The Home Stretch

By: Tony Dear


by Tony Dear

After a 45-minute workout, Roger Fredericks, fitness and flexibility guru to some of the game's greatest players, is a little out of breath as he sheds some light on his career, why we all struggle with our golf and how a few exercises at home will help.

So here's what Fredericks has to stay about fitness and golf:

Arnold Palmer phoned me at 6.30 one morning earlier this year to tell me a story about him and Nicklaus sitting on the verandah at Augusta National. They were talking about flexibility and fitness when Arnold told Jack to stand up. "What for?" says Jack. "Just stand up," replies Palmer. So Jack stands up and Arnold stands right next to him. "Hey, I can see your bald spot," says Palmer. "For the first time in years I'm taller than you." It's true, Arnold is an inch taller than Jack now (he used to be taller when they were in their prime, but as he aged Palmer became slightly shorter than Nicklaus) simply because of the stretching exercises we've been doing for the last couple of years.

I was introduced to Arnold in November 2004. I was on the Golf Channel show "Golf Academy Live," working with Tommy Jacobs and John Jacobs, showing what typically happens to a golfer as he gets older. Palmer's business partner, David Chapman, saw it and immediately thought, "that's what's happening to Arnold," Palmer had been stretching and exercising for 40 years but he was working on the wrong stuff and, as a result, his swing had become stiff and wooden. He now brings me over to Bay Hill from time to time and we talk on the phone quite a bit. He's feeling and looking so much better.

Handicaps haven't come down in 30 years despite the remarkable advances in technology, golf instruction, and golf course conditioning. Last year over 30 million Americans consulted an orthopedic surgeon for some form of joint surgery. These same people are taking their anatomical dysfunctions to the course and having a hard time of it. The sedentary lifestyle that exists in most of the world today is the number-one problem in the golf world, because it robs us of flexibility and strength in the muscle groups that are important when swinging a golf club.

Simply put, the average golfer lacks the necessary flexibility and strength in the key muscle groups to perform a fundamentally sound golf swing.

I don't want people to start out on a new fitness program doing hardcore strengthening programs. Instead, start out with a flexibility program at home. I have nothing against gyms but I prefer people to work out at home because in the long run, I think people are more likely to continue with a fitness program there. Once you have developed good flexibility, then you should proceed onto cardio and body-strengthening work.

I still stretch every day for at least 10 minutes. Every other day I lift light weights and I do some cardio work twice a week. It's much less than I used to do but you've got to stay committed and put the effort in when you begin. Make it part of your every day life. It's fun when you do and you'll see the benefits sooner than you think.

Breathing is very important. Take deep breaths when you stretch to get the blood oxygenated and pumping around the body. Let your head rest naturally back on the shoulders and push your diaphragm in and out.

Thirty some years ago, I was working on joining the Tour when my wrist broke. I had a couple of operations but neither really helped. In the end I had a prosthetic made. My knees were in bad shape too. I saw physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons and every holistic practitioner imaginable - acupuncturist, reflexologist, etc. I quickly went from a plus-2 handicap to about an 8 or a 9. One day I saw a physical therapist named Rick Macdonald who had been the trainer for the San Diego Chargers football team. As he watched me walk into his office he said, "I bet your left ankle is sore and you hit a lot of golf balls." He was spot on. He could see my posture was poor and that my hips were consequently mis-aligned.

Rick explained why I was feeling the pain in my knees and ankle and how it affected my golf swing and vice versa. He referred me to Pete Egoscue, who was Jack Nicklaus' trainer. (Nicklaus wrote in the forward to Egoscue's book, "The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion" that he had changed his life!)

Within a couple of years of starting work with Pete, I was totally pain-free. I was running marathons and got my handicap back down to scratch or better.

I met Jack Nicklaus in Hualalai, Hawaii, in 2000. He had just had his hip replaced and couldn't load up in the backswing correctly. His hip muscles had atrophied significantly and he was trying to coil like he used to. I didn't think that was possible for him any more so I suggested he not try but maintain his height a little better through the swing and not go back quite so far.

When I first started rehabbing myself, I did about 40 minutes a day. Usually, when first embarking on my program, the average person spends 20 to 30 minutes a day in the beginning, then can eventually taper that time down.

