I started off the year with a few golf resolutions, and like most people, I only had mild expectations of sticking to them. The one goal that really had the least to do with golf and the most to do with life was a commitment to walking the golf course as part of my overall plan to get into better shape.
Five months into 2011, and I can definitely declare that my resolution to ditch golf carts and become a walking golfer has been a successful mission, and the health benefits are stacking up in my support.
First, let me provide some background. At 5-foot-6, I've never been skinny, and I've constantly been on a diet. Truth be told, the thinnest I've ever been was my senior year of high school, when I was walking the golf course every day and actively paying attention to my weight. That was 1995 and I weighed 150 pounds. Fast forward to 2010, a pretty sedentary lifestyle, a complete misunderstanding of food bred by several relatively successful stints of low-carb dieting, and an insane reliance on fast food as a staple, and I'd ballooned to 230.
My golf game was as good as it's been since my first few years of college when I worked at a local golf club, could play six days a week, was on my feet constantly and I was quite fit. But even 80 pounds hadn't stolen my ability to hit the ball and my handicap landed in the mid single digits. Then I realized how much better it could be.
Through the dog days of summer, my scores resembled my scale, constantly rising. The nice consistent rounds in the 70s early in May were replaced by roller coaster rides that nearly all ended with a crash landing. One round in particular, I was even par through 15 holes. I can remember vividly thinking how tired I was but needed to gut it out. Sure enough I finished double-triple-double to turn what should have been the rest round of my life into just another 18 where I faded horribly.
It was so obvious, especially when the heat cranked up that my 230-pound body just couldn't handle 18 holes of golf, even when I was riding in a cart.
It wasn't just about my golf scores. My pants didn't fit. I would only wear shirts I didn't need to tuck into my too-tight pants. Getting on the scale each morning fueled the depression and with every bad meal eaten to soothe the pain, the spiral spun faster. The only joy was that I could play a pretty convincing Santa for all my friends' kids at our Christmas party. But when I asked my wife if I needed a pillow or anything for padding, she didn't need to say a word. Her look said it all: the suit fit.
Luckily, New Year's, and the requisite resolutions had arrived, and an opportunity at my day job arose. A local restaurant focused on healthy options wanted to put someone on a diet, make a one-month menu and deliver food to the office each day. I signed up within a minute of the email landing in my inbox, knowing I'd have to chronicle the ordeal. Over the course of January, I learned just how far off I'd been. It turns out, to lose weight, I'd eat 1,800 calories a day. When I estimated what I had been eating, there were plenty of days I'd have eaten 1,800 calories in one meal! Having an idea of what proper portion size is, and how far you can stretch 1,800 calories when eating properly and I was on my way.
By the time March arrived, I'd already seen 20 pounds pour off, but I knew that diet alone wasn't enough. I needed to introduce exercise, and what better way than through golf. Some research supported my idea that golf could play a solid role in my fitness regimen. Walking 18 holes of golf adds up to about 16,000 steps, or about eight miles. It's possible to burn 2,000 calories carrying your bag, which means one round of golf a week would wipe up an entire's day's worth of food for me.
I won't lie, it wasn't easy. Even having lost some weight, at my height, 210 pounds isn't svelte. And given I could barely make it through 18 holes last year, trying to walk was tough. I knew I had to build up my endurance.
I began carrying my new Sun Mountain Superlight 3.5 and loved how a properly designed carry bag made a world of difference compared to the run-of-the-mill bag I had in the past. With excellent balance, straps that really distribute the weight nicely and a stand that feels nearly indestructible (as does the rest of the bag), I couldn't be happier. Little touches like a pocket for a water bottle have been around for years, but to someone new to walking, it was really a step up from my previous bag.
The first week or two, carrying the bag proved to be a lot. My game was suffering, which I didn't mind at all. I was approaching this as a process. But more troubling was some knee pain that threatened to put an end to the experiment.
I decided to try a push cart, and put a Sun Mountain MicroCart in play. Now, I'm not afraid to admit, I felt like a little old lady the first time I unfolded the thing and walked to the first tee. But I just so happened to get paired with a friend of our club champ, both of whom are in their mid-30s, like me. I mentioned my insecurity, and he laughed, saying that both he and the club champ showed up one day last year, each mortified to trot out a pushcart, until seeing the other's.
Let me say, this cart has really changed how I look at walking. The combination of more repetition and building more stamina, along with taking the stress off my already-overburdened knees made a world of difference. Suddenly I wasn't struggling to finish 18. I was trying to decide if I could walk another nine holes in the afternoon.
I'd always thought of a push cart (back then it would have been a pull cart) as the rickety thing on the side of the cart barn at the local muni. Not this sleek Micro Cart. It incredibly light and folds down so tiny it fits into my junk-filled trunk. It's also got a cool attachment for an umbrella that proved its worth during a recent rainy day I'd have certainly ruled a washout in the past. It's really changed my mind from dreading walking to really enjoying it. I think my mental game has improved, as well, with the added time to relax after a poor shot, enjoy a good one, or strategize about what I've got ahead. People talk about the "flow" of the game while walking, and I now get it.
While I can't deny I've taken a cart a few times this season, I've walked at least 18 holes a week, and the difference is amazing. Several months in, and simply finishing the 18th hole is no longer the goal. The focus is back on my golf game, not the walk. I've got to give some love to the pair of Ecco Biom shoes I've been wearing. They felt great right out of the box, and are showing me how much better your feet can feel when wearing premium shoes. There's nothing like foot trouble, when every 100 yards feels like a 100 miles, and my old pair of big-name shoes was great at giving me blisters and extremely sore calves, even when playing in a cart. The Bioms have been great, nice and light, and designed specifically for walking. Paired up with my Kentwool socks and I've been blister-free and the cramping and soreness I'd regularly experienced previously are now a thing of the past.
So where does that leave me? As we wrap up May, I've finally cracked back into the 190s, and the 32 pounds I've lost is only the start. Aside from feeling like a new person, with clothes that fit, and a face I don't hate seeing in the mirror, my doctor is thoroughly impressed. Just this week I had a follow-up appointment. My blood pressure has dropped from an eyebrow-raising 150-over-110 to right-on 115-over-75. Funny when your doc does a double take when reading the chart. My cholesterol has also improved significantly, from "one more bad test and you're going on pills" to "everything is normal."
Now all that's left is a breakthrough in the golf game. So far my endurance has improved, but my game hasn't. However, I'm blaming my short game for that, and now that I can spend more than 10 minutes on the putting green without crippling back pain, I know where to focus my attention. If nothing else, I enter the summer – and tournament season – with the foundation in shape to have a great run.
And more importantly than anything that happens on the course, I'll know life as a walking golfer has improved my life as a whole.