From the Golf Journal Archives - How to Get Ready for the Season

Mar 02, 2012

By Al Mengert

(Note: This article originally appeared in the April 1968 issue of Golf Journal.)

In the spring of 1951 I was selected as first alternate for the United States Walker Cup Team.

This was a great honor for a young man of 21, and I felt I was considered to be one of the 10 best amateur golfers in the country.

Having laid off golf through the winter, largely because our home was in Spokane, Wash., and we have snow from November to March, I naturally was eager to get out and play to maintain the caliber of game that had brought me recognition.

I rushed out to the golf course, made a game with some friends and headed to the first tee.

I teed up a ball, took what I thought was a good swing, and was astonished to see the ball trickle off the tee and roll gently between my legs some three feet behind me.

I immediately picked up my ball, told my companions to go on, and thanked them for the invitation to join them.

I was naturally most embarrassed by my performance, but it taught me a great lesson: You must work to maintain your rating in golf, whether you are the great Ben Hogan, a candidate for the Walker Cup Team, or a 15-handicap golfer.

Many of us do not have the advantage of living in a climate that will afford us the opportunity to play and practice the year ‘round.

This is written primarily for those golfers who usually put their clubs in moth balls after Labor Day, and get the bug to play on April Fools’ Day. However, there are some points on practicing that will benefit all of us.

Physical Conditioning

Because of bad weather, most of us are forced indoors during the winter. In place of our golf exercise, we watch tournaments on television. Because of lack of exercise, and more time spent near the kitchen, we gain weight.

This is definitely harmful to our golf. I’ve found over the years that eating heavily before playing made me sluggish and took away the mental alertness I wanted while playing. It also puts a strain on our legs, which we use so much in correct swinging, and it limits our pivot or turn for power in the swing.

I honestly feel that for every three pounds I am overweight, I add one stroke to my score. This doesn’t mean that if you are thin you will play good golf. What it does mean, though, is that if you are in condition, you will play better than if you are not!

Recommendation: Eat a good, healthy breakfast and a light lunch, especially if you are going to play golf that day. At dinner, no second helpings, and forget bread, potatoes and desserts.

All great athletes will tell you that the first thing to go is their legs. This is true in golf, too. A player walks between four and six miles a round. During the off-season we don’t give our legs the proper exercise.

Recommendation: To condition your legs, walk whenever you can – on the course, to work, and in the evenings.

I suggest that you get a weighted club, one that you won’t use in playing. The average wood weighs some 14 ounces; get an old one and weight it up to 23 ounces. Because that’s only nine more ounces in the head than you are accustomed to swinging, you may think it’s nothing more than a feather.

But beware when you first swing it, or you may take off. Believe me, it’s heavy, and you haven’t used any of your golfing muscles to turn or to swing for months. Your muscles need some toning before you begin.

Recommendation: Swing your weighted club back and forth in a full swing some 25 or more times in the morning and before retiring. I consider this to be the greatest swing conditioner of all the devices conceived to help your game. The greatest exponent of it is Gene Sarazen, who has played great golf for nearly half a century!

Practice

I would suggest that before playing in the spring, you practice a minimum of one hour for every month that you have laid off. I also encourage you to take at least a couple of lessons from the professional at your club so that you do not get off to a bad start and develop bad habits that will stay with you all season.

Nothing upsets me more than to see a high handicap golfer lay off all winter, and then run out to the tee to start the season and expect to play the same as he did when he quit last fall. I say high handicap golfer because low handicappers have learned the lesson.

Nor do I like to see someone come out to the practice tee for his first workout and, after hitting six or seven balls with an iron, reach for the driver and start slugging balls out like a “broken popcorn machine.”

If you ever attend a major professional tournament and you want to learn something that will help your game, stand on the practice tee and watch the great stars and their practice routine.

After they have emptied their practice balls onto the ground and taken a few easy swings to loosen up, they take a 9-iron out of their golf bags and lazily hit some 20 shots with this club about 100 yards to their caddies. This is to get their muscles toned and to get their timing conditioned to their swing, for accuracy and maximum distance when they get to the longer clubs. Then they go to their 7-iron and hit another 20 balls. Gradually then lengthen their swing and hit the 5-iron. When they change to the 3-iron, they are hitting with full power. They usually reach next for their 3- or 4-wood, and continue to pour it on now that they are warmed up. Finally they work with the driver.

Instead of running to the first tee from there, they will save some 10 or 15 balls to hit with their wedge to cool off. From there they will usually go to the practice green to hit some chip shots and to putt before teeing off.

This is the routine of great golfers who play some six days a week, eight hours a day for 40 weeks a year.

If this is their routine, how in the world can we expect to walk onto the course after not touching a club for days, weeks, or months, and expect so much of ourselves? If you do, you are just kidding yourself.

I’m a home professional. I play golf with my members on Wednesday and Saturday. In addition, I practice some two extra hours weekly.

In 1966 I had the great thrill of leading the first round of the United States Open with a 67. I lost the lead after that, but was still fifth going into the last round. I had an 81 and finished far down the list.

Naturally I was disappointed until a friend of mine told me, “Al, I’m in the very competitive business of selling real estate. Do you think I could possibly be at the top of my field working at it 10 hours a week while my competitors of equal ability are working 50?”

I realize I can never be an Arnold Palmer working only 10 hours a week on my game – nor can you. We have a living to make and jobs to run and we don't have the time. But if you follow my advice and make good use of the time you can afford by conditioning yourself, you might get as big a thrill as I did in beating Palmer and Casper – if only for a day!

The weighted club, a great swing conditioner. (USGA Museum)


Al Mengert (left), a member of the 1951 USA Walker Cup Team. (USGA Museum)