The season is getting underway in most of Canada–albeit slowly because of the persistently cold weather. Whether or not golfers have been working out during the off-season, many are probably thinking about doing so now to get in playing shape. In a roundabout way, this brings me to George Knudson and this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Knudson, who died in 1989, won the tournament in 1967 when it was called the Greater New Orleans Open Invitational. Knudson’s win was the fourth of his estimable career on the PGA Tour. He went on to win four more PGA Tour events before all but packing it in when he was in only his mid-30s. He’d had enough of the circus, whoops, circuit.
Fitness was important to Knudson. He was of slight build, and he needed to get stronger to handle the stress of a four-round tournament. Knudson started working out, and working out hard, in October 1966 under the guidance of Lloyd Percival. Percival wrote the Hockey Handbook in 1951, which became a training bible in the game. He founded The Fitness Institute in Toronto, a state of the art institution that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Percival was not afraid to speak his mind or to develop programs considered controversial. The word “innovative” tends to come up when anybody discusses his approach. Percival was an innovator, for sure, and he was influential.
Knudson increased his weight from 135 pounds to 172 pounds within two years of working out under Percival’s counsel. He had gotten much stronger by lifting weights, running, and doing the isometric exercises that Percival prescribed. Percival wanted Knudson to get stronger in his shoulders and legs in particular, and also more flexible. Knudson’s 11-under-par 277 was good enough to win by a shot in New Orleans. The strongest and longest golfer finished second by that shot.
His name? Jack Nicklaus. And how strong was Knudson getting? He was able eventually to bench press 525 pounds. “Nobody ever drowned in sweat,” Percival used to say, according to Bill Macdonald’s helpful piece in the Golf Historical Society of Canada’s Bulletin #55, September 2004. Macdonald wrote that this was Percival’s slogan.
I was provided some years ago with a copy of the morning program that Percival developed for Knudson. Percival’s program for Knudson started while he was still in bed. It makes for fascinating reading. The program provides a window into a fitness genius’s mind, and insight into the effort Knudson was willing to work to raise his fitness level, and, consequently, his game.
The program is detailed, and too long for me to reproduce here. But I’ll provide some of the elements, as Percival set them down.
Before you get out of bed do the following:
A. Breathe slowly and deeply 10-12 times. You try to let every muscle in the body go limp and loose as you exhale. Inhale very slowly and continue until you feel completely full. Then hold it for a few seconds and then exhale very slowly, letting all the tension got as you exhale. Hold the exhale for a few seconds and continue with the drill. Remember–this is done SLOWLY. This gets you started steady and cool.
B. Bend your knees, feet under your knees flat on the bed. Then pull your stomach in as far as you can, then puff it up as far as you can–keeping generally relaxed. Keep a moderate rhythm and breathe normally during exercise. Do 10-12 times. This pumps out the reserve blood from your abdominal area stimulating the circulation and also looses up any gut tension.
(Note, mine, not Percival’s: Knudson considered himself a tightly wired man. He felt he needed to rid himself of tension, and learn how to relax. In 1987 he invited me to work on his book The Natural Golf Swing. This was a privilege for me, and one of my most satisfying experiences as a writer. Knudson said, famously, “You don’t play golf to relax. You relax to play golf.” Great advice that I recommend for any golfer as the season gets underway).
A few more in the bed exercises follow before Percival orders : “GET OUT OF BED.” He advises three or four shoulder shrugs, a torso twist for 15-20 seconds, 10-12 bent knee sit up toe touches, and then a couple of minutes of image practice.
Don’t use a club but just simulate (eyes shut) a few shots off the tee, with irons and on the green–feeling and imagining yourself stroking the ball perfectly–no tension and with complete ‘feel.’ Concentrate on this–use that imagination to get the feel, see the picture.
Percival wanted Knudson to do the routine every morning, to help him feel “right” more often.
There’s more to the morning routine, and, of course, Percival also prescribed exercises for strength. He believed in isometrics, and in the power of the mind as well as the body; he wanted the mind and body allied as one under the objective of getting the most out of oneself. Percival also knew the power of intention. Knudson became keenly aware of its importance. He often said that he didn’t get the same feeling on the range as on the course during a tournament. Knudson came to realize that tournament golf woke him up in a way that whacking balls for extended periods on the range never could.
Here’s Percival on the idea, from the program he developed for Knudson.
Remember that the laws of learning state that the higher the intent to do well the better the performance is likely to be–and the less the anxiety level the greater the skill potential–so think big but keep it cool–let it happen.
Percival was only 61 when he died in 1974. Knudson was only 51 when he died in 1989. They were ahead of their time, and it’s a shame their time wasn’t longer.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein