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Health & Fitness

Is the late season golf schedule really that grueling? Yes, and there's science to prove it

By Sam Weinman

It seems you can't have the FedEx Cup Playoffs without hearing how the frenetic PGA Tour schedule takes its toll on players. And it's true, by professional golf standards, this is a busy time. Dating back to the Open Championship in July, many top players will end up playing seven times in nine weeks through the Tour Championship. That is indeed a lot of high-stakes golf, with a lot of pressure, and a lot of time away from home -- even for guys who can afford a team of full-time nannies. 

Still, is it really that grueling? Let's look at the science.

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In 2004, Harvard Medical School released a study ranking the physical exertion of various activities, with calories burned as the comparative metric. For starters, it said a 185-pound person carrying his own clubs would burn roughly 1,100 calories over a four-and-a-half-round (or 244 calories per half hour). By comparison, a person using a cart for the same time period would burn roughly 700 calories (155 calories per half hour). Now since we know professional golfers don't carry their own clubs but do walk, the number is actually closer to 1,000 calories for a typical round. 

But of course, we also know that pro golfers don't just play four rounds of 18 holes each week. They usually play a pro-am round, and at least another practice round, so that's another 2,000 calories right there. Plus, they practice and warm-up before each of those round, for an average of at least 90 minutes each day (we'll use golf in a cart as a baseline there since there's not much walking involved), so that works out to an additional 2,790 calories over the six days on site at a golf tournament.

And let's remember, golfers also exert themselves away from the golf course. On the tour, it's common for players to work out for at least an hour a day as well, three or four times a week. Harvard puts high-impact exercise at upwards of 900 calories an hour, which works out to another 3,150 calories a week.

That covers the really physical demanding stuff, but there's still plenty more to a tour player's week. Unless they're flying private and they're spared such indignities, traveling means having to stand in line (56 calories per half hour). While they're waiting at the gate, they might choose to sit and read (50 calories). And heaven forbid they brought their kids with them, because that introduces all kinds of taxing stuff like "Child-care: bathing, feeding, etc." (155 calories) or "Playing with kids: moderate effort" (178 calories). Even sleeping a square eight hours can burn 448 calories. And since we're assuming most players aren't celibate, we should probably factor in sex, which a separate study by the University of Montreal puts at 100 calories per session. 

So there you have it. A tour player's week can add up to about 16,000 calories burned over the course of seven days. And that doesn't even cover certain outlier activities. Matt Kuchar, for instance, recently admitted he hurt his back driving around looking for a Slip 'N Slide for his kids. As far as we know, Harvard doesn't have a measurement for that.

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