Results: Some of the findings from this study where as follows:
Aerobic capacity is the maximal ability of your body to utilize oxygen you are breathing in. The results from the aerobic capacity test demonstrated that the more aerobically fit individuals had better golf performance. There was also a relationship between aerobic capacity and short game performance. The golfers who were more aerobically fit had better chipping efficiency and putting average. This may be because the short game in golf requires very fine motor skills, which would be affected by the fatigue level of the competitor. For example if you are about to put and you are tired (heart beating fast, increased breathing rate, etc), you will not have the same degree of fine motor control and therefore putting accuracy if you were fully recovered. Being aerobically fit enables you to recover faster from exercise by metabolizing waste by products more efficiently. Therefore you may be able to decrease the amount of fatigue that accumulates while on the golf course, enabling you to perform golf at a higher level.
Abdominal muscle testing found that golfers with greater core stability performed better and had longer driver and 5 iron distances. When hitting a golf ball you recruit muscles in a sequence; transferring power throughout the movement, while building up club head speed to a maximal level to propel a golf ball as far as you can. The sequence is comprised of movements from of the hips followed by the trunk, shoulders, arms, and hands (in the back swing) and the down swing leads with the hips, trunk, shoulders, arms, and hands (Fletcher & Hartwell, 2004). If there is weakness or instability some where in this chain, maximal power development will not occur. Therefore by having a strong, stable core, these golfers are able to hit the ball farther.
The balance tests demonstrated a relationship between balance and golf performance. More specifically, golfers with excellent balance statistically hit more greens in regulation, and had a better average putt distance after a chip shot. Balance is related to the ability to successfully hit shots from the fairway or rough, where the surface is often uneven and therefore is critical for success in golf.
The athletes underwent peripheral muscle testing focusing on leg power, upper body strength (push and pull ups), and arm strength (grip strength). Better performances in these tests were correlated with measure of distances (drive, 5 iron) and overall golf score. Therefore muscle strength is critical for power development and performance in golf.
It is often recommended that people train to improve performance. This study illustrated some of the specific performance measures of elite athletes in the sport of golf. By improving your core and periphery strength, balance, and aerobic capacity, you will not only improve your physical and mental health, but more importantly your golf scores
Fletcher, I. M., & Hartwell, M. (2004). Effect of an 8-week combined weights and plyometrics training program on golf drive performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(1), 59-62.
Wells, G. D., Elmi, M., & Thomas, S. (2009). Physiological correlates of golf performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(3), 741.