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Staying Fit After 50 On PGA TOUR Champions

Golfers redefine the concept of “Senior.”

No couch potatoes on PGA TOUR Champions.

The corpulent MLB first baseman John Kruk once famously quipped, “I’m not an athlete, I’m a professional baseball player.” The same could be said about most professional golfers 30 years ago, especially on the former PGA Senior circuit.

While some still argue that golf is not even a sport, it is undeniable that these days, PGA TOUR Champions golfers are indeed athletes.

Fitness has become a priority on the highly competitive over-50 tour. And, with few exceptions, beer bellies, cigarettes, and portly physiques are long gone, as are hefty dad or grandad bods.

In 2023, the 78 PGA TOUR Champions members competed for serious purses – over $65 million – throughout a season of 25 events, two playoff tournaments, and the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Tournament.

Success on PGA TOUR Champions today requires stamina and a commitment to maintaining an adequate level of physical conditioning to make it through the season.

Explained 53-year old Masters champion Mike Weir at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, “Fitness is a big part of our sport now. You have to train and, if you don’t, you’re behind the eight ball, so to speak.”

It was not always so. Times have changed dramatically since 88-year old Hall of Fame golfer Gary Player traveled from course to course with weights and workout equipment in his car. Player, who won nine majors on the PGA Tour and nine on PGA TOUR Champions, was an early fitness evangelist who helped spur interest in health among his fellow competitors.

“He was one of the first guys that kind of looked at fitness as a true benefit to the sport,” said PGA TOUR Champions physical therapist Paul Schueren. “And if you see him, you know that it works. He’s in good shape physically. He’s in good shape mentally, everything.”

Mobile training makes a difference

Fortunately, professional golfers no longer have to tote their weights, search for a local gym, or work out on a hotel room floor. Instead, they have access to on-site training resources at every tournament on the PGA Tour and PGA TOUR Champions schedule. Mobile Player Performance Training Centers, open from 6 am to 6 pm during tournament week, are set up at each course in two trailers that measure approximately 24’ x 70’.

The state-of-the-art facilities feature one trailer dedicated to strength and conditioning, and one for rehab, recovery, stretching and warmups, with expertise provided by a team of physical therapists and conditioning coaches.

Paul Schueren has overseen operation of the centers since 1989, when just one mobile trailer attended tournaments “by request only.”

“When I started there was one trailer and we did everything,” recalled the 64-year old fitness guru. “But you know golf has evolved over the years. It was looked at as just a sport where you played and when it was over you went in, had a drink, and your day was over.”

The fitness trailers were the brainchild of Dr. Frank Jobe, who gained fame as a pioneering elite athlete orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist and the inventor of the career-saving Tommy John surgery. He was a long time consultant to the PGA and PGA TOUR Champions and it was his vision that resulted in the mobile conditioning and rehab centers.

Tiger Woods’ enormous PGA Tour success also propelled the professional golf fitness movement. His intense workout routines were legendary, and his competitors realized they needed to adopt or commit to a fitness regimen if they hoped to keep up with him.

“And then we became a necessity,” said Schueren of the performance centers.

Players see the benefits

Among the Top 36 golfers who qualified for the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix , there were few who did not visit the trailers. Schueren notes that 67-year old “ageless” Bernhard Langer, two-time Masters winner with a remarkable, record-setting 46 PGA TOUR Champions victories, is one of the most frequent visitors, as he continues to prove that age is just a number.

Robert Karlsson, one of the fittest golfers on the TOUR, is another staunch advocate. Coming off knee surgery in June, the availability of on-site facilities where he can work with his own personal trainer and PGA TOUR Champions staff, has been a huge benefit. He focuses primarily on strength, cardio and core stability.

“As we get older, different things start to hurt,” he explained. “Yeah, I think core strength is very, very important for us with so much speed and turning, and it’s a bit of a funny motion we do as well. It’s not many sports that do kind of a side bend and a turn at the same time.”

Karlsson’s point is well taken. Golf mechanics put a tremendous stress on the body, especially with swing speeds up to 150 mph, and can result in injuries to the back, shoulders, knees and even wrists.

Schueren prides his team on their ability to provide comprehensive programs to manage golfers’ varied individual needs and issues.

“It has to be tailored to not just their physical abilities, but what they’re thinking, what they want mentally or emotionally in a fitness program,” he said. “Maybe we’ll do corrective therapy and some rehab and then a little more strength and conditioning.”

He added, “And golf is the type of sport where every program is for each player individually because each guy has a different mentality about fitness, what works for them may not work for the other guy. They’re used to having a certain type of routine, be it pre-shot routine, a workout routine, a stretching routine, food routine.”

You won’t necessarily find any “gym rats” on PGA TOUR Champions, but most of the members have come from the PGA Tour where they became accustomed to taking advantage of the Player Performance Centers. The post-50 transition is seamless, as players continue to benefit from increased longevity, more rapid recovery, and fewer injuries.

Added three-time PGA TOUR Champions winner Alex Cjeka, “We don’t push it like we were in the 20s or 30s, but we’re all trying to like keep kind of semi-fit so we can still have a couple good years out here. I mean, look at Bernard Langer at 66, he’s been here forever. Look how fit he is.”

“When I was working 25 years ago, there were maybe three or four guys that were over the age of 60 that had won a tournament,” said Schueren. “Now it’s something that can be achieved and it’s not so rare anymore.”

The list of over-60 winners includes Bernhard Langer (13 of his 46 wins came after the age of 60); Scott Hoch; Fred Couples; Jay Haas, Mark O’Meara and Gary Player (62 years old, 1998). The new generation of PGA TOUR Champions players are already demonstrating that fitness after 50 is not an option, but a requirement.

“There’s not a lot of magic to it,” insisted Scheren. “You just have to find what you want to do and let us help. It’s commitment, commitment, commitment.”

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