For decades and decades, the general public has looked at golfers as non-athletes, and to be honest, in years gone by; it’s easy to see why. Images of professional golfers playing in the Majors and smoking cigarettes while walking the fairways were a common sight.
Apart from hitting golf balls, the majority of golfers pre 2000’s did little to no athletic training. It wasn’t uncommon for golfers of that generation to drink heavily the night before, smoke cigarettes, and live off fast food like McDonald’s and Taco Bell. Activities like lifting weights, running, cycling, and performing yoga and pilates were unheard of.
However, not all golfers of that era lived an unhealthy lifestyle; golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Arnold Palmer all took pride in performing at their very best. They stuck to proper nutritional plans, exercised daily, performed stretching and mobility exercises, and took advantage of therapeutic treatments like massage and yoga.
Fast forward to today, and pretty much every professional golfer surrounds themselves with a team of experts, including a swing coach, personal trainer, masseuse, physical therapist, and even a nutritionist. The catalyst for this shift towards peak physical health was Tiger Woods. Tiger was the first golfer in many experts’ opinion to bring high levels of fitness to the game.
Golf is a much different sport to say tennis, basketball, and football, all of which are fast-paced and require high levels of athleticism, but let’s not kid ourselves; golf absolutely requires athletic ability. Golfers need to be flexible, strong, and powerful, yet they also need to be balanced and show deft touch on and around the putting greens.
For amateur golfers looking to get the most out of themselves, a change in mindset is required; instead of viewing golf as a hobby they play once or twice a week, they need to view golf as a sport or an athletic endeavor.
So let’s take a look at exactly why golfers are professional athletes and how you can transform from an out-of-shape golfer to a lean, mean golfing machine.
What is an athlete and what defines a sport?
What or who gets to define what “sport” or an “athlete” is? I’ve had many debates with friends who’ve said that walking 18 holes doesn’t require physical exertion, and if it did, you could classify walking around the mall as a sport; I actually do have a friend who is a professional tennis coach who genuinely believes golf is not a sport; obviously I couldn’t disagree more.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, sport is defined as “a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job.” Surely golf fits into that category?
The Britannica dictionary seems to back up Cambridge by defining sport as “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other”
When it comes to what an athlete is, Cambridge defines it as “a person who is very good at sports or physical exercise, especially one who competes in organized events.” Britannica defines an athlete as “a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength.”
The etymology of “athlete” is derived from the Greek word “athlein,” which basically means a person who competed for a prize. I think its fair to say that when you consider the number of tournaments professional golfers play each year and the extraordinary amounts of prize money they play, there’s no doubt that golfers are some of the best athletes on the planet.
Golfers and athletic training
The golfers of the modern-day era spend a vast amount of time working on their physical strength and conditioning, all to perform at their peak and mitigate long-term injury. Golfers like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka have all helped push the limits of how far you can hit the golf ball. These golfers work incredibly hard off the golf course and spend hours in the gym to improve:
- aerobic fitness
- strength and conditioning
Professional golfers understand the importance of keeping themselves in peak physical condition. Amateur golfers would be best served by taking a leaf out of the pros book by hitting the gym at least three times per week. Strength and conditioning will improve your power and increase your distance from the tee, but it will also help you diminish the chance of injury.
One of the critical factors in becoming a successful pro golfer is how far you can bomb it off the tee. The distance can mean the difference between coming up 20 yards short and landing in the water hazard or bombing over it, leaving you with a short wedge in. Another determining factor is clubhead speed. Similar to tennis, where racquet head speed equates to power, club head speed in golf equates to distance.
Fletcher and Hartwell’s study published in 2004 demonstrated that by undergoing eight weeks of plyometric and resistance training, a group of golfers improved their clubhead speed and distance. A 2018 study from Cummings supported this claim by demonstrating that golfers who used fat grips to increase grip strength correlated with increased distance and clubhead speed.
Golf is an Olympic sport
Did you know that golf is an Olympic sport? Well, it is, and if you needed any further convincing, the fact golf is an Olympic sport should do it. However, this wasn’t always the case, as golf was only recently reinstated as an Olympic sport.
Golf is one of the only sports that has been in and out of the Olympic games on a number of occasions. Golf first featured at the Paris Olympic games way back in 1900 and then again in 1904 when St Louis hosted the Olympics. But here’s where it gets interesting; after the 1904 Olympics, golf was omitted as a sport from the Olympic games for over 100 years.
The 2016 Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro saw the return of golf, and it looks like it’s here to stay with its inclusion in the next two Olympics games being held in Paris, 2024, and Los Angeles 2028, respectively.
8 Reasons Why Golfers are Athletes
Most people think walking 18 holes and playing a round of golf is a piece of cake, but unfortunately, they’d be sadly mistaken. Depending on the course, a golfer can walk between 5-7 miles or 8-11km, and when you factor in the pressure-packed situation, they’re under its definitely a challenge.
Now, when you consider a golf tournament is played over four days and consists of 72 holes, the demands placed on the aerobic system are intense. If golfers are out of shape, it will lead to loss of focus and concentration, which could mean the difference between a big payday or missing the cut and going home empty-handed.
Golfers also do an incredible amount of work “off-the-course” and generally perform an hour of cardio exercise daily, like cycling or running. Coupled with 5-6 hours a day of practice, you can see why golfers need to be extremely fit.
