You see a lot of ax murderers on the golf course, Skip Tredway likes to joke.
“Because they can't turn (their torso), they raise and chop,” the golf coach explains, hacking the floor with an imaginary club.
Sometimes it's poor flexibility. Sometimes it's poor core strength. Whatever the reason, it can often be fixed in the gym. More golfers, professional and casual, are turning to strength training and flexibility exercises to improve their accuracy, build power, swing consistently and reduce their risk of injury.
Tiger Woods kicked off the fitness movement. After years of strength training, his lean frame turned athletic in his mid-20s — about the same time he won 11 titles in one year. Now, almost all professionals travel with their own trainers.
“If (Tiger) is doing it, and he's the No. 1 golfer in the world, then he must be doing something right,” said John Hurley, a Web.com Tour rookie from O'Neill, Neb. Hurley started strength training at Texas A&M, where he played collegiate golf. He focuses on improving his flexibility away from the course.
“If you are more flexible, you can generate more speed into the ball, which is also going to translate into longer shots,” Hurley said.
The emphasis on exercise has trickled down to the casual golfer, too.
Hitting the gym with or without a personal trainer can improve your cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility, which will carry over to your performance on the course. But a trainer certified in golf fitness can craft a sport-specific plan that will take your game a step further. There are more than 25 golf fitness instructors in Nebraska — nine are in Omaha — certified through Titleist Performance Institute, an organization dedicated to golf health and fitness.
Ron Ernst, of Columbus, Neb., drives to Omaha every week to work out with TPI fitness instructor Mark Snow at SG Human Performance, a local gym.
When Ernst, a surgeon, met Snow three months ago, his shoulders slouched, curving his back into the shape of a “C” — the result of spending 25 years hunched over an operating table.
So Tredway, his golf instructor whom he also meets with once a week, recommended he see Snow.
Ernst's poor posture put him at risk for injury and made it difficult to hit the ball consistently; with each swing, his body found different ways to compensate. He couldn't rotate his torso properly, either, which meant a less powerful shot.
It's a common problem among his clients, Snow said. He works with more than a dozen people specifically looking to improve their golf game. His job is to remove whatever physical barriers are disrupting their golf swing.
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“It's like trying to drive a car with your foot on the brake and the accelerator at the same time,” Snow said. “I just take their foot off the brake.”
And he does it in the gym, without a club or a fairway.
Snow shows clients how to bend from their hips properly, sometimes by dead-lifting with a kettlebell, sometimes using just a wall. He makes sure they're stretching regularly to improve their flexibility — even exercises as simple as reaching for their toes helps. He also emphasizes core strength for those without it. Clients lay on the floor, facing the ceiling, with a resistance band or towel beneath their lower back. Then they try to pull it out to the side, away from their bodies, but it shouldn't move — a reminder to not arch their lower back.
It's an exercise that helped Ann Ernst, Ron Ernst's wife. She works out with Snow, too. Her problem was her core — she couldn't stabilize her muscles properly.
“If you saw my swing before, my hips were going all over the place,” she said. Now she's stronger and more consistent.
Ron Ernst saw results after two or three sessions. Now, the improvements are more dramatic.
“My golf swing is completely different from what it was in January,” he said.
He hopes the exercise pays off this fall, during a golf trip to Scotland with friends. It's already paying off stateside.
“I'm hitting straighter and farther, the two things any golfers wants.”
Just how much farther? Between 25 and 30 yards. His progress makes the game that much more fun.
“Anything is more fun if you're better at it,” Ernst said.
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