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Sunday May 27, 2012Fitter, Stronger Gators Confidently Swing Into NCAAs

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
 
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- He arrived at the University of Florida as a promising freshman with a resume of success in the Canadian Junior Golf Association.

Eric Banks was 5-foot-9 and 138 pounds his first day on the UF campus.

Two weeks ago, Banks’ mother made the trip from Nova Scotia to Greensboro, N.C., site of the NCAA East Regional to watch Banks and the Gators compete. It was the first time the Banks family had been together since Christmas, and mother Lynn Banks took one look at her son and immediately turned to the UF coaches. 

“What have you done to my little boy?” she asked.

Answer: Introduced him to Preston Greene.

Greene came to Gainesville last summer to take over the strength and conditioning duties for UF men’s basketball, tennis and golf. He’s the one responsible for putting about 25 pounds of muscle on Banks and making the now 164-pounder rookie about 25 yards longer off the tee.

Along with assistant Will Greenberg, Greene has implemented a sports performance program for golf -- emphasizing speed, power, flexibility and mobility -- that helped produce gradual gains over the course of the season, including a second-place finish at the East Regional at Grandover East Course. The team's across-the-board improvement figures to serve the 18th-ranked Gators well when they open play in the NCAA championships Tuesday at famed Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

“They’re all stronger,” Coach Buddy Alexander said. “And they’re all in better shape.”

The trip will mark the 12th straight berth in the NCAAs, the longest such run in the nation, with Alexander going with two freshmen, Banks and Gainesville native J.D. Tomlinson, in his five-man starting lineup. Together, Banks and Tomlinson are a snapshot of the team’s rise since a tough fall season. Collectively, the two have bettered by18 strokes per tournament this spring.

The bulk of those better numbers can be linked to individual skill and coaching, but don’t underestimate the power of the weight room. 

“Most of the stuff that we do now, I’d never seen or even thought of before,” Banks said. “It’s really good to try new stuff, especially when you see it effect your golf game directly.”

The whole notion of golf-specific conditioning is relatively new to the sport. It’s not very hard to pinpoint the flashpoint of the craze, either.

“Tiger helped,” Alexander deadpanned.

Alexander, who has guided the Gators to two NCAA team championships in his 25 seasons, recalls the days when getting players to exercise -- just running, even -- was like ordering them to a calculus study hall. He once offered to shave a stroke off each player's next qualifying round if they merely hit a 5-mile-per-week individual jogging benchmark.

That didn't exactly motivate All-American Chris DiMarco, now in his 17th year on the PGA Tour.

“Screw that,” DiMarco said. “I’ll just make one more putt.”

Golfers, of course, have evolved from that mentality. As Tiger Woods’ physique blew up, his sculpted frame begat an IMG mentality that put today’s younger players -- including the current wave of collegians -- in a body-building mindset.

Even that thought process has changed in a short period.

“When this all first started, I think a lot of guys were training like a football player; with bench-press and stuff like that,” UF assistant coach John Handrigan said. “If our guys did that now, Preston would probably kill them.”

Greene came to Florida by way of Clemson (with stints at UNC Charlotte and Stanford before that). Just like they train basketball players to increase, for example, vertical jump, Greene and Greenberg streamline workouts for functional use in golf.

“You’re going to gain size,” Greene said. “But it’s size that’s specific to your sport.”

Each week (in and out of season), Greene and Handrigan coordinate a conditioning schedule that won’t leave players sore when they go the course. Workouts include a variety of chin-ups and squats, exercises for trunk and core stability, plus others that accentuate posture and assist in backswing and follow-through.

For Banks, his new frame came with a new confidence, too.

“I feel a lot more stable in my lower body and with my upper body I can feel the club head moving faster than I ever have before," he said. "It feels so good.”

Sometimes, Greene likes to mix things up with this sessions. Because golf and tennis share a gym with the basketball team, after lifting he’ll take the players on the hoops court and put them through running drills; sometimes having them dribble a basketball.

Sprint up court, walk back; jog up court; sprint back; walk up court, jog back.

Why?

The varying speeds are not unlike the stopping and starting and walking and climbing of the 18 holes (sometimes even 36) a college golfer has to play in a day; all the while carrying a 40-pound bag.

And the dribbling?

“Hand-eye coordination,” Greene said. “Huge in golf.”

Junior Tyler McCumber admittedly is not great with his ball-handling, but Alexander calls him the team’s “chin-up guru.” In addition to cranking out 20 chin-ups at a time, McCumber also ranks second on the team in stroke average (73.0) and finished in a third-place tie in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

“The things we’re doing now, they’re a lot more golf-focused,” McCumber said. “You can tell the difference. Our team’s in really good shape.”

Rains drenched the course before the East Regional, which meant trudging the fairways, roughs and bunkers in soggy condition and wet shoes. Several players returned home and told Greene how much stronger they felt than in similar situations in the past.

“When you’re in great shape, how you feel those last seven or eight holes can really make a difference,” Handrigan said.

“It’s not a lot of fun when we’re doing it. In fact, sometimes, it’s terrible,” Banks said of the workouts. “But we’re not getting tired late in our rounds, which means we can stay focused longer.”

Now come the NCAAs, where focus can mean everything.

Alexander is very pleased where his leaner Gators stand and he's counting on those tighter bodies to equate to more streamlined scores.

“We’re light years better than were at the start of the season,” Alexander said.

In some cases, even unrecognizable.

“My parents were surprised, but I like how I look now,” Banks said. “I like how I’m hitting the ball, too.”

 

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