124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

5 cheats so you can skip the gym (but still play good golf)

September 02, 2016
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In a drive-thru burger world, we'll concede that there are some people who aren't interested in spending any real time in the gym but still want to perform their best when they play golf. They want to be able to make a bigger backswing without training their obliques; to be able to hit a green from three-inch rough without strengthening their forearms; and knock it on a par 5 in two without working on those fast-twitch muscles.

Sound good? Then this Fitness Friday is for you. Here are five "cheats" you can do when you play that don't require one second of gym time. Ideally, you'll only use them temporarily, and eventually accept that exercise will help you play the game longer, better, and injury free. Until then, here are your shortcuts.

To really get wound up without improving core stability or mobility in the mid-back, you can do something at address and something when you swing. So this is two cheats in one. At address, drop your trail foot (right for right-handed players) two inches away from the ball and flare that foot away from the target. Then, when you swing, let your left heel come off the ground and your left knee dive in toward the ball. It's a move many great golfers have made including Jack Nicklaus and Bubba Watson. Just remember that you have to plant that heel again as you start the downswing. Both are designed to improve mobility in the torso and counter its lack of independent movement from the lower body.

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A green in regulation from tall grass requires some decent hand-and-arm strength, but you can forego hammer curls and extensor exercises if you remember to "pull the chain" like Sergio Garcia. You need to steepen your swing, and also gather enough clubhead speed at impact to rip through the grass without too much loss of momentum. Feel like you're pulling the butt end of the club directly into the golf ball. Keep that butt end moving down and through the grass and then toward the target as the clubhead eventually catches up and rips the ball out. Instead of generating power with raw strength, you're using gravity and centrifugal force to do the job.


2016 Getty Images

Long greenside sand shots are among the most difficult to master and typically require strong hamstring and glute muscles to stabilize the lower body, as well as powerful trunk rotation. Forget all of that. If you want to land a 30-yard bunker shot close, leave your sand or lob wedge in the bag and hit the same exact shot with a 9-iron or similar. That means you still have to open your stance and open the clubface before taking your grip. And you still have to hit about an inch or two behind the ball. And you still have to follow through with good trunk rotation. You just don't have to swing very hard. You can make an effortless stroke and the ball will jump out of the sand with some pretty good backspin. One caveat: The ball will fly lower than normal so don't attempt this shot if you're dealing with a steep-face.


2015 J.D. Cuban

Whoever said you can't hit a ball farther unless you swing faster was only telling part of the story. While it's true that getting in the gym like Dustin Johnson and working on things such as medicine-ball throws are really going to help you pick up clubhead speed, it's not necessary for most amateurs. The reason? Most amateurs don't swing the club with the efficiency (known as smash factor) of a tour pro. That means, you can get a lot more yardage out of your existing swing if you remember this "cheat": Put your speed in front of the ball. You've probably seen that old drill where an instructor grabs the driver at its neck and swings it so the butt end of the club makes a "whoosh" sound as it passes over the ground. That's sort of what you are shooting for here. When you make your downswing, your goal should be to have the club moving its fastest through impact. That means the downswing should gradually increase in speed instead of starting with a violent move at the end of the backswing. A way to check and see if you have improved your efficiency is where your swing finishes. The club should not stop until it wraps around your body as Rory McIlory is demonstrating here (below).


2016 Getty Images

Many amateur golfers need to work on the muscles around the pelvis—everything from hamstrings to the tensor fasciae latae (TFL)—in order to draw the ball. The reason they slice or find it difficult to curve the ball from right to left is because they fight a flaw known as early extension. Their hips thrust toward the ball during the downswing forcing the club to take an out-to-in, slicing path. It has to because the body has blocked the path it would need to take in order to hit a draw. The good news is there is a simple "cheat" that makes hitting a draw almost foolproof. Make a downswing where you feel like you are holding your back to the target as long as you can. This move helps prevent early extension and prompts the club to swing down into the ball on a path from inside the target line. As long as the club is slightly closed in relation to this path, you'll draw it every time. You can even practice this method on the range by addressing a ball with your feet facing away from the target and hitting three-quarter shots from this stance. It looks silly, but it works. Once you get used to this feeling, address the ball normally, and make a swing that copies the feeling of holding the back to the target longer.


Photo by Dom Furore