How Fitness Impacts Our Golf Performance

The Butch Harmon School of Golf in Rio Secco, Nev., is in equal measure a world-class teaching facility and a colorful shrine that commemorates some of the most iconic moments in golf over the past 30 years.

Amongst all of the autographed portraits of Harmon’s most famous pupils, the vintage staff bags and golf equipment, a compilation of press clippings and magazine covers, rare out-of-print golf books and other memorabilia very few have seen in person, lies a simple black and white sign that proclaims: GOLFERS ARE ATHLETES.

It’s not exactly a revelation, but I don’t ever recall Harmon ever waxing poetic about box jumps. However, he can break down Ben Hogan’s swing path with exacting precision. After all, here’s a guy in Harmon who honed his craft during the era of the persimmon-headed driver and the wound ball, analyzing swings in golf’s version of analog — you know, back when TrackMan wasn’t a thing.

What we now know about the physics of the swing has given us a much keener appreciation for the physical ability it takes to hit a golf ball at an elite level. We can also thank players like Tiger Woods for crediting fitness and training as such a huge component of his success and inspiring others to do the same.

A research study concluded that an additional 10 to 15 yards off the tee allows for shorter, more accurate shots onto the green. Fewer, less erratic strokes preserve the golfer’s energy, cutting end-of-round fatigue.

By the same token, he’s also the reason why fitness continues to be tripped up by suspicion and angst within the golf community. All those injuries he accumulated over the course of his career while relentlessly training his body prompted many people to wonder if all those hours in the gym contributed to his decline.

Woods, of course, isn’t the only professional golfer who’s ever been criticized for engaging in activities that were seen as distractions. In 2013, Rory McIlroy found himself in the cross hairs for signing a blockbuster deal with Nike and for failing to capitalize on the success he had the year prior. In explaining his lackluster play, critics took turns bashing the following three things: the overhauling of his equipment, his then high-profile relationship with Caroline Wozniacki and his sudden extensive dedication to fitness (not always in that order).

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