Khalil Baba Issa is a physiotherapist for the French men’s team. (Photo by Thomas Stevens/FVGolf)
You have been following high level buffs within ffgolf since 2013. What changes have you noticed during this time?
When I arrived in 2013, there were still players whose physical preparations were not clear. Including in the France team. Protocols such as muscle awakening or strength training during tournaments were not always followed. Sometimes it can be a hindrance. Sometimes I had to recondition my muscular wake up because the guys didn’t have the level to do the warm up which seemed trivial to me, with only body weight exercises (push-ups, squats, etc). Whereas today, when the guys get to Team France, the question is rather whether they need me to do it. If they want me to give them suggestions for improving muscle awakening or a weight training session they will do during the week. The question is no longer whether to do it or not, but what to do and how to do it.
The fact that players do strength training during tournaments may seem counterintuitive to many people. Why is it necessary?
It must be understood that in bodybuilding and physical preparation, if one is not regular in efforts, one becomes unfit. For example, Julien Sall (one of the three players on the French men’s team at the World Championships, editor’s note) started a seven-week cycle of tournaments this week. If he plays only during these seven weeks and does not maintain the gains in terms of strength, speed or muscle size that he had in his previous sessions, he will lose his physical form. He’ll be a lower quality athlete than he was when he started this sequence. So you have to make reminders during the week. As far as injuries are concerned, you need to know one thing: the better a player is trained, the more weight he exercises with the correct dose, the less likely he is to get injured. The discomfort comes from the irregularity. But if the player is a regular, he does not feel the charge. For high-level players, now, a weight training session is a training session. They have increased their equipment offset so much that it is no problem for them to do a cycle, then a training session, and in the evening weight training, or a commuting or maintenance session.
Can we say, from now on, golfers are athletes who become good by working on their technique rather than the other way around?
Julien Sale begins a seven-week tournament cycle, during which good physical condition will be essential. (Photo by Thomas Stevens/FVGolf)
In all sports, when physical preparation reached, people went to the extreme. I knew that in rugby where, when the physical preparations arrived, there were only thick monsters. All that was needed were great dances. We lost a bit of feeling and quick play. In golf, the setting came a little later, he almost talked to Tiger Woods, and then became more democratic, because he took all the others in his wake. And for me, the one who went to the extreme and did the “all-around prep” was Bryson DeShamboe. But for example, he took in his wake Rory McIlroy, who wanted to do the same, but actually returned. So, yes, being physically prepared gets you going, but it isn’t. I think we are there.
What would you recommend, for example, to young people who reach the higher level and take players like Bryson Deschamps as an example?
It depends on the profile. When a young man is already accustomed to going to the gym, there is no need to give him such numbers as an example, because he already knows the importance of the thing. But some, you have to tell them, because it represents extremism. If someone came along and said bodybuilding is useless, it would allow us to have an example on hand, to prove that yes, it is a method. It’s not the only one of course, but it could be a way.
When you follow tournaments from the sidelines, like this week during the World Championships, does the physical condition of the players look different to you visually compared to a few years ago?
It is true that we are seeing fewer and fewer athletes out of shape. In these world championships, in the teams above the table, we don’t see players who are overweight, or at least look like athletes. It has been public awareness in golf that it is a true sport for the athlete of a high level.
In your opinion, what changes should we expect in the coming years? Are there still reasons to explore in terms of physical preparation?
Physical preparation is always ahead, such as training techniques or biomechanical analysis. But for me, one of the things that would possibly change or revolutionize not just golf, but sports in general, is the study of neuroscience. We may already be retired when that happens, but that’s what I see. So be warned: Neuroscience and mental preparation are not exactly the same thing. Neuroscience, for example, can make training more comfortable for our brains. They can also improve learning, allow us to acquire golf techniques more quickly, and thus save time to work on other things. We may see, in a few years, neuroscientists arrive on the crew. Or coaches and physical trainers absorb the knowledge in the field to pass it on to the players. In the future I will tell.