Better technology, better instruction and better athletes have changed the way golf is played at all levels.
Section by Chris Chaney
Hitting a golf ball takes less than five seconds. That hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. Fewer than 10 minutes per round is spent in an act of pure athleticism—swinging a club and striking the ball. Yet, the crux of what differentiates modern golfers from their predecessors is what goes into the other 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day.
Today’s player can move from a gym for golf-specific workouts, to a range equipped with a launch monitor that precisely quantifies the performance of their equipment, to a facility with a 3-D motion-capture system that shows them a computer-generated avatar of their swing—all before lunch.
“Two things come to mind immediately when comparing golfers of previous generations to my own,” says Zach Johnson, 11-time PGA TOUR winner and 2007 Masters champion. “The first would be the increase of information and resources in the game. And the second is the overall fitness aspect, which has changed dramatically.”
Initially prompted by aging athletes’ desire to increase longevity, the golf fitness revolution has since been embraced by all golfers looking to improve. Randy Myers, director of fitness at the Sea Island Golf Performance Center, notes that most of the breakdowns in golfers toward the end of the 20th century were a result of asymmetrical muscular makeup in problem areas such as the back, neck and shoulders.
Johnson, who turned pro in 1998, rode that same wave of enlightenment. “When I first got on tour in 2004, not a lot of people were working out,” he explains. “I had always worked out, but nothing like I do today. … I had no real plan, no goals and no real guidance. Today, I have some of the top people involved overseeing that aspect of my career. To be my best, I have to put in time in the gym. To sustain a career and have longevity in this game, I have to keep that as a focus.”
The advancement of fitness information and increased dedication to keeping top physical form led to an arms race in equipment technology as well as instruction.
“Better athletes demand better equipment,” Myers says. “As the equipment got better and the athletes were able to work longer, harder and more efficiently, the instruction improved.”
The information available at all levels allows a player to diagnose, fix and improve each aspect of their game.
“Technology, education, information—call it what you will—there are more people involved in so many different aspects giving us information to improve all parts of our game that prior generations didn’t have,” Johnson says. “The game has evolved and no stone has been left unturned.”
Anatomy of the Modern Golfer
In order to stay competitive, today’s athletes analyze their performance from head to toe.
The Mental Game
Modern training methods include preparing the brain as well as the body. Dr. Morris Pickens, sports psychologist and performance specialist at Sea Island Golf Performance Center, recommends instruction and clinics on topics such as practice routines, short game best practices and mental preparation. He’s helped students win 27 PGA TOUR events since 2005, including three major championships.
Equipment and Clubfitting
From titanium and composite woods to higher-performing iron sets and more sophisticated wedges, there is always going to be a new piece of equipment, but what works best for each individual? Craig Allan, the Golf Performance Center’s manager, is a master clubfitter who employs TrackMan, a 3-D swing and ball flight analysis tool, into the fitting process to pinpoint what equipment works and why. “[TrackMan], more than anything, has changed the game,” Allan says. “We have used that exclusively in fitting. There’s almost not a shot hit in fitting that we’re not gathering some kind of information, which helps us dial in what’s best from that individual golfer’s standpoint.”
Grip, posture and swing sequence have remained important to any instructor’s lesson plans. As equipment and technology advances, however, instruction has evolved as well, making it beneficial at any level of play. Jack Lumpkin, Todd Anderson and the host of instructors at the Golf Performance Center offer nuanced and adaptive strategies to keep their students ahead of the curve. “When you start (as an instructor), your eye is trained to see what’s going on in the swing—to see the path, the face, the different releases and positions,” says Anderson, the center’s director of instruction. “[Technology has taken instruction] to a further level where you can say that not only was a club face open, it was open X-number of degrees. It quantifies what’s going on.”
Quantifiable information helps golfers pinpoint areas of weakness in their game and work to improve them. State-of-the-art video equipment can now show where shots were lost in a round—and the Golf Performance Center’s cavalry of instructors can diagnose and cure those ills.
Led by Randy Myers, director of fitness, the Golf Performance Center’s team can evaluate golfers’ body types to identify the best workouts, including stretching, that will maximize every swing. “We determined that mobility and symmetry of the muscles—not necessarily size, bulk and rigidity—were the two important ingredients that allowed us to make the athletes better and more prepared [to play longer],” Myers says. He adds that understanding flexibility and strength is crucial to improving a golfer’s swing and overall game.