Ever watch one of the PGA Tour pro-am events where a famous non-golfer gets out and looks like, well, a regular golfer?
Take Charles Barkley, the former NBA basketball player who has made it big as a commentator who doesn't mind sticking it to fellow athletes. He became a part-time golfer and loves to play in as many pro-ams as he can. He has a swing that could make any junior golfer cringe, even though he has the strength to crush anyone, like a Tiger Woods driver crushes a golf ball.
It isn't about strength, even when it comes to the world's best athletes. That's what professionals at the PGA headquarters in Port St. Lucie, FL, are trying to teach. They've been doing quite well at it, since it is the training ground for some of the best golfers in the world, both yesterday's and tomorrow's.
Rick Martino, Master Professional at the PGA, said that many people take up the game thinking, as Barkley or Michael Jordan do, that strength is the best factor.
"When it comes to a sport like golf, strength can be limiting," Martino said. "You just don't have to be big and fast and strong. Michael Jordan is an exceptional athlete, and someone like Barkley has the strength, but there is more to it than being an exceptional athlete. Much more goes into golf than that factor."
The point that Martino and his colleagues at the PGA are trying to promote is that, while strength is a factor, so are balance and the routine of repeatedly setting up a shot.
"You want to be fast, but you have to do it with balance," Martino said. "The best athletes, like a Barkley or a Jordan, have the strength, but not the skill. The swing isn't the only factor in a golf game. The swing has to work with the speed and the motion of the swing to make it work. A lot of athletes think they can play the game because they are athletes, but the game is much more complicated than that. It's a combination of skill, body, physical and mental ability that make it work."
Bob Baldassari is the General Manager at the PGA site, and said that he's seen every type of golfer come through, but never two swings exactly alike. He's seen the game change into the current power game it has become, with Tour players knocking it 300 yards, and making some of the most famous courses in the world almost obsolete or looking for more acreage to push back the tee boxes. But he agrees that body size is not a factor.
"I have seen guys under 6-feet, 165 pounds who can go 300 yards," Baldassari said. "It isn't about length, and that's what people need to learn if they want to play this game. They need to learn how to work the ball and how to shape a shot. The equipment has been upgraded so much that there really isn't a need for much more power in the shot. We try to let players know that there are other factors to take into consideration."
Fitness is a key, both Baldassari and Martino said. Gone are the days when players spent a lot of time in the clubhouse lounge, went out and played 18, then went to refresh themselves at the "19th hole."
"The average amateur wants to hit the ball a lot farther," Baldassari said. "That's the Holy Grail. But too many players are equating length to winning. It isn't like that anymore. Fitness is important now more than ever. Players don't take it as seriously as they should. The best players spend a lot of time doing cardio work, almost as much as they do on the range."
Martino said that younger players are also too obsessed with length.
"It's not just generally guys who want to play on the Tour someday," Martino said. "We have high school kids who think weightlifting will improve their golf game. Bigger is not better. Exercise has to be different with every individual, but they have to want to work on balance and vision; things that will only get the ball down the fairway if they work at it."
Martino said a big problem with younger golfers is their lack of flexibility and cardio. "Most golfers don't want to spend time warming up. They just want to get on the first tee to see how far they can hit it. That doesn't work."
"They can hit it as far as they want," Martino said. "What about trajectory and direction? They may hit it, but once they get on the green or close to it, it doesn't matter how far they can hit it. Anybody who can make a 4-foot putt when they need to is as good as someone who can hit the ball 300 yards."
Martino warns that anyone should not immediately think they can compare themselves to a PGA Tour player.
"They play in a different spectrum," Martino said. "It's a whole different game. But you look at those guys, and they are in great shape, and they practice everything, not just hitting it a mile. The game is so complex."
Baldassari said the PGA is hoping to show the importance of fitness, as well as the on-course skills it offers at the site.
"At our learning center, the PGA is bringing in new people at the fitness end of it. Our goal is to be preaching fitness as well as golf instruction," Baldassari said. "Look at a guy like Gary Player. Most of the guys ate hot dogs and drank Pepsi when he played. He taught golfers that fitness was the key. Look at him now; he's in better shape than most of the guys out there today."
The PGA Learning Center offers a fitness program at its facility, which also offers 54 holes of golf and nationally honored courses. It is one of the world's most advanced practice facilities, and also features state-of-the-art video analysis, computer imaging and complete club fitting services on-site. Baldassari said that the PGA center is the best fitness center for golf in the world, with a 3,000 square-foot fitness facility, and training areas that teach every shot possible. It is used by members of the PGA Tour, the LPGA and the Nationwide Tour.
As for Barkley, Jordan and other famous athletes who think they can just walk out and play with the big boys, Martino only laughs.
"It takes a lot more than being an athlete. If everyone knew what went into being a good golfer, they might not even take up the game."