Andy Brown went to Golf at Goodwood to meet strength and conditioning coach Steve Gent to find out why all pros need to make sure their clients understand how their fitness can play a major role in helping them achieve their golfing goals.
In Steve Gent’s studio, alongside the free weights, treadmill and other exercise equipment, a signed picture of the Great Britain sailing team adorns one of the walls. After graduating with a Master’s degree in exercise physiology, Gent worked for the English Institute of Sport where he provided his expertise to the sailing team as the head strength and conditioning (S&C) coach at three very successful Olympic Games at Beijing, Athens and London
“The English Institute of Sport worked with a whole range of sports, including sailing, and I went on to work with them as their head strength and conditioning coach for three Olympics and we achieved over a 100 world, European and Olympic medals,” says Gent. “We were really successful and had a great ten years at the top. I left to come to Goodwood to set up a performance centre to help the academy develop with my sport science and S&C knowledge to get golfers properly fit for golf.” These achievements underline his impressive credentials, but it is clear that his mind is on the future and a different sport: golf.
One of the points that Gent is keen to get across is that S&C is not just about a player lifting weights to get stronger so they can add ten or fifteen yards to their drive. While he is glad that the gym work done by the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory Mcllroy have added to the awareness of the importance of golfers getting fit and strong, he worries that many amateur golfers – and some pros – have the wrong perception. “If I’m talking to a club player that has been playing for 15 years he may have no interest in golf conditioning because, in his mind, it is about lifting weights in the gym to gain yards on his drive and he’s not interested in either of those things,” comments Gent. “When you see Rory posting pictures on Instagram of him doing a 150 kilo squat in the gym it is impressive, but that becomes the association of what golf conditioning is all about.”
With Gent so adamant about what S&C isn’t, the next question becomes an obvious one – what is it about? “My philosophy is about how we can get a golfer to cope better with the demands of the game. I’ll look at three areas: performance, longevity and enjoyment. The first thing it starts with is, simply, what is the most important thing for you? Without a strong why we don’t have anything,” he says. “If performance isn’t your thing then it could be longevity, which is injury prevention. Enjoyment is being able to go out and have a game pain free and get some decent results. Golf conditioning is about how I can add value to any one of those three things and, ideally, all of them.”
Gent gets some of his clients by going out on the driving range and talking to people, but the majority of those that he works with come from referrals from the golf pros that work at Goodwood. He says that there is a concerted effort to have an integrated approach between himself and the three full-time pros, which comes from an understanding that sometimes customers on a golf lesson can’t do something because of physical limitations. When he first sees a client there is a comprehensive introduction process; there will be a conversation about their physical condition with over a 100 questions for the potential client to answer before they perform full movement patterns so Gent can see their flexibility, strength and stability.
With time being such a precious commodity for most in the 21st century Gent says that one of his jobs is to hone in on what area he can give the client, “the most bang for their buck,” in terms of opportunities. “When we screen we find a lot of potential opportunities, but it is up to me to pick out the top three things that will improve your game the most,” he says. “For a lot of people that can be flexibility and so that’s the area where we can add the biggest value as, realistically, people don’t have time to work on everything, so we have to be selective. I really focus on the person as an individual and the why – what is important to that person and what is realistic in terms of what they can do time-wise.”
After our interview was over Gent did some very brief movement tests with me and concluded (correctly) that, like many of those that he sees, my flexibility was very poor and was probably having an impact on my swing. While I’m not overjoyed to add another thing to the long list of things wrong with my swing, he is absolutely correct and it is an example of how S&C isn’t just about lifting weights – if I was a client Gent would give me four or five exercise to do daily which would improve my flexibility and my golf game. As well as flexibility, one of the key things he focuses on is longevity.
“Hitting the ball at 90MPH is a very athletic process, so we look at getting people ready to cope with this to avoid injury and to help with any existing injuries,” he confirms. “I get guys who are 60 who come and see me with back pain and they aren’t really interested in S&C, they just want to play without getting back pain. A lot of people aren’t that interested in bringing their handicap down – they are 60 and want to still be playing golf when they are 70 which is a great reason to do some golf conditioning because, for a lot of them, if they carry on how they are, it is unlikely they will be playing in ten years time.”
While the set up at Goodwood isn’t common amongst golf clubs, there is a potential revenue opportunity here for golf pros – why not make contact with a local personal trainer and receive a fee for every client with a physical issue that you refer to them? Gent does believe that, specifically among younger pros, there is an increased understanding regarding the benefits that physical training can have on golf players of all abilities. “A lot of the younger pros coming through do seem to be really aware of this aspect, and things like the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) have made a difference,” he confirms. “They do a golf qualification programme for pros and also for fitness professionals which is a good way to bridge the gap for pros and gives them an extra bit of knowledge about exercise prescription and the understanding of the mechanics of the swing and how to relate components of fitness to this.
“I do think it can benefit golf pros if they have a relationship with someone in the exercise side of things who they can pass clients onto. There are a few pros out there with sports science backgrounds who I know have a real interest in S&C and physio and so are doing that already. I’ve talked to a few pros though who have been in the game for a long time but have the wrong perception of S&C, who think it is just about doing weights and getting strong, rather than more stability or flexibility.”
Looking ahead to the future, Gent says that he would love to see more sports science based academies with coaches of different specialities working together to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for any golfing problems that someone might have. “It would be great if people could go to an academy and get a session with a coach, a physio session and an S&C session all under one roof. That’s good for the individual going forward but that is heavily dependent on the coaches and academy members embracing the physical side and appreciating how important that is,” he says. “If you have a customer with a bad back who can’t play for six months – that’s no lessons for six months, no spend in the shop or the café – that is big for the golf course. Golf clubs need to look after the wellbeing of their customers as opposed to just focusing on the technical side of their customer’s games.”