Golf's winning athletic aesthetic

The fitness regimes of the world's top golfers are helping to grow the sport. But what's the next step?

Dustin Johnson is one of the most athletically gifted golfers on the PGA Tour.

In the modern game, few have been as consistently successful week-to-week, and his power, distance and all-round athletic ability place him at the centre of golf’s increasingly conditioned aesthetic.

Johnson naturally attributes much of golf’s fitness revolution to Tiger Woods’ breakthrough on Tour in 1997.

Speaking to GQ in 2018, Johnson said: “Tiger was the first member of our generation to bring the gym into play. He put golf on the map in a lot of ways, and made it cool for everyone to play.

“Even when I was growing up, golf was still a nerdy or dorky sport. It started to become cool towards the end of my high school years, and that’s largely because of him.”

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DJ recognises, however, that the top players of previous generations still prioritised working out. Gary Player, for example, was never shy to remind playing colleagues and golfing patrons of his impressive fitness regimen.

“The training maybe wasn’t as involved as it is now, but they were definitely working – even if it wasn’t talked about as much”, Johnson explains.

Indeed, the past decade has seen a significant uptick in the intensity of golfers’ workouts. A typical week for DJ sees him train for 6 days, even logging 30 minutes of cardio on his supposed rest day.

Johnson is always in the gym two hours before his tee times at events, and has a chef travel with him around 10 times each year to help fuel his conditioning efforts.

Such consistent routines are now part and parcel of the modern golfer’s armoury should they wish to distinguish themselves.

Rory McIlroy, for one, is an early riser, consistently beginning his day at 6.30am.

His pattern of productivity is in no small part thanks to his father Gerry, who used to bring him out to the driving range in Hollywood, Northern Ireland, early each morning.

Rory maintains: “Starting your day off the right way is very important. My dad was always like that too and he always said it was the best part of his day.

“If you can get a lot of your good work done before lunchtime, I feel like you’re so much more productive throughout the rest of the day.”

Without doubt, the media is increasingly latching on to golfers’ routines as new health and fitness trends emerge.

Brooks Koepka, Johnson’s workout partner, knows this all too well.

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During The Masters earlier this year, Koepka’s short-term weight loss came under the microscope following comments from a Golf Channel analyst, who questioned the two-time U.S. Open champion’s resultant mental state.

When Brooks hit back, it became clear how suffocating such media coverage has become.

He said: “I lift too many weights, and I’m too big to play golf. Then when I lose weight, I’m too small. I don’t know what to say.”

Yet while clearly frustrating at times, Johnson believes that the perpetual media buzz around the topic has helped bring casual sports fans around to golf.

Certainly, the gym has helped set a precedent for a level of shot-making that was hitherto unthinkable.

Now, if golf’s pace of play could only align itself with its rapidly changing fitness aesthetic, the game will be in excellent shape to draw more fans.

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