Adaptability and versatility
Golfers are skillful. That’s it for this category; No, but in all seriousness, I believe golfers are in the top three most skilled athletes on the planet. The other two are tennis players and Australian rules football players.
Professional golfers deal with so many variables hole-in-hole out that it’s one of the main reasons they’re classified as high-level athletes. How often have you seen golfers make par from the worst lie or get up and down out of a deep bunker with a plugged lie?
Versatility and adaptability are two skills every good athlete needs, but golfers in particular need to bounce back incredibly quickly from a poor shot or poor hole. Golfers also need to switch from playing a powerful drive off the tee to displaying delicate soft touch on the putting green; not many sports require the combination of power and soft touch as much as golf does.
Playing under constant pressure
We all know how nerve-racking it is standing on the first tee getting ready to tee off; all eyes are on you, from friends in your group to the three groups waiting behind; there’s nowhere to hide, and you can feel it. Now amplify that feeling by 1000, and you come close to what a professional golfer feels, not just on the first tee but on every shot they play.
With TV cameras up close, 1000’s of fans lining the fairways, and millions of dollars of prize money up for grabs, it’s easy to see that tournament play is pressure-packed. Playing in the Majors, you can triple the pressure again, especially considering there are only four each year, and to think, most golfers will never have the chance to win one, let alone tee it up in one.
Another area amateur golfers don’t need to worry about is sponsorship; now it’s great when you can sign big-name sponsors like Rolex or Mastercard, but with that comes an enormous amount of pressure; one lousy season, and that multi-million sponsorship deal can be shredded in two.
No room for error
As a professional golfer, your room for error is extremely small; one lousy shot could lead to a quadruple-bogey and the end of your tournament. In golf, the penalty and consequence for making mistakes are harsh, whereas, in most other sports, you have second chances or plenty of time left on the clock; golf is brutal in its unforgivingness.
Beginners to the game don’t realize how hard it is to bounce back from a double or triple-bogey. The chances of making three consecutive birdies after a disaster are slim to none; unless you’re Tiger Woods, who led the bounce-back category every year in his heyday. (the bounce-back category is birdieing the following hole after a bogey) In golf, if you’re not switched on through the entire four days and 72 holes, it will be pretty hard to make a living.
Power and explosiveness
The golf swing requires an extraordinary amount of power and explosiveness and places significant strain on the body, particularly the lower back and core areas.
The amount of torque needed to hit a drive 300 yards off the tee can only be developed in the gym. Present-day pro golfers spend hours and hours in the gym working on power-specific exercises to boost their strength, power, and explosiveness. Unlike many other sports, golf requires you to create the force needed to propel your golf ball down the fairway or onto the green.
Golfers also need to have powerful legs and strong core muscles to transfer the “ground-up” power created by the force of the golf swing. If their muscles are weak, the kinetic chain of movements breaks down, leading to an inefficient golf swing. Golfers’ primary goal for muscle training is to gain the strength to “repeat” the swing without the kinetic chain breaking down.
Massive Prize Money on the line
Ask yourself why golfers get paid the most prize money of any athletes in the world; the answer is simple; golf is the most-watched sport on TV worldwide, and with that comes massive sponsorship and broadcast deals.
In 2022 the players on the PGA Tour are battling it out for a total of; wait for it; $838 million, meaning that the average total prize purse for each tournament is just over $9 million. Golfers like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are on the Sports Illustrated Richest Athletes list for a reason. Tiger has amassed over $121 million in prize money, while Mickelson has earned just over $90 million.
Golfers have purchasing power; people love to watch the best players in the world battling it out for money that most can only dream about; myself included. The heartbreak of watching a golfer miss a three-footer that would’ve banked him millions is all part of what makes golf and golfers so unique. Golfers also have extended careers compared to other athletes, which means they need to maintain peak physical condition well into their 50s.
The ability to bounce back after disappointment
All athletes suffer from loss and disappointment during their careers, and golfers are no different. Playing week in week out pretty much all year, however, requires golfers to have the ability to bounce back quickly after defeat or disappointment.
Bad shots, hitting into water hazards, and missed putts can knock the confidence right out of a player. In the game of golf, though, there’s not much time between shots, and in most cases, literally, minutes before you’ve got to calm yourself down and get back on track.
Golf requires consistency
The key to having a successful career for any professional athlete is consistency. Look at the greatest athletes like Micheal Jordan and Roger Federer; they demonstrated high levels of play week in week out; its what separates them from the rest. Golfers are not only under extreme amounts of pressure on every shot, but they’re under the same amount of pressure week in week out.
Consistency comes in many different forms in golf; from performing on the course to hitting the gym day in day out, and eating the right foods, consistency plays a significant factor in the careers of successful golfers. The skillset to consistently perform at the highest levels separates golfers from other athletes, particularly sports with relatively short seasons.
The two greatest golfers of all time, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus displayed an uncanny level of consistency over decades. The Golden Bear won 18 majors over three decades while Tiger has amassed 82 tournament wins worldwide.
- Cummings PM, Waldman HS, Krings BM, Smith JW, McAllister MJ. Effects of Fat Grip Training on Muscular Strength and Driving Performance in Division I Male Golfers. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(1):205-210. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001844
- Fletcher IM, Hartwell M. Effect of an 8-week combined weights and plyometrics training program on golf drive performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2004;18(1):59-62. doi:10.1519/1533-4287(2004)018<0059:eoawcw>2.0.co;2