Matt AtkinsAfter graduating from Coastal Carolina University in 2009 with a degree in Health Promotions and a minor in Biology, I was a PGA Assistant Professional at PGA West in La Quinta, California, and Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York. I went to K-VEST and became K-VEST Level 2 Certified in Golf Biomechanics as well as a TPI Level 1 Certified Fitness Professional. Since then, I’ve achieved TPI Level 2 Fitness, Level 2 Golf Professional, Level 2 Medical, and Level 3 Junior. While working at Elite Health Services in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, I completed Muscle Activation Technique (MAT) Jumpstart, FMS Level 2, and Strong First Workshops.
I was intrigued by the golf swing at an early age. Starting around age 14, I’d watch Golf Channel Academy, swinging a golf club in my parents’ condo, which luckily had 8-foot ceilings. Every day I thought I’d figured it out. I’d listen to the new tip, watch Tiger Woods tear it up or Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf — if you’re an addict, you know what I mean — then walk to the local course and play 36. My first summer playing golf, my not-yet high-school golf coach asked if that was my 3rd shot into the par 5, which I’d stuck to 10 feet. When I said yes he told me he expected to see me that spring. I had to choose between track and golf. While all my friends ran track, I knew I would never be the fastest kid but I thought I could be up there in golf. Most important thing about me is I always loved the process, loved trying to get better and improve my swing. So now when someone comes to me trying to figure it out, I hope to use my knowledge and experience of going through that very same process and learning the things I have to help them get through it faster than I did.

MATT WARD: Being prepared to play golf — mentally and most especially physically — has really taken off in recent years. Why do you think that’s happening?

MATT ATKINS: Most of the PGA Tour guys are built like athletes, have great posture, and are hitting in a long way. It all stems from the Tour. And most, if not all, of them are working with a team of professionals—fitness, golf, and therapy. As courses get longer, the need for extra distance to compete is at an all-time high. The stats show that the guys making the most money are the leaders in driving distance (NOT driving accuracy). There’s also been a surge in awareness of physical fitness and therapy due to companies like
Performance Institute that host educational seminars for golf, fitness, and medical professionals.

MW: You work with a range of people — are there any differences in terms of how men and women approach being better prepared?

MA: I try not to look at it in terms of male or female, although there are some general tendency differences. Everyone has different needs. Some people have bad short games, some need more distance, some need more accuracy. Our testing protocol to assess golf ability is very similar male and female, with the exception of distance. Our scale for distance is shorter for woman. Another difference, physically women tend to be hyper-mobile, meaning they have a lot of range of motion in their joints but not a ton of strength and stability; men tend to be the opposite, a lot of strength but not mobility. But tendencies aren’t always accurate, which is why we assess each person who walks through the door. Not everyone fits into one box, so we need to look at each person as an individual and come up with a plan for that person.

MW: What’s the biggest misconception most students have in regards to the services you provide at Golf & Body?

MA: That they need to be taught outdoors or see ball flight in order to get better. Our instructors have experience both outdoors and in. They have a great understanding of how the technology works to help students understand when things go awry on the course. There also are advantages to not seeing ball flight when learning new patterns, as students sometimes get what we call “ball bound.” (What I mean is this when trying to learn a new pattern, you may not see exactly what you want from ball flight but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making real progress. It just means you haven’t mastered the new pattern yet.)Being indoors can take away the need for students to care about what the ball is doing, and this helps long term, especially during the winter months when they are working on their games but not playing.

FitnessMW: How would you counsel those interested in getting started in knowing how to find a qualified person or company to assist them?

MA: Finding the right person to work with can be tough. If you are just getting started,look for someone who keeps it very simple; someone who provides lots of information may make him sound like knowledgeable but might just leave you confused. Also, be aware that you may feel as if you aren’t getting a lot out of the first few lessons, but give it time: A good instructor knows you need to spend time on one thing before you can fix the others.

MW: Many people often cite the lack of time to schedule golf and other related activities. For your program what kind of time commitment is needed from students?

MA: We don’t have a minimum time commitment. We explain to our members that we will build a program around the time commitment that fits their schedule and aligns with their goals. Some people come in to work one-on-one, two to four times per week with a professional, while for others that doesn’t fit into their schedules. For them, we create a program that they can travel with or do on their own time. Of course, while we don’t have a minimum, the more time someone can commit, the better and quicker the results. But the goals have to be realistically aligned with their time.

MW: Over the last number of years the average handicap for men and women has only lowered itself by a negligible amount — 1-2 shots even with all the gains offered via modern technology. Why do you think that is?

MA: While I think people who overanalyze and try too many different swings can find themselves in trouble, that’s not the biggest issue. People simply don’t play enough golf to get better. Golf requires a lot of time and patience. 18 holes can easily take 3-4 hours, and that’s without travel to and from the course. It’s also expensive. As a result, I don’t think people get out enough to lower their handicap.

MW: Play this out — a person is hurrying to get to the course but has roughly 5-10 minutes before hitting their first tee shot. What would you advise they do before commencing playing?

MA: Ideally, that golfer would do a few exercises that were prescribed by his/her fitness/medical professional. What you don’t want to do is hurt yourself. That said, I think most people would hit a few balls to loosen up. And to be honest, that’s probably what I’d do, too.

MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who was it from?

MA: When I was 10, all I cared about was basketball. My grandfather—who passed last year—came to my games from time to time.He would always say, “Matthew, you won’t be shooting that ball till you’re 90, but you will be playing golf until then.” Once he got me hooked on the game at 14, I got what he was talking about. Now I try to have as much fun as I can out there. I find that I play better golf when I am enjoying myself.

MW: You can change one thing in golf — what would it be?

MA: Other than making the hole bigger? I like what Jack Nicklaus says, which is limit the flight of the golf ball, which would bring more courses back into play. With the distance players are hitting the ball these days a lot of great courses can’t be played on Tour, they’d be too easy. Cutting back ball technology a little bit might still give the longer hitters an advantage, but at least the great courses could be played.

MW: What future trends do you see happening in the near and long term regarding mental and physical preparation in golf?

MA: What you don’t hear a lot about is nutrition, which plays a huge role in performance. That said, I think we are seeing the future right now. Guys like Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are setting the bar and setting it high. Most, if not all, future Tour players will prepare mentally and physically for the game, utilizing experienced professionals for advice in different areas. The statistics show that longer hitters make the most money so you will keep seeing young guys who hit it long at the top of the leaderboard. I hope the emphasis on preparation, of mind and body, has a trickle-down effect to amateurs and kids as this promotes an overall healthy lifestyle.