Many are familiar with the demands placed on the world’s high performance athletes, but few have stopped to consider the vagaries of elite golf training.
In Australia, the various football codes require, as a rule, 20-25 hours of training and/or recovery spread over six days to prepare for a two-hour match once a week. The training, and, for most, the matches generally take place within a short drive of each athlete’s home. There are coaches, trainers, medical teams, meal plans and, the big one, your own bed.
Conversely, for golfers, there are (hopefully) four long days of competition each week with training before and after each round. There are practice days, travel days and pro-am days – and almost everything is done thousands of kilometres from home. Meals aren’t set, you’re largely on your own and living out of the suitcase in random hotels is taxing.
For Aussie golfers, at amateur and professional levels, these challenges are even more relevant.
So to ensure our athletes have the best possible chance of success on the world’s golfing stages, Golf Australia has taken an important step – and it comes in the muscular form of Luke Mackey.
Mackey, who began working in golf – and other sports – when he graduated university in 2008, was initially involved in state squads and the physical preparation of Victorian Institute of Sport athletes.
Mackey has since been employed full-time by Golf Australia as sport medicine and athlete performance manager and is charged with the critical task of helping to prepare Aussie athletes in performing at their physical peak away from home up to 10 months each year.
“The Golf Australia rookie program has 14 pros across nine different tours covering five continents – it’s a huge logistical challenge to stay connected,” high performance director Brad James said.
“Fitness in golf through the past decade has become a big part of the conversation about what it takes to improve as a golfer, so it can be a legitimate problem for some of our athletes to stay in peak condition.
“For example, we had athletes last year play 12 out of 13 weeks and they change cities, hotels and countries every week. Our young athletes are travelling upwards of 300 hours each year on planes and sometimes get a call on a Sunday at home in Australia or the USA asking to be in Europe to compete on Thursday.
“So we have to figure out ways to keep them fit and ready to perform at their peak as often as possible – Luke has become our key weapon in achieving these goals.”
Mackey, who has drawn from some of the golf sport science industry’s greats including Ramsay McMaster, Simon Webb and Ryan Lumsden, also leads a multi-disciplinary team of sport science professionals across Australia to conquer the tyranny of distance facing Aussie golfers.
“The travel really beats you up,” said Mackey, who has now been to and supported athletes on 10 of the 11 main tours around the world, as well as supporting our World Amateur Championship wins in Japan 2014 (women) and Mexico 2016 (men).
“There are the obvious time zone challenges and food issues, but sitting hunched over for 24 hours, plus waiting for shuttles to turn up and then to expect to compete with the best athletes on the planet is a massive issue.”
He’s also aware that working through off-course issues can be equally important.
“Being away from family and friends most of the year is tough when you are 18 to 24, the formative years of life for many.
“If these young men and women played elite Aussie rules, cricket, netball or rugby league, for example, they would have a full team of support staff as well as teammates to help them develop as athletes and people every day.
“So I’m trying to provide that support to these athletes as much as possible.
“Travelling to Europe or North America and missing the cut is an expensive exercise and there aren’t many jobs where you’re not guaranteed of any wage for your efforts.
“At the pointy end of the sport, it’s normal for the best players to have a full-time team around them including coaches, managers, caddies, strength and conditioning coaches and physios. And while I don’t carry all those badges, it is important for me as a member of our high performance team to support these athletes as often as possible.
“It’s the only way we can help level the playing field.”