Advancements in equipment are often credited (blamed) for the massive distance increases we’re seeing on the PGA Tour, but Keke Lyles, Director of Fitness and Recreation at The Bridges Rancho Santa Fe, says there’s more to the story. “Country clubs and resorts have the unique ability to provide a massive resource to the everyday golfer as golf performance centers become the gold standard across the nation,” he says.
We are all familiar with the old mantra: “Drive for show, putt for dough.” As the game of golf is changing right before our eyes, this mindset is becoming a thing of the past. As statistics such as driving distance become more essential to a player’s success in the game, the accessibility of a golf performance center with individualized training and assessments utilizing the latest in sport technology places any golfer—whether casual or professional—at a clear advantage.
Over the past 20 years, the average driving distance has increased a little over one yard each year from 273.6 yards in 2000 to 296.2 yards in 2020. Any golfer would gladly welcome a 23-yard increase in driving distance to their game. Some could argue this gradual increase is solely a result of club manufacturing technology. However, when we take a closer look at club head speeds, there appears to be more to the story. In 2007, the tour average was 112.37 mph and the Top 10 ranged from 119-124 mph. In 2020, the Tour average was 114.01 mph and the top ten range was 121-127 mph. Over the years, players are notably swinging clubs faster and as a result, the ball is traveling further distances. In the 2020 PGA tour, the Top 10 players in strokes gained from putting with at least 10 rounds earned roughly $14.8 million. In comparison, the top 10 players in driving distance had combined earnings of roughly $24 million for the year.
What hasn’t changed slowly over time is the remarkable body transformation of Bryson DeChambeau. In 2017, DeChambeau’s average club head speed was 117 mph for an average of 299 yards, which earned him a cool $1.8 million that year. After gaining 40 pounds as a result of performance training, DeChambeau earned $5.1 million in 12 fewer events in 2020. DeChambeau’s club head speed shot up to 125 mph with an average distance of 322 yards after his body transformation. Although DeChambeau’s extreme case occurred over a short period of time, research shows that this linear relationship clearly exists: the longer you drive the golf ball, the lower your handicap will be. So the real question is, how?
After spending the past 10 years in professional basketball as a strength and conditioning coach and performance director, the answer seems quite clear. There are two ways to hit the ball further. The first way is via the player’s technique. A golfer must learn the proper mechanics and skills to hit the golf ball a long way. The second way to hit the ball further, is via performance training in the weight room. A golfer must be able to improve his or her basic level of strength and power output to hit bombs.
Golf is a sport that has been slow to adapt to the normal training regimes that you typically see in sports like football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. Better late than never, golf training is now one of the hottest topics in sports. The physical body types of the players seen on the PGA tour and in the World Long Drive Championships look like they would fit right into an NFL locker room. Gone are the days of out of shape and overweight Tour golfers. All of the top PGA players have a team of practitioners, from fitness coaches, physical therapists, nutritionists, and of course golf coaches to refine their bodies as well as their craft. This type of care in professional golf is no different from the level of care seen for decades in other professional sports leagues, such as the NBA.
Golf Performance Centers cropping up in the leading country clubs and resorts around the nation makes this elite level of care accessible to the everyday golfer. These performance centers capitalize on sport technology such as slow-motion capturing, force plates, data tracking—applying it to the sport of golf. Individual, in-depth assessments of both skill and fitness by performance professionals allow a player to discover limitations that may be roadblocks to reaching his or her full potential.
Research and statistics clearly reveal that performance and fitness have a profound impact on success in the world of golf. With this new knowledge of improving a golfer’s game from a previously untapped angle, country clubs and resorts have the unique ability to provide a massive resource to the everyday golfer as golf performance centers become the gold standard across the nation.
Keke Lyles is recognized as a leader in human performance. With experience with professional athletes and Navy Special Warfare operators. He now leads fitness initiatives at The Bridges Rancho Santa Fe.