Fight the winter blues while, at the same time, improving your game

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It might be too cold to play golf where you live this winter, but it's a great time to work on your body and get ready for the spring.
Ted Bishop, PGA Vice President
PGA of America


Published: Monday, December 13, 2010 | 11:23 a.m.


I'm looking out my window here in Franklin, Ind., on this December Sunday morning and I see a dusting of snow on top of a sheet of ice. There's a cardinal bouncing about on the ground nibbling at the cherries that have fallen off of the tree outside my office. The Hoosier State has had several mornings this week with low temperatures in the single digits. The forecast is for 2-4 inches of snow later today and next week will feature low temperatures near zero.
Golf in this part of America is over, right? Not so fast, my friend!
For the snowbirds in this country, the next few months offer a tremendous opportunity to improve their golf games heading into the 2011 season. The months of December, January and February can be very productive -- if you follow a few basic strategies.
My first suggestion would be to join a fitness center. You can typically get a monthly membership for $35 or less. Look for a facility that has a walking track, treadmills, exercise bikes, swimming pool or elliptical machines. Get yourself engaged in an aerobic activity that will increase your leg strength and build cardiovascular endurance. Do this a minimum of 45 minutes a day 4-5 times per week. 
Golf is like any other sport. As we get older, the legs are the first thing to go. Even for those who are religious users of the golf car, fatigue becomes a factor on the last 5 or 6 holes in those early spring rounds. By enhancing your physical stamina with aerobic exercise, you can build strength in the legs to help increase the power in your golf swing. Plus, improving your heart rate over the winter will keep you fresh throughout the entire 18 holes.
You can take the winter conditioning program even a step further by hiring a personal trainer. This person can familiarize you with the weightlifting machines that you will have available in every health club or community center. One of the worst things you can do is try to develop your own routine on these machines. Most people have a tendency to over lift and expose themselves to potential injury. 
A trainer will devise a program that can be tailored to the golf muscle group. This will not only help you increase strength, but you will find that your flexibility will improve as well. Most trainers in my part of the country will charge a fee of $25 for a 30-minute session. Usually, you can book a series of sessions and as you become familiar with the routine, you might not need a trainer in the future. 
However, one of the great things about having a trainer is that you will probably feel an obligation to show up for your next workout. The commitment to another person is sometimes stronger than the one we make to ourselves.
Here is one other thought for you when you go to the workout facility. Most workout centers have lots of mirrors. Take a club with you and face the mirror. This will give you a chance to do a self-assessment of your posture and club position.    
There are many other golf-related things that you can do during the winter in the comfort of your home or garage. I would encourage you to buy a couple of small rubber balls or a set of hand grips. You can work with these as you sit in your easy chair watching television at night. Use the rubber balls or grips to increase the strength in your hands and wrists. You will be amazed at how effective this can be over a period of a few months. And it will make eating popcorn impossible because your hands are filled with something else!
I directed a pro-am years ago in Arizona and one night a bunch of the old golf legends were sitting around talking about teaching techniques. Jerry Barber, former PGA Champion, offered these memorable words of wisdom: "I always tell my friends in the North to have a golf club sitting in their den when the snow is flying. Pick that thing up everyday, so the hands never forget where they belong!"
You can take Barber's suggestion one step further with a Michael Breed, Golf Fix tip. Wrap a piece of paper around the grip and when you grab the club, do it with a light grip so that the paper doesn't make a crinkling sound. Breed, one of America's most renowned PGA teaching professionals will tell you that tension in the golf swing starts with the hands and generates a chain reaction all of the way to the shoulders. Inactivity from hitting balls in the winter will usually mean that snowbirds have too much tension and club head speed in those first swings of the spring.
I mentioned the garage. Buy a weighted club and swing it for a few minutes everyday. This will not only improve your strength, but it will help increase your club head speed.
Nowadays, there are lots of indoor teaching areas located around the country. Many golfers will find PGA professionals who are offering attractive off-season lesson packages. This is a great way to make some much needed changes in your swing over a period of months. Muscle memory ultimately takes over and you could find yourself to be the player you always wanted to be with winter golf lessons. Indoor teaching will probably involve video technology and you can truly change your swing during the winter.
So, don't let this winter be another dead time for your golf game. Don't let yourself slip further into being that over weight, out of shape person that you really don't want to be! Commit yourself to improving your golf game in 2011.
It's no secret, the better we play, the more we enjoy golf. By developing a good, solid winter fitness program designed to help your golf game you will also be giving yourself and the people who care for you one of the best presents you can get this Christmas!