the making of today's golfers: how fitness has changed the game with kolby tullier
Golf. Once thought of as a gentleman's game, the sport has changed dramatically over the last few years. What used to be a team of three to four coaches per player (think swing coach, short game coach, mental coach, etc.) has since grown extensively to include experts in the field of physical therapy and massage, strength, and more. A lot of that change can be attributed to all-time great, Tiger Woods. And let’s face it–to see one individual win Major after Major and to continuously see results, it’s no wonder that other players followed suit in the hopes of reaching that level of greatness. This is where Strength and Performance coaches like Coach Kolby “K-Wayne” Tullier come into play. Working with elite PGA players like Justin Thomas and the Korda sisters (Jessica and Nelly), Coach Tullier has his hand in continuing to impact and shift the game of golf from a game full of golfers to a game full of athletes.
Coming onto the scene 10-years ago, prior to his entry, says Coach Tullier, going to the gym and lifting weights for golfers was almost seen as taboo. “The gym used to be seen almost as this thing that was bad for your golf game. The players were used to doing some stretching and gentle warm-ups. Now, things have completely changed,” says Tullier. “The game and these players have changed. When I first got out on the tour with players, we started doing a lot more dynamic movements and strength work. Since that shift, these guys have really become athletic. My goal when I work with any clients that I take on from the PGA and LPGA tour is to try and make them a better athlete.” Yup, you heard that right: athlete. Not just golfers.
Of course, a large component for any athlete, in any sport, simply comes down to skillset. But once they’re there, notes Coach Tullier, his job is to help them perform at an elevated level and to, as he says best, “Raise their level of output for speed, velocity and strength while lowering their risk of injury.” Consider the various movements you might see out on tour–lots of swinging and working through the transverse plane–lots of repeated motions on specific joints. “It’s my job,” says Tullier, “to get players stronger in those planes of movement and through those repetitive actions, over and over, we build up that muscle, which then protects those joints.”
THE START OF IT ALL
It feels appropriate to give you a bit of background on Kolby Tullier and where he came from. Starting out in Louisiana at what he’d classify as a personal training studio, Tullier started his work with golfers at the junior level. And truly, that was the springboard for it all. The young golfers he worked with started to obtain Division I scholarships. He then shifted and started to work with the LSU golf team, where three players that he worked with went on to get their Tour Cards–John Peterson, Andrew Loupe, and Smylie Kaufman. As the success of the players he was training grew, they started to bring Coach Tullier on tour with them and as Tullier notes, “Here we are, 15 years later and I have the opportunity to train some of the best athletes in the world.” Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Lucas Glover, Jessica and Nelly Korda…to name a few.
A big shift in his career occurred when Coach Tullier made the leap from working in Louisiana to moving himself and his family down to Jupiter, Florida. Why Jupiter? It just so happened that his good friend, Coach “Joey D” Diovisalvi offered him a position at his facility, Joey D Golf.
“I did what I’ve always done my whole career–I bet on myself. I believed in the training and I believe that there's really no secret to it. I just put my head down and worked as hard as I could. I made myself available for anybody and everybody that wanted to train. And here I am, five-years later. Fully booked and finishing up at five o’clock–it’s all just a blessing.”
When you hear Coach Tullier talk about his career, it’s no wonder the world’s best golfers (and some of the world’s best athletes) want to work with him. When asked about his “Why,” he kept it simple. “I get to play a little part in [each athlete’s] journey. And to me, that's what it's all about. To try and get them just 1% better every day. If we work hard and we get 1% better every day, in a hundred days, we're already a hundred percent better than we were.”
In Coach Tullier’s world, the most challenging, yet one of the most rewarding pieces of training, comes down to the difference of 1 degree. “When you get to the elite level,” says Tullier, “it’s the smallest things that can make all the difference. It’s fine tuning their nutrition, fine tuning their recovery, trying to get their left hip to move better compared to the right, trying to get balance into their right side so they can load more, etc. It’s a constant puzzle.”
So what goes into programming strength and functionality for a professional golfer? “When we think about program design, everything is based on the individual, it’s based on that athlete,” says Tullier. “I start by taking them through a screening process of watching how their body moves and functions. This ensures that, for example, if an athlete's glutes aren’t firing appropriately, they won’t be loading up the squat rack until the glutes are addressed.” From there he says, “My job is to find those imbalances and weaknesses in your kinetic chain and fix them so you can become the athlete that you never even dreamed of and you’re performing at a level that you never even fathomed.”
