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Golfers focus on conditioning

Sports

Golfers focus on conditioning

If he was watching Y.E. Yang's victory celebration after winning this weekend's PGA Championship, trainer Bob Wakefield was probably smiling.

After besting Tiger Woods in the year's final major, the South Korean had enough strength left to hoist first his golf bag and then the 44-pound Wannamaker Trophy over his head.

Performing those feats after defeating Woods, the world's top player in terms of skill and power, is a testament to the hours of conditioning players like Yang do off the course under the guidance of individuals like Wakefield, a member of The Woodlands Club training staff in Falmouth.

Wakefield, 63, has developed a training regimen for amateur golfers, especially those aged 50 and above, that is designed to give them the strength and flexibility needed to make them the best players they can be.

"My goal is to get my golf students physically fit so they can properly execute the golf swing. I can't make them better golfers, but I can make them stronger ball strikers," said Wakefield, who has trained athletes in a variety of sports for the past 25 years and recently turned his focus to golf.

Wakefield was teaching a kickboxing training class at The Woodlands about a year ago when several golfers approached him about developing a training program that would prepare them for the golf season.

Wakefield was intrigued. His research led him to the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Certified Golf Fitness Instructor Program. The three-level education course is designed to teach instructors how to identify and overcome any physical restrictions limiting their students' potential.

According to the TPI web site, each workshop features the latest in golf-specific health and fitness, from golf swing biomechanics, to physical screening techniques, to exercise prescriptions, to the most recent research and development in the field of golf swing analysis. Classes are taught by the experts from the Titleist Performance Institute's Health and Fitness Advisory Board.

World-class professional golfers like Padraig Harrington, Zack Johnson and Vijay Singh have worked with TPI, Wakefield said.

"For the past year I have trained players at The Woodlands as well as golfers from other courses like Sable Oaks and Val Halla who have worked with me at the Falmouth Fitness Center. I've also trained members of the Harris family who operate Sunday River and Old Marsh," he continued.

Students have come in varying physical shape and held a variety of golf handicaps. Participants first take a range of motion tests designed to give Wakefield a sense of their strength, balance, mobility, flexibility, ability to separate the motion of the lower body from the upper body, rotational ability and spine angle.

"We ship the data to TPI's California headquarters and compare it to similar data collected from 20,000 other golfers over the years," Wakefield explained. "Their scores determine how fit they are to execute the golf swing and what areas they need to improve. Just like golf, the lower the score the better. Our student scores have ranged from 6 to 25."

Wakefield uses the information to develop an individual, 18-hour workout schedule designed to strengthen specific parts of the body used during the golf swing. He works with individuals within his training groups, although participants can choose to take the information and go it on their own.

"TPI is designed to be self-administered," Wakefield noted, "but students are often more committed when part of a group."

The results? After completing the program, many of Wakefield's students have strengthened various parts of their swing and dropped a club or two on the course. For example, a 150-yard shot that used to require them to use a 6-iron they can now accomplish with a 7-iron or 8-iron.

"The extra distance may result from strengthening the torso or learning to fire the gluteal (buttocks) muscles in the lower carriage," Wakefield said. "Balance exercises may help players better shift their weight in the backswing. Some students need to improve the range of motion of their shoulders to gain greater strength and flexibility. Maybe they need work on their posture. The exercises we introduce help them work the body the way it is supposed to function in the golf swing."

Wakefield has worked with 30 students thus far, many aged past the half-century mark. Being in his 60s, Wakefield believes, helps him understand the aches and pains that can accompany a round of golf and how to overcome them.

"My shoulders and hips ache after a round and I'm in pretty good shape," the trainer said "It can be even tougher for someone who sits in an office all day.

People do not think of golf as a contact sport, Wakefield said. But players who hit 80, 90, 100 shots or more during an 18-hole round fire a lot of shots where the clubhead makes contact with the ground. That impact moves up the clubhead and into the body. If the muscles and joints are not in shape for that contact, there is going to be pain.

"The average amateur golfer usually arrives at the club a few minutes before his tee time, takes a few practice swings and off he goes," Wakefield said. "That is a sure recipe for a torn muscle. You can tell my golfers because they arrive early and do a series of warmup exercises before hitting a ball. Cold muscles are like rubber bands that are kept in the refrigerator. Take them out and stretch them to their limits without first warming them up and they are going to snap."

Since golf is roughly a six-month sport in the Pine Tree State, it is important to be fit to play one's best. That means off-season, pre-season and in-season training.

"During the off-season," Wakefield explained, "we work with weights to focus on conditioning. During the preseason, we work more on flexibility and back off a bit on the weights. During the golf season, we focus on flexibility and keeping muscle tone."

Wakefield has worked with several Woodlands members who are also skiers and indoor tennis players. They find the golf training makes the transition to those winter pursuits much easier.

Wakefield is looking to expand his golf training sessions to other clubs and locales. Since the program requires only training balls, rubber bands and a few free weights, classes can be held most anywhere with some open space. He is also working on an Internet-based streaming video that would allow golfers to take his course at home.

To reach Wakefield email mainelob@maine.rr.com or call 772-4048.