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    • TOUR Insider: Golfers focus on fitness to compete at highest level

    • Fitness is a top priority for PGA TOUR players like Billy Horschel. (Getty)Fitness is a top priority for PGA TOUR players like Billy Horschel. (Getty)

    PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The debate is almost as old as the game itself, which is pretty darn old: Are golfers athletes?

    Every year, the opposition gets broken down a little more. Those at the top of the game are elite in every way, and that includes their fitness.

    "Tiger (Woods) and Vijay (Singh) brought fitness to the forefront of golf," says Jeff Fronk, Singh’s former trainer who now works with Jim Furyk, Billy Horschel, Matt Every and Bud Cauley, among others. "These young guys coming up are athletes. They look like athletes."

    Fronk should know. His 25 years in the fitness industry includes a couple of stints in the NFL, with the New York Jets and more recently Jacksonville Jaguars.

    "The sport is changing," Fronk says of golf. "You’re getting top-notch athletes."

    All most fans ever see are guys playing 18 holes, maybe hitting balls on the range and exerting what looks like the same amount of effort it would take to beat your 6-year-old nephew at putt-putt. 

    "There are people who play golf who drink beer and have a beer belly and don’t look athletic," Horschel said. “Well, we don’t run and don’t jump and don’t make cuts. We make a swing that we apply power to that doesn’t look athletic, but it really is. There are guys out here that can dunk a basketball.”

    Count Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley among them. They share the same trainer and had him install a goal mounted to the wall in the gym they use. It's just above regulation height and both can stuff it.

    Johnson, by the way, once stood on a physio ball and swung a golf club while shooting for a magazine cover. Try doing just the former, and get back to me after you get out of the hospital.

    The list goes on, too: Gary Woodland played college basketball before focusing on golf, Sergio Garcia is a notoriously good soccer player, and Matt Kuchar is accomplished in tennis.

    But to get a better understanding of what these guys go through on a regular basis, I had Fronk put me through a typical golf workout.

    Ever hear the expression, "a moment on the lips, forever on the hips?" Poke your head inside a media center and you’ll see what I mean.

    Still, I consider myself in decent shape. I have played sports my entire life and run and work out regularly.

    Well, 10 minutes in I was already starting to suck some wind -- and that was just a warm-up of slaloming back and forth on a slide board, dynamic stretching, and glute, shoulder and core rotational movements.

    Once I was warm (read: my heart feeling like it wanted to jump out of my chest), other exercises included multiple sets of golf tosses with a medicine ball, goblet squats, box jumps, reverse lunges, split squat jumps, hanging abs and on and on and on.

    The routine lasts for about an hour and is one that Fronk’s golfers do 3-4 times a week. Never mind the 4-8 hours daily they spend banging balls on the range, working on their short games, playing golf and supplementing their workouts with more workouts like running or cycling or rowing.

    You want to know what the real Tiger effect is? We’re seeing it right now.

    Gary Player might’ve been the game’s original Jack LaLanne, but Woods set the modern-day standard. The Black Knight was more of an anomaly than the average.

    Speaking of average, it turns out average isn’t very good for the rest of us. Consider these alarming numbers from the President’s Council on Sports & Fitness:

    - Only one in three children are physically active every day (sorry, texting or gaming don’t count).

    - Less than 5 percent of adults do 30 minutes of physical activity each day (beer drinking and walking back and forth to the fridge don’t count, either).

    - Speaking of texting and gaming, kids now spend more than 7 1/2 hours a day in front of a screen (TV, computer, etc). On a recent trip to Chicago, I saw an infant playing with an iPad … two iPads, actually.

    - Diet also plays a key role. Since the 1970s, the number of fast food restaurants in the U.S. has more than doubled. The typical American diet now exceeds the recommended intake levels in four categories: calories from solid fats and added sugars; refined grains; sodium; and saturated fat. 

    - Americans eat less than the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, dairy products, and oils, and data from 2009-2010 shows more than 78 million adults and about 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese. As a result, by 2030 half of all adults in the U.S. will be obese. Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

    Even someone like the trim, 6-foot tall, 175-pound Horschel knew he had to make improvements off the course in order to get better on it. He started working with Fronk two years ago and last season saw his driving distance average jump more than 3 yards.

    “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s as much as a half a club sometimes, or the extra distance to carry a bunker,” Horschel said. “My swing speed is also up a few miles per hour to around 115 mph. (Working out) made me more explosive.”

    It also helped land him his first career win in what was by far his best season to date.

    “The golf swing is one of most dynamic movements in of all sports,” says Fronk. “These guys are generating 100 mph or more of clubhead speed in a quarter of a second.

    “The part (the average fan) doesn’t understand is it takes a lot to hit that ball and hit it straight.”

    Nor what it takes to be able to do so day after day, week after week.

    Still not convinced?

    Just ask my left hip, or the rest of my body. Better yet, stop reading and go find out for yourself.

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