It’s no wonder Coach Tullier’s athletes are finding success out on the green. For many, prior to connecting with Kolby, they really weren’t utilizing their bodies to their fullest capabilities. After they started implementing his programming? These athletes are continuing to hit milestones in their career which keeps them coming back to the gym, again and again. Which makes sense after hearing Kolby compare his athletes to a rocket ship. They’re continuously reaching higher and higher versus an airplane that reaches cruising altitude and for a lack of a better term, levels off. When asked about the difference in training in regards to in-season and off season, Coach Tullier noted that there actually isn’t much of a difference. “I want to continuously challenge [the athlete] from a neuromuscular standpoint, from a kinetic standpoint, from a dynamic standpoint–all of the components related to attack and proprioception [awareness of the position and movement of the body], to balance and stability, everything,” he notes. And his athletes are doing that, all year long. He notes, “If I'm on the road with Justin Thomas for a tournament, he's weight training three to four times that week, that's a tournament week, and then we're doing mobility work.”
If you’ve caught on, Coach Tullier focuses heavily on mobility, agility, speed, dynamic movements… But what about strength? “Strength is the easiest thing in the world to train,” he says. “I can bring you to any gym in the world and put you under a load and you’re going to get stronger.” He points out that commonly, the guy who is hitting the weight PRs for the highlight reel is often the same guy that can’t really run or decelerate, has poor mobility–he’s full of imbalances. The challenge then lies, says Tullier, in actually getting “a person stronger with that additional load while simultaneously getting them to be able to handle velocity, speed, and to become more functional.”
Within Kolby Tullier’s programming, there’s strength, mobility and dynamic movements, yes, but it’s so much more than that. “My job and my goal,” he says, “is to continuously push them. But there’s so much more than just winning. It's being completely immersed in that process to try to be the best version of yourself.” For Coach Tullier, that best version means complimenting that training with good hydration, nutrition, recovery, sleep, and mindset work–a 24-hour job. To start, he has his athletes drinking half their body weight in water a day (as a starting point), ensuring they’re also meeting their requirements for sodium intake and electrolyte replenishment, as well as incorporating the appropriate macronutrients and supplements into their diet for performance and recovery. The recovery game for his athletes is just as important as the training. Without it he says, “you're never going to be able to perform at a higher level because now your body's working overtime to not go into a catabolic state and lose muscle tissue.”
A huge component for athletes, whether it’s in the gym or on the links, is mindset. As Bobby Jones said, golf is, “played on a five-inch course...the distance between your ears.” What then, is Coach Tullier’s approach when it comes to mindset? Not only asking the question of, “what if?” but pushing his players to push themselves to a point they’ve never been to. He says, “If I have an athlete in the gym, I’m pushing your heart rate to a level it’s never been to. What that does is, when that athlete enters a high pressure situation where they’re heart rate wants to spike, their body’s been there–it’s been there in the gym. We bleed in the gym so we don’t bleed on the field.” It’s all about preparation and doing the work behind-the-scenes for Coach Tullier. “You’ve got to be willing to do the thing people aren’t willing to do to be great,” he says. “Are you willing to win a golf tournament and get your butt up at 7 a.m. after getting in at 1 a.m. to meet me at 8 a.m. for a training session? What separates good from better, and better from great, and great from the greatest, and the best ever is all those athletes who are willing to do something more.”
While the influence of strength and agility programming on the game of golf is undeniable in regards to elevating fitness levels and athletic prowess, what about for the “everyday” golfers? How can the weekend warriors, without access to a personal coaching strengthen their game? “Golf is a rotary sport,” Coach Tullier says. “You’ve got to do some transverse plane movement. This could look like split squat band rotations across the midline, any type of rotary press. Anything you’re doing, add some sort of rotation. The next most important thing is to attack your balance which can be as simple as doing things on one leg. If you’re doing a shoulder press, do it on one leg. If you’re doing a bicep curl, do it on one leg. You’ve got to challenge those bilateral sides of your body.”
Consider a swing–you’re loading one side of the body and deloading on the other. That goes back to that balance component, now with the addition of strength. “It starts from the ground up,” says Tullier. “You need to train our legs through squats, lunges, split squats, single leg squats–anything that builds the lower body and makes it stronger. Your legs are how you drive energy from the ground.”
While not everyone has access to a private coach or personalized programming, there’s no doubt that by implementing the (proven) training tips from Coach “K-Wayne,” the average golfer is going to experience a positive impact on their game. For those who aren’t professionals, a complete change in diet, recovery, and the like isn’t necessarily, well, necessary. Instead, focus on that 1%, that 1 degree of difference. Try adding in a golf-specific training session to your schedule once a week. Then up that to twice a week and so on. Like Coach “K-Wayne” said, if you get just 1% better every day, you’ll end up 100% better after 100 days. And from there, the possibilities are truly endless.