written by: Dr. Craig Davies
We are well into the 2014-15 season and I think it is a great time to reflect on some of the changes I have seen on the world’s most competitive golf tour since I worked my first event almost a decade ago.
I am going to keep my reflection to the health and wellness side of Tour life.
In the mid 2000s we were in the midst of the training revolution on Tour. Each week it seemed like there were more and more players setting aside time and effort to monitor and improve their bodies while they were at a Tour event. It got to the point where there were literarily line-ups of players waiting to use the fitness trailer.
Why and how did this occur and what has happened since then? In my opinion, there were four main contributing factors to the explosion in awareness and attention to fitness and health by the world’s best golfers over the last 10 years.
Many people will allude to Tiger’s physical dominance over the field as the main contributor to the explosion in fitness mindfulness amongst the world’s best players. To be honest, there is a good bit of truth to this statement. Tiger Wood’s had a major effect on the psyche of his competitors. He hit it further and higher than they did and he could power it out of the rough in a way that his peers couldn’t. This meant he was able to recover with relative ease even when he missed the short grass.
The performance gains Tiger achieved through his training however had as much, if not more, to do with his perception of himself than any one specific physical advantage. He trained harder, with greater intent and challenged himself mentally during these sessions to a superior level than his peers. This created a personal belief that he was superior to whoever was placing a tee into the ground next to him.
His playing partners definitely took notice of his physical stature and I do believe this played a roll in the increased emphasis on fitness amongst the PGA Tour players but I do not necessarily think it was the only or greatest contributor. Greg Norman and Gary Player are two players who put a major emphasis on their physical fitness and played golf at the highest level but there wasn’t the huge explosion in golf fitness that we saw during Tiger’s prime.
The implementation of a travelling fitness facility by the Tour around the start of the millennium enabled the golf fitness boom by creating a convenient, reliable and non-threatening environment for the players to use. This trailer has undergone a number of incarnations since the initial release and it is now a respectable travelling fitness facility. The fitness truck was a place that the players could go and have some time away from the cameras, family and spectators. It was a place where they could almost experience the locker room environment anyone who has played a team sport could appreciate. The game of golf can be a lonely sport for anyone grinding away for hours own their own, or with their caddie, attempting to improve their game and the trailer provided an hour or two of comradery for the guys each day.
At the same time, a number of trainers from around the world appeared with the international players they had helped develop before making their way on Tour. Australians like Vern McMIllen, Steve Adams and Dave Darbyshire, Americans like Chris Noss, Randy Myers and Joey Diovisalvi and the late Ramsay McMaster from Scotland all made significant impacts on the golfing elite’s awareness of the benefits of fitness on their game and their health.
At the same time, there were only a couple manual therapists working full time on Tour. Jeff Banaszak from the US and Dale Richardson from Australia were two of the only regulars.
The third factor in creating the fitness boom, and one that can’t be overstated, is the emergence of the Dave Philips and Greg Rose directed TPI programing. Greg and Dave did an amazing job of bringing many of the most popular health and fitness experts together under one umbrella to capture data on the world’s best players. TPI then used this data to develop an organized plan to construct personalized programs for these athletes and then also used the information to create awareness of golf fitness by the average player in North America and more recently around the world.
By collecting movement data on the golfers, Greg, Dave and their associates were able to illustrate more effectively the deficiencies and gifts in the elite players’ bodies. With this information it then was easier to illustrate the potential advancement the players could expect to experience by improving their bodies.
The fourth factor is a combination of the work TPI did developing their junior programs combined with young players growing up watching Tiger on TV. Together, this led to the new generation of players growing up with fitness being a part of their day-to-day lives from a very young age. It is now an exception to have a young player arrive on the PGA Tour who does not have a personalized training program. Whereas a mere decade ago it was the exception for a player to have a program at all never mind a personalized program.
This fourth factor is actually creating a seismic shift in the type of professional who works in the health and wellness side of golf performance at the highest level. About 10 years ago, and for the next five or so years, more and more fitness professionals were applying their craft on Tour. It was not uncommon to go to the WGC Match Play event and have 50 to 60 of the 64 man field working with one of approximately dozen trainers who were working. Over the past 5 years (and the most recent two years to a greater extent) there has been a significant drop off in the number of fitness specific professionals and a dramatic increase in the number of manual therapists. As I noted earlier, there was only a couple of therapists regularly on Tour a decade ago. Now, it is not uncommon to see a dozen treatment tables set up in the locker room and a majority of the players in the field using either a massage, chiropractor or physical therapist to help them recovery from the wear and tear associated with a year round golf tour.
The longer schedule, shorter off-season and increased travel has forced many players to worry if their body will recover and perform at a level required to compete against the world’s best players. This accumulated wear and tear with insufficient recovery time has significantly dampened the average player’s opportunity to make steady gains in their physical skill sets during tournament weeks. Instead, an ever-increasing number of manual therapists are being utilized to enable players the opportunity to compete come Thursday.
It will be interesting to see what the next five to ten years on Tour looks like from a physical preparation perspective but for the time being the emphasis has definitely tilted in favor of the manual therapists.