How To Extend Your Ability To Play Good Golf
Once you’re into your 30’s your body will start to lose strength, unless you take steps to counter the natural aging process. But being able to maintain, or improve, performance on a golf course, remains important for everything from mental wellbeing to physical health.
We asked Elite Strength and Conditioning Coach Nick Jones – an experienced professional who has worked with professional golfers at England Golf and the European Tour Performance Institute and now works predominantly on the Legends Tour – for his expert insight on how to future-proof your body and play better, for longer.
RSNG How do you approach the subject of future-proofing the bodies of golfers in order to help them to play well, beyond their natural peak? NICK JONES, STRENGTH & CONDITIONING COACH “Aging is a natural process that we shouldn’t be afraid of. The simple act of playing a sport like golf will keep you in better shape than someone who doesn’t, but even within the mainframe of the sport, there are some principles and adjustments we can make to ensure players can stay at a competitive level for as long as possible, even when the body starts to rebel!”
“Golf is such an unbelievably good thing – physically, mentally, socially. When people lose the option to play golf, there’s a whole other part of their ability to interact that they miss out on as well.”
“So, as you would expect, keeping going comes down to injury prevention in a big way; but there is much more besides that means a golfer can bely his or her age in staying competitive and driven for longer.”
“The trendsetters were people like Tiger Woods, who advocated training. And yet, prior to that, if you take Bernhard Langer, who now plays on the Legends Tour – he has put videos of himself training on Instagram. He has trained all his life. You’ve got Ian Woosnam, who famously grew up on a farm and that meant that he was involved in physical stuff, and I have spoken to him at length about it.
“If you saw the stuff that Pete Fowler does in the gym, you would be saying something along the lines of ‘wow’. Pete has had multiple injuries and he is still smashing the ball out there at the top end of the Legends Tour.”
RSNG Those guys are consistent enough to play over the age of 50 and are still playing very competitive golf? NJ “There is a mixture of players on the Legends Tour. There are those who have been at the very top of the game for years and decades, and they have moved to that Tour and carried on that success and winning events.
“There is also a cohort of players who, maybe when they were younger, were trying to make it as a pro but didn’t and went off to become a professional at a golf club, worked at that golf club, stayed involved in golf, played at a good level, represented their country. Then, when they turned 50, they decided that they wanted to get onto the Tour. Golf is interesting – it doesn’t put obstacles in place like other sports would when it comes to age.”
“One of the golf coaches I worked with, who would be considered ‘retired’ in pretty much any other sport, was actively getting back into more competitive golf, taking his practice more seriously and upping his performance to help him reach the Tour.”
RSNG And this makes golf unique? NJ “There is a cohort of players who want to achieve in that age bracket. It does happen in some other sports - for example, you will have Masters Powerlifters… I train a guy at the gym who wants to break a world record at that age bracket; and the same goes for triathlon – but not many.”
“I love working with the lads on the Legends Tour because when I was a kid growing up watching golf and they were the players I watched. I went to Royal Birkdale and my dad said to me, ‘Go and get Woosy’s autograph.’”
“I had asked him, and he told me he would but in order to get it, I had to run alongside the buggy for what probably seemed to me to be about a mile, but almost certainly wasn’t! He gave me it in the end and I told Ian about this, and he laughed.”
“Those players I grew up watching golf, it’s now a great education being able to watch them now and also a privilege to ask them how I can support them to achieve their goals now.”
RSNG It’s said a lot of people get more passionate about golf as the years go by because they have more time to play it. NJ “True. They are some of the most driven, passionate people that you will meet. To be out there where you’re in your sixties or seventies, even if you’re a casual golfer playing once or twice a week, it’s gruelling but rewarding.”
“It’s what started me thinking about the human limits of performance. I started working alongside a colleague, Orlaith Buckley, who I have contributed a chapter of a forthcoming book with, about the senior golfer.
“The insight is they should be lifting weights; they should be in an environment to challenge their bodies with external load and muscle mass. Power capabilities decline with age, but if you do resistance training you can stave that off.”
RSNG So that’s the start point? NJ “Well, resistance training is going to make you physically active for longer. It doesn’t have to be the picture of a powerlifter that a lot of people have in their mind – you know, lifting copious amounts of weights on their back and screaming, with their eyes almost popping out.”
“It can be as simple as using their bodyweight to start off with. I would say about 99% of the people that I work with, I always start off by asking them if they can use their body, how do they move their body before they even start adding any excess weight or load onto it.”
RSNG How are injuries to older players different? NJ “The type of injuries that happen in golf are wrist and back injuries. Injury to the neck is common as well, and similar to the strains that Formula One driver’s experience. Hip injuries occur more in older players.”