When you get older, you will begin to lose bone density, muscle mass, flexibility, eyesight, hearing, and so on. But working on golf swing mechanics alone isn't necessarily going to give you more strength and flexibility. However, you CAN improve the range of motion in your body as a senior if you stretch the right muscles, the right way.

Today's golf teachers know a great deal about swing mechanics, but they tend to teach the swing as an upper body movement - arms, hands, shoulders, head, etc. Golf, like all sports, is primarily a lower-body game.

You see people with shoulder pain rubbing or stroking their shoulders and people with sore backs rubbing their backs. But they need to be working on the muscles connected to their shoulders or backs. Muscles work in chains. The site of pain is not necessarily the source of pain.

Some say golf causes back problems. That's nonsense. If your hips are in good shape your back will probably be fine. Ninety percent of back pain is caused by hip dysfunction. It's those muscle chains again. If you want to improve your back you need to work on the muscles/joints to which the spine is attached. Poor alignment can set of a chain reaction throughout your body. You can ease back pain by loosening your hip/pelvic muscles. Work the hamstring, the inner and outer thigh, and the hip flexors.

In 1995, I had a pupil who just wasn't getting it. He was becoming very frustrated and finally said, "I was hitting the ball a hell of a lot better before I came to see you." I was angry and frustrated myself and suggested he go and waste some other pro's time and that he just didn't have the necessary physical ability to swing a golf club. He was hurt and surprised. "Do you mean I can't do it?" he said. I asked him to do a couple of minor exercises: a spinal twist and hamstring stretch, and he failed miserably at both. I told him flexibility was of paramount importance and gave him a few stretches to work on. Within four months his handicap had come down from 17 to 9.

The average guy doesn't want to hear about fitness and what better health could do for his golf. If I tell them to eat better and stretch they just shrug it off. "I'm too old for that, what's the point?" they say. But if I tell them I can change their swing slightly to improve their game their face lights up.

Every teacher has a different system, at least they did when I was growing up. Claude Harmon told me to stand with my feet pointing forwards, have the left thumb on top of the grip in a weak position and slide the hips. Paul Runyan suggested a much stronger grip, less slide and more hip turn. Johnny Revolta told me several other things. Then I saw Trevino swing and I said to Johnny, "But Trevino doesn't do it that way," "He's the exception," Johnny said. This happened so often it became clear we're all the exception.

The pro's swings may be different from each other but, if you look at them down the line, every single one of them positions his right hip joint over his right ankle at address and at the top of the backswing. At impact you can see both cheeks of their posterior which means their hips have turned fully. With amateurs you can maybe see one cheek and sometimes neither. Their hips are facing the ball at impact because their muscles are contracted so much they have little or no flexibility.

Electromyographic testing has shown that tour players have up to 50-100% more flexibility in their upper trunks than the average golfer, and also 66% faster pelvic rotation. Tour players have these major physiological advantages because they hit millions of shots and started the game when they were kids, never stopping to get a "real" job.

Jim Furyk is very round-shouldered and his right side is contracted a little so he has trouble turning his shoulders fully. He therefore stands close to the ball and takes the club back way on the outside so he can create some width and consequently generate some power.

Strong, muscle-bound guys often aren't able to swing the club well because their muscles are so taut and compact. You need long, lean muscles to play this game well. Tiger has put on a lot of muscle in recent years, but it's long and lean. I commend his teacher and trainer because Tiger's posture wasn't great when he came out on Tour but it has improved dramatically over the last couple of years. As a result, he is hitting the ball farther and better, plus I think his career will be longer.

Sam Snead could lift one foot above his head from a standing position well into his 70s. He went through the same stretching routine every day for 50 years and never lifted weights.

I used my 92-year-old father as a model at a seminar last month. All through his life he's done something active every day: swimming 20 laps, going on a five-mile walk or skipping. If you saw him, you'd think he was in his mid-70s, and a remarkably fit mid-70s at that.

