Golf Fitness: It’s time to train like a tour pro

February 2, 2016

I have stiff hips, hammies like banjo strings, and my shoulders don’t turn. They twitch.

We all deal with physical limitations. Mine, however, are being exposed at the Exos Golf Experience in Phoenix, where I’m undergoing a mobility screening, testing minor movements that have major implications for my swing.

Following instructions from Graeme Lauriston, Exos’s director of physical therapy, I stand face-forward against a wall and attempt to raise my arms above my head. I can sort of do it, just like I can sort of carry out my next task: getting down on all fours and extending one arm forward without swiveling or tilting my hips. “You’ve got some restrictions,” Lauriston says, by which he means I have shortcomings in strength and flexibility that keep me from hitting it long and straight.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s room for improvement, which is why I’ve enrolled in the Exos Golf Experience, a three-day program that delivers Tour pro training to the rest of us. Set in an otherwise bland business park, Exos fills a sprawling indoor-outdoor space that calls to mind a pumped-up version of your local gym. Its football field-size weight-room opens onto plunge pools, hitting bays and a hoops court. There are saunas, steam baths, massage rooms and a 60-meter track. A number of Tour pros train at Exos, including Ricky Barnes, James Hahn and Graham DeLaet. But it isn’t just for top-crop golfers. On the morning I arrive, aspiring NFL players are running wind-sprints, and Major League Baseball veteran Jonny Gomes is doing lat pulls.

Lauriston waves me into a conference room, where I join my classmates. There are eight of us, middle-aged and up, the best stick among us being Tom Purtzer, the five-time Tour winner. At 64, he’s coming off his worst year on the Champions Tour. I’m surprised he’s here, hanging with a pack of enthusiastic hacks. So is Purtzer. “I’ve never been much of a fitness buff,” he tells me. “But I’ve learned the hard way that if I want to keep competing, this is what I’ve got to do.”

Exos training is built upon four pillars: movement, recovery, nutrition and mindset. We start with the brainy stuff, filling out a survey on our sleeping and eating habits and our attitudes toward competition. In a separate room, we consult with a nutritionist who checks our body fat and asks questions about hydration and fiber intake. This info will all be fed into proprietary software, which digests the data and comes back to us with personalized long-term performance plans.

I learn a few things: I need more rest, more water, and fewer corn dogs. What I really need, though, is an exercise regimen. Soon, we’re off to a session with Eric Dannenberg, a no-nonsense trainer with a flowing Fabio “do. On the turf outside the weight room, he leads us through a series of lunges, twists and medicine-ball tosses — short, explosive, golf-specific movements designed, he says, “to teach us to do the small things savagely well.”

Within minutes, my brow is damp, my quads burn and my locked hips turn freely. I feel like the Tin Man after a few squirts from the oil can. Adopting a golf stance, I rotate my torso and notice something I haven’t seen in years: my left shoulder passing underneath my chin.

If I commit just 10 minutes a day to training, Dannenberg tells me, I’ll marvel at the progress. “It’s about training smarter, not harder,” he says. “Before you know it, you’re strengthening parts of your body you didn’t know were weak.”

That leaves the swing flaws I didn’t know I had. To flesh out its three-day program, Exos partners with Troon Golf, which offers up the services of Tim Mahoney, Troon’s international head of instruction and a GOLF Top 100 teacher. As our first morning unwinds, Mahoney takes us to the hitting bays, where he ornaments us with 3-D sensors and treats us to a TrackMan swing analysis. My digital doppelgänger doesn’t lie: My takeaway’s too flat, posture too slouched, and lower body too unstable. Mahoney links that last point to my training — those short, explosive movements I’ve undertaken. “It’s all related,” he says. “I want you shoring up those hips to get you firing off your right side.”

My boot-in-the-ass camp unfolds in kind, a medley of training and swing work. Morning workouts, afternoon practice at Troon North Golf Course, under Mahoney’s watch. The tips wash over me in torrents, and something takes hold. With the TrackMan trained on me, I assume an athletic stance, coil onto my right side and unleash a monster (for me) tee shot: 270 yards, 20 yards more than my typical drive.

I can’t wait to take it to the course — as soon as my hamstrings stop screaming.