There’s an old coaching adage that you never want to give your opponent any “bulletin board material”—that is, don’t say anything before a big matchup that your adversary can pin to his locker room bulletin board and use as motivation.
Golf commentator Brandel Chamblee learned that the hard way this week, when he warned Rory McIlroy—currently the third-ranked golfer in the world—about hitting the gym a little too often. Yes, you read that correctly.
“I say it with a lot of trepidation, because it’s a different era for sure and I don’t know the full extent of what he’s doing, but when I see the things he’s doing in the gym, I think of what happened to Tiger Woods,” Chamblee said in a Tuesday conference call previewing the next leg of the PGA Tour. “And I think more than anything of what Tiger Woods did early in his career with his game was just an example of how good a human being can be, what he did towards the middle and end of his career is an example to be wary of. That’s just my opinion. And it does give me a little concern when I see the extensive weightlifting that Rory is doing in the gym.”
McIlroy, ever the competitor, responded as any athlete should when someone throws down the gauntlet: a Twitter video of himself doing 265-pound back squats.
— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) February 16, 2016
Re the squats it was the last set of 3x3 at 120kg(265lbs). Did 3x10 at 100kg(225lbs) before that. I'm 165lbs. I'm a golfer not body builder
— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) February 17, 2016
(Plus: McIlroy, to his credit, doesn’t need any extra bulletin board material. He’s got his past physique for that.)
Just about to hit the gym, sometimes we need a reminder why we go in there and push ourselves... Here's mine... pic.twitter.com/AuC3zf0Gut
— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) February 4, 2014
“I'm trying to make my back as strong as I possibly can so that when I come out here and swing a golf club at 120 mph, I'm robust enough to take that 200 times a day when I hit shots and when I practice and when I play golf,” McIlroy said at his press day before the Northern Trust Open, where he’ll be making his 2016 debut on the PGA Tour.
Makes sense, right? But Chamblee’s comment did expose (if only subtly) a golf stigma around spending too much time in the weight room. In 2015, former Woods coach Butch Harmon warned that McIlroy could “almost hurt yourself in the gym if you get too bulky.” Hank Haney, a former coach of Woods, actually critiqued Woods in 2014 for gaining muscle mass in his upper body. “He does a lot of the gym stuff,” Haney said on his radio show in 2014. “You need to be in shape, you need to avoid injury, but my opinion is he really overdoes that.”
— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) November 19, 2014
Golfers aren't totally anti-weightlifting, obviously. Here’s a pro-weightlifting editorial from the Golf Channel published Wednesday, albeit a defensive one, pointing out how pro golf trainers like Sean Cochran (Phil Mickelson’s trainer) and Randy Myers emphasize how strength training can help a golfer not only play better but also withstand the physical grind of nonstop training.
Neither McIlroy nor the other trainers are suggesting that golfers should only weight train at the expense of technique training. "The key is balance," says Eric Dannenberg, C.S.C.S., an athletic performance specialist and manager at EXOS training center in Phoenix. "If all you do is lift heavy weights and don’t have a balance, then yes, your golf game will suffer. But just because Rory is doing big lifts doesn’t mean he’s not also doing stretching or doing yoga or mobility work, in addition to his regular technical golf practice. It’s got to be a balanced approach."
What's more, McIlroy likely didn't walk into the gym one day and start churning out 225-pound back squats. Like any athlete, "Rory had to start with lunges and bodyweight squats and build on up," Dannenberg says. "Fitness is a long-term component. And now he can step into the gym and bang out 3-5 sets of deadlifts and squats. These big, complex lifts are efficient, and help to build a lot of strength."
To settle this debate for good, we asked Dannenberg to offer five advantages that a golfer can gain by lifting some heavy iron—along with a five-iron.