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The gym is not the answer in golf

Legendary sports writer Martin Johnson says golfers who trim down and hit the gym are not doing their games justice.

It’s the same every year. There you are at the Masters, gazing out at the intoxicating display of flora on one of the world’s most beautiful golf courses, and the azalea bush you’ve just been admiring suddenly starts talking to you.

“Pssst. Has he gone yet?” “Pardon?” “Gary. Has he gone yet?” The trembling voice belongs to some American golf writer, from the Boston Globe perhaps, or the Atlanta Journal, and with a heavy heart you give him the bad news. “Sorry, he’s still talking. I’d like to hang around and tell you when the coast is clear, but it might be dark by then.”

There is an annual practice day ritual at the Masters, which involves Gary Player holding court on the lawn in front of the clubhouse, in scenes reminiscent of one of those American evangelist TV shows. Some pumped-up zealot preaching spiritual messages to the already converted, while audience alternates between an hypnotic trance and a collective chorus of Hallelulahs.

If Colin Montgomerie is off scratch with a microphone in front of him, then Gary Player is round about plus four. Half an hour of Gary is more than enough to relieve a donkey of its hind legs, and the overriding theme of the Player ministry is fitness.

I was present at one of his sermons a few years ago, when his voice carried all the way down to Amen Corner. “Did you know that 24 per cent of Americans are overweight? Twenty four per cent! And did you know that 100 million Americans will have diabetes in 50 years’ time! One hundred million!” At which point he pointed to his belt buckle and said: “Look at me. When I won my last Major I weighed 166 pounds. Now I’m 144!”

One golfer who would be well advised to hide behind an azalea bush should he spot Gary heading in his direction is Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, recent winner of the Shenzhen International in China. It would have to be a large bush, mind you. You can imagine his coach asking him to check out his ball position at address, and Kiradech replying: “I’d like to. But I can’t see my feet.”

A family of four could spend a camping holiday underneath one of Aphibarnrat’s golf shirts, but he’s yet another example of how being tubby is no barrier to becoming a successful golfer. In actual fact he hired a fitness trainer to help him shed 10 kilos before the tournament, although a series of celebration dinners with his chums put five of them straight back on within a week of his victory.

And on most of the available evidence he should probably carry on with the spotted dick and custard. Look at Jason Dufner. When he was ranked world No 6 in 2012, and won the USPGA in 2013, Dufner looked as though most of his winnings ended up in a till at McDonalds, or Dunkin Donuts, but once he decided to start shedding weight, he neither looks very well, nor plays very well.

Darren Clarke is another to have lost a shed load of weight, so much so that he gave away an entire wardrobe of expensive suits to one of the caddies. He was one of the first to get a lecture from Gary, along with Lee Westwood, but while both have finally taken the great man’s advice, you wouldn’t say that either of them are better golfers as a result.

There are quite a few golfers who’ve made a handsome living, including winning Major trophies, about whom a movie might more realistically be entitled Double D Cup than Tin. When commentators talk about Phil Mickelson looking a bit wobbly out on the course, they’re not referring to his temperament, and while Monty has a habit yo-yoing up and down on the weighing scales, he’s never played particularly well during one of his thinner phases.

Kevin Stadler, son of the almost as jumbo-sized Craig, has done pretty well for himself with career earnings to date of $9.6 million, and so too have Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe. Someone at the USGA with a mischievous sense of humour paired them all in the same group in last year’s US Open, which totted up to a combined weight of 336 kilos. You could just about get the three of them onto an Easyjet flight, but not in the same row.

Tim Herron, known as ‘Lumpy’ on account of what appears to be a colony of ferrets having a fight underneath his shirt, has had a far from struggling career on the PGA Tour, and John Daly and Angel Cabrera both have two Majors under their belts. Belts, incidentally, that would go three times round the waists of gymnasium junkies Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Some of us found it mildly disappointing that the fall out in the recent WCG matchplay between Keegan Bradley, and Miguel Angel Jimenez, didn’t quite develop from a verbal spat into something a little more physical, as it would have been extremely satisfying to watch Miguel launch Bradley’s gobby caddie backwards into a water hazard with one barge of his stomach. Miguel is famous for enjoying Havana cigars and Rioja, but he clearly enjoys a plate of paella as well.

It’s not just golf in which being large/plump/fat doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. Take Serena Williams, who probably needs an escort from Greenpeace when she takes a dip in the ocean back home in Florida, in case she gets harpooned. Which brings us to Tiger.

Permanently obsessing over his abs and pecs, the sooner he packs up all this working-out nonsense, and gets himself into the kind of shape that allows him to fit perfectly into a pair of Kevin Stadler’s trousers, the sooner he’ll be back on track for Jack Nicklaus’ 18 Majors.

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