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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Being fit could be shape of future on PGA Tour

Wednesday, January 5, 2000

Being human, you may already have renounced your New Year's resolution to get fit for golf in 2000. For motivation, we turn to David Duval, last year's second-leading money winner on the PGA Tour, behind Tiger Woods, and a man who has set his sights on winning his first major.

Duval, 28, looked positively "cut" when he showed up for that boondoggle of a golf event called the Williams World Challenge last week in Phoenix. He finished second to Tom Lehman, who pocketed the absurdly high first prize of a million bucks, and pronounced himself sharp. It appeared Duval, who won four PGA Tour events by April last year, then not another, could run a golf course in 25 minutes or so, let alone break par.

He was, as he said, "defined." Sculpted would be another way to put it, or the aforementioned "cut." Duval was ready to put the lie to the idea that golfers don't need to be fit.

"I just feel like in general if I can be a more fit and stronger athlete, then that will translate into better golf," Duval said.

Duval's comment relates to the persistent and misguided notion that golf isn't a sport. Sorry, those of you who believe otherwise, it is, especially for any golfer who means to reach his or her potential.

"The golf swing is a complex, explosive, and physically stressful action, and you must prepare your body to both produce and withstand the forces required for powerful drives," Pete Draovitch, who trains Greg Norman, writes in his book Complete Conditioning for Golf.

Draovitch helped Norman get into shape after shoulder surgery two years ago. Norman, who has been cleared by his surgeon to practise and play as much as he wants, is exceedingly fit. No wonder. He was lifting weights and riding a bike 120 kilometres a week around Jupiter Island, Fla., where he lives. Don't be surprised if he excels this year.

Draovitch notes that a golfer can increase swing arc, and hence distance, by improving joint flexibility, that increased muscle strength can translate into higher clubhead speed, and that both power and accuracy can be improved when a golfer is fit. For one thing, the golfer can maintain his posture throughout the swing, a key to efficiency.

Gary Player has known for years that fitness matters. It's one reason you have to take him seriously when he speaks of winning a pro tournament in each of six decades. Player, 64, has won in every decade since the 1950s. He'll gladly show you he's fit by doing fingertip pushups. Or he'll balance a weighted club between his index finger and forefinger, holding it horizontally. Try that and weep in pain.

Duval, meanwhile, has obviously been working on his upper body strength. Many golfers believe this is not advised, feeling they can lose their touch by bulking up. But Duval, or Woods for that matter -- another golfing weightlifter -- haven't bulked up. They've got stronger while gaining muscle and losing body fat.

"Having upper-body strength will allow a golfer to develop more torque and range in his swing," Isaac Levy, a trainer at Body Works in Thornhill, Ont., said yesterday. Levy has developed a program he calls Strolf -- stretching for golf. It involves stretching, lifting for strength and control, and cardiovascular work for endurance.

"You will also reduce injuries," Levy elaborated, "because you're using muscles more than joints for control. If you have more strength then the clubhead is less likely to twist during your swing, which will give you more control."

It should be pointed out that Duval, who started his preparations for 2000 last October, doesn't advocate golf-specific exercises.

"I disagree completely with that," Duval said. "I believe that what we do in golf is detrimental to our posture. We work so much on the front of our bodies that we neglect the backs of our bodies."

Duval looked particularly strong in his back muscles. And he said he developed his muscles by doing what he called "typical strength stuff."

So onward and upward. Do some typical strength stuff. Never mind buying all those gadgets that infomercials on The Golf Channel promise will revolutionize your golf swing. Better to revolutionize your body.

One more comment, from J.H. Taylor, a five-time British Open champion. He wrote: "Nowadays, it is accepted that training for golf is the sensible thing to do. To play golf really well demands the acme of physical fitness."

Taylor made that comment in a foreword to a monograph called Physical Training for Golfers. The year was 1936. Serious players have always known that golf is a sport.
Lorne Rubenstein can be reached
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