“It’s all about your body being able to tolerate the load that you’re producing when you’re hitting the golf ball, because that is a hell of a lot of force. You’re also doing this time and time again.”
“Perhaps the biggest differentiation is in the length of time golfers are out. That can make a big difference, particularly when those same older golfers rush back without properly healing after an injury, which leads to an even longer lay-off.”
“Obviously as you get older you are more likely to encounter injuries because the body doesn’t have the same natural strength and resilience that it did previously.”
RSNG Anything else? NJ “We also have to factor in regularity. In kids, for instance, really ramp up their training at certain points in the year – basically through the school holidays and after exams. This is where they’ve been unable to play golf previously to their studies, and then when that’s all over and they want to play, they play almost 36 holes a day or something similar, get injured and wonder why.”
“Older players can have a similar issue – work can get in the way, and when you come back to it it’s too much, too soon. Players should only ever be gradually increasing their load week by week, and that’s a big area that we can improve on in golf, as well.”
“Ultimately, we need to understand how much golf players play and need to better monitor what the player does. If we go along the pathway of what injuries are, it shows unequivocally that golf needs to get better at monitoring what the player does. I have done research around this, and we’ve got longitudinal data which is being published through England Golf.”
“In football, the players wear the GPS tracker vests which continuously monitor them for internal and external loads. From that, the analysts and team behind that are making assessments on what to train, how to train. In golf, we don’t have that.”
RSNG What about lugging golf equipment around the course – good or bad. NJ “Definitely good. The research says you get fitter when you carry your clubs. It’s because it’s harder work and you’ve got more kilograms on your back, you’re under more fatigue.”
“In the winter, you can’t take buggies onto some courses if it’s too wet. I will always tell players to put the bag on your back in the winter and, if they must, use the trolley in the summer!”
Three Simple Exercises For Golfers
1. The One-Legged Putt “Imagine you were lining up a putt from a few feet and get in the position to get down on the putt. Make sure that your back knee is slightly bent in a way that lifts that same foot off the ground.”
“If you’re a right-hander, your left foot should be the one that’s flat on the ground and three times, without you putting your right foot down, playing three imaginary putts. If you’re able to, try to do so without grounding the putter. Now repeat, only this time, standing on your back foot and note that this second set of three will be a bit tougher.”
“Next, up that imaginary distance to a 10-foot putt. If you’re good with 10 feet, up to 20 feet.”
“Senior golfers tend to have an issue with a lack of hip stability. This means that should you be unable to control the side-to-side sway during your golf swing, which will have an effect on your consistency. That’s why this exercise is there for you to help maintain control.”
2. Sidestep with Looped Band “Looped bands are always a good place to help your golf swing and if you can nail these, you will see an improvement on the course.”
“First of all, place the band around both of your ankles and then stand with your toes facing forward, your knees slightly bent, make sure your feet are close together. Then, you’re your left leg, make a slow step out to your left side. Although your toes are going to try and turn out to face the same way, attempt to keep them facing forward.”
“As you feel the resistance from the band, you will also feel this on the outside of your left. Now, you’re going to want to keep this position held and then bring your right leg closer to the left to return to the position that you began.”
“If possible, keep your feet flat because you need to be aware that you’ll want to touch one foot with the other. Do 10 sidesteps with each leg.”
3. Lunge and Overhead Raise “For the final exercise, stand hip-width apart with a golf club horizontally out in front of you, shoulder height and your arms extended fully. Then, using your left leg, take a step forward as if you were doing a lunge. When doing this, make sure that your left knee is directly over your left heel.”
“Don’t worry if you’re unable to do a full lunge, just make a shorter stride forward. This is simply because any stride longer than your natural walking one enables you to stretch through your hips.”
“Get balanced in this position and when you are steady, raise the golf club over your head, making sure that your arms are kept straight. When you first do this, you may find it difficult to do the full raise without your elbows, but more practice makes it easier.”
“Now, bring the club back to the original place of shoulder height and then push back off your left leg returning you to your starting position. Repeat with the right leg and attempt ten raises and lunges on each leg. This will almost count as a cardiovascular exercise due to your heart rate increasing.”
More About Nicolas Jones Nicholas Jones is an elite strength and conditioning coach and, among other sports industries, has worked with professional golfers with England Golf and the European Tour Performance Institute, and now works predominantly on the Legends Tour.
He helps to devise, design and implement sessions for individual golfers, with specialist knowledge in the skill of lengthening a golfer’s ability to still play well when past your peak.
Photo by Damir Spanic, Edwin Compton, Peter Drew, Gabe Pierce, Nathan Dumlao, Kelly Sikkema, Ivan Pergasi, Mateo on Unsplash