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19th October 2010, 3:27pm
Sports science research questions whether golf coaching is fit for purpose
Golfer taking a shot. Photo by Andy Weekes. Physical fitness is much more important to performance in golf than many players and coaches recognise, new research suggests.

A study by Dr Mark F. Smith, a sports scientist at the University of Lincoln, UK, examined how physiology impacts on different aspects of a golfer’s game.

He found that physical attributes such as cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and posture influence almost every aspect of performance – from a solid swing at the first tee through to conquering nerves on the final green.

Dr Smith argues that a thorough understanding of how a player's physiology affects their abilities is critical to developing training regimes which can enhance performance, sustain improvements and prevent injuries.

However, the importance of physical fitness to performance in golf is often underestimated by players and coaches because of an over-emphasis on perfecting technique, he suggests.

Dr Smith, who revisited two decades’ worth of sports science research, believes that the sport should “take a step back” and place physiology on a par with biomechanics as the scientific foundations of player development programmes.

He proposes a ‘development model’ which offers a blueprint for assessing an individual player’s physical attributes, understanding how they might manifest on the golf course, and designing appropriate training programmes in response.

Previous studies have shown that a golfer can cover 10km and burn almost 2,000kcal during an 18-hole round. Although shot execution represents only a tiny proportion of time on the course, it too exerts considerable demands on the body.

A shortage of cardiovascular fitness will not only hinder technique, but also tactical decision-making and the ability to keep calm at critical moments. Lack of muscle strength and flexibility in the shoulders, back and hips will also be to the detriment of shot execution and injury prevention.

Improving basic fitness and core muscle strength through training can quickly result in better distances off the tee, improved and more consistent technique and stronger mental focus under pressure.

Dr Smith said: “Fully understanding a player’s physiology allows coaches to develop training regimes to exploit natural strengths and overcome weaknesses. This can have a direct impact on performance in practice and competition, while contributing to greater consistency and reducing the risks of injury. Physical fitness should be a component of the development programme for every player, from grass roots right up to the professional game.”

Dr Mark F. Smith’s study, ‘The Role of Physiology in the Development of Golf Performance’, was published in the peer-reviewed journal ‘Sports Medicine’ (Sports Med 2010; 40 (8): 633-655).

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