Somebody says the word “exercise,” and my first thought turns to a certain 1970s horror film and split pea soup.
In other words, I've never really been a workout guy. So I felt like a “D” law school student heading to the bar exam last week when Chris Cooper, a Bend physical therapist and Titleist Performance Institute-certified golf fitness instructor, asked me to perform a TPI golf fitness test at the Athletic Club of Bend.
(Several other trainers in Central Oregon are also TPI-certified, including Tim Monaco at Pronghorn Golf Club's Nicklaus Golf Academy, and Shannon Segerstrom of inMotion Training Studio in Bend.)
Through a series of about a dozen or so simple exercises, the TPI test measures flexibility, posture, strength and balance in an attempt to identify physical limitations that can hamper a golfer.
The test does not exist to dash dreams of golfers itching to improve. Rather, it serves as a guide to design a workout program to help strengthen problem areas.
The TPI test is similar to what many professional golfers might take to help spot their own problem areas.
Of course, I am neither a pro golfer nor, now that I'm in my 30s, particularly limber. But I do occasionally like to be a guinea pig, and I am always interested in how I stack up against better players.
Before the test last week, I assumed I had the balance of a drunken sea captain with the flexibility of a political ideologue.
As it turned out, the sea captain comparison was not far off. But I never knew how that lack of balance might affect my golf swing.
The testing process is simple enough. On a racquetball court at the Athletic Club of Bend — home of Therapeutic Associates, where Cooper works — I was first filmed hitting golf balls into a net to pick up any swing faults.
Then Cooper put me through about a dozen exercises.
Most looked easy when the trainer demonstrated them to me.
Most were not easy when it came to my turn.
Cooper measured my balance by having me stand on one leg, arms resting at my sides while closing my eyes. An elite golfer can stay balanced on one leg for more than 20 seconds, Cooper says. I lasted less than five.
Not exactly steady.
To my surprise, my flexibility was not nearly as bad as I thought, considering the last time I stretched was when lying on the couch and reaching for a distant bag of potato chips.
I detected some tightness in my hamstrings when Cooper asked me to touch my toes from a standing position, but at least I made it.
My biggest problem was with my midsection. I have not performed many crunches over the years, so that weakness was not particularly shocking.
But I never fully believed that my doughy tummy might affect my golf swing. Anyone notice Phil Mickelson's less-than-perfect physique when he won the 2004 Masters?
Come to find out good conditioning does matter in golf, or so I am told. In my case, my microbrew-sculpted gut limits my body from taking an easy turn on my backswing. I can take a club parallel to the ground on my backswing for instance.
That is not bad. But if I tried to pull a club any farther back I might have to check the deductible on my health insurance.
My overall golf fitness handicap index, which is a handy way for Titleist to put a number to physical fitness, came in at 13.1. Like a golf handicap, a lower number is better.
My golf fitness handicap was not awful, as I learned, and coincidentally, it was not too far from my real handicap.
So what does all this mean?
Cooper, through the Titleist Performance Institute, has devised an 18-week workout program. The list of exercises and stretches is extensive, but most of the exercises seem simple enough.
And each week Titleist will e-mail me a new workout, all geared toward improving my problem areas. It is like having a personal trainer and stalker wrapped into one.
Supposedly, when the workouts are done in July, I will have fewer physical limitations and my fitness handicap will be lowered.
Now whether my real handicap is lowered is yet to be seen.
Of course, I have not yet seen an exercise that will prevent me from hitting driver down a tight fairway into all sorts of trouble.