Our cows, pigs and chickens are basically living in a sewer and being pumped full of chemicals. Our crops are covered in numerous insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers to help them grow. All that stuff clogs up in our bodies, which are like the plumbing in our homes. Eventually there is going to be this big build-up of toxins and it will have a very negative effect. We need to reverse this and remove the pollutants from our bodies. I don't eat much red meat, but when I do it's grain-fed cows. I eat raw fruits and vegetables and drink a quart of dark, green vegetable (kale, spinach, celery, and broccoli) juice a day.

I find that if people make a conscious effort, no matter how large or small, to eat and drink the right stuff and stretch a little every day their self-esteem increases considerably. They have an aura, happiness and confidence about them.

I first met Gary Player in 1997 at Kanaapali, Hawaii. He was playing with Graham Marsh, who I was working with around that time. After the round Marsh brought Gary into my studio. He was very round-shouldered and very strong in the muscles in the front of his body; hips, upper quads, etc. It was causing an imbalance in his swing which was partly responsible for his walking through the shot. I designed a flexibility program for him which he has incorporated into his workout program over the last seven years.

Swimming is fabulous exercise and terrific for injury recuperation. But there is a downside too as the lack of gravity in water means less resistance, which means less oxygen gets compressed into your cells. Consequently, swimming can tighten you up. Swim 40 laps and go straight to the golf course. You'll feel like you're swinging in [clingfilm].

I really don't believe in prescribing just one stretch, but if you really are pressed for time the Downward Dog hits all the major muscles in the body at one time. To start, get down on all fours. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Now, slowly raise your legs by straightening your knees. Hands and feet remain in the same position. Your body should look like an upside-down V. Try to keep your heels on the ground. If you can't, your calves and hamstrings are too tight.

I have a student in his 90s and plenty in their 80s, but my typical student is in his 50s. They have all tried everything imaginable to maintain their handicap and they complain of losing distance. When they start a flexibility program they are amazed at the results. They regain their lost yardage, feel stronger and come off after 18 holes feeling a whole lot better.

Some of the pros Fredericks has worked with over the last 20 years:

Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus
Gary Player
Al Geiberger
Bernhard Langer
Peter Jacobsen
Ray Floyd
John Jacobs
Donna Caponi

Contact

The three-DVD set "Roger Fredericks Reveals the Secrets to Golf Swing Flexibility" is available for $89.95 from www.fredericksgolf.com. Roger's Golf Swing and Flexibility Program is based at the La Costa Resort in San Diego. For more details, visit www.roger4par.com or www.lacosta.com.

This story originally appeared in the UK's "Play Better Golf" magazine.

Tony Dear has been writing about golf for 11 years. A former assistant club pro from Sussex, England, Tony started out as a freelancer in 1992 before taking a staff writer's job at Fore!, a magazine based in Peterborough. As the magazine's chief instruction writer, it was Tony's job to compose instructional articles aimed at a youngish readership whose letters to the editor suggested they often got confused by technical jargon and theory. Tony brought his simple approach to teaching golf to the magazine, helping boost sales by 10,000 issues. As a result, he was nominated within the company and nationally for Young Writer of the Year awards.

From there, Tony moved 20 yards across the Emap UK office to join Today's Golfer. There, he was soon promoted to a senior editorial position, focusing on equipment, and became a significant part of a team that saw sales figures double within the magazine's first 12 months.

After three years at Emap UK, Tony was dragged kicking and screaming across the Atlantic by his American wife ("not really, I love it over here") and, after short spells in Phoenix and Denver, wound up in Seattle in May 2003. He recently moved to Bellingham in the far northwest corner of the far Northwest of the U.S. and became a father to a son on whom he has already staked 5 for the 2029 Open Championship. At present, he is freelancing for a number of print and online publications back in England including Today's Golfer, Golf World, Bogey, The Open Championship Magazine and Casino.com. He is also a contributing editor for Denver-based Colorado AvidGolfer.

Recent features include a look at Colorado's self proclaimed 'links' courses, an interview with Suzy Whaley, with whom he played nine holes ("and got soundly thrashed") and a 64-page instruction supplement for Today's Golfer.

Tony has authored three books in the last five years and been nominated for several specialist and young writers awards. "Although I've never actually won one," he admits. He is a member of the Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association based in London.

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