Was John Daly too fat for golf?


John Daly was one of the longest drivers on tour during his prime and was also one of the most charismatic for both good and bad reasons. He was known to drink 12 to 20 cokes a day, make 3 to 4 trips to McDonald’s, and have over 40 cigarettes a day. This lifestyle would kill a lesser man, and yet John Daly was able to compete at the highest level in golf and amass 17 professional wins with 5 on the PGA Tour. So how was someone so out of shape and with a diet that could feed a small village able to compete at this high of a level? While it is not advisable to take the approach to your golf fitness the way John Daly did, having some extra weight is not the end of the world. What reigns supreme for the golfer is to be able to produce large amounts of force quickly (power) and have the ROM and mobility which allows for a full golf swing without compensations.

John Daly’s Stats

  • 17 career wins
  • 5 PGA Tour wins
  • 1991 PGA Tour rookie of the year
  • 2004 PGA Tour comeback player of the year
  • $10,270,000- Career Earnings
  • Over $50,000,000- Reported money lost gambling

Fat or fit?

While John Daly certainly had excessive weight and would easily have been categorized as morbidly obese on the BMI scale, he might not have been as out of shape for golf as you might think. You see, golf is almost a purely anaerobic sport with short bursts of activity lasting less than several seconds followed by periods of just walking- and the pros don’t even need to carry their bags. Now I am not saying that walking an entire golf course 4 times in 4 days is the easiest thing to do and there is certainly an aerobic and endurance component to it. However the walking and endurance component between shots uses our slow-twitch muscle fibers such as those in the soleus which is part of our calf muscle next to the gastrocnemius and is responsible for plantar flexion. The golf swing primarily uses our much larger fast-twitch muscle fibers such as the gluteus maximus and gastrocnemius. These large muscle groups are not as active during the more mundane tasks we perform throughout the day and likewise when playing golf. Just walking from hole to hole the fast-twitch fibers get almost no work at all. Now the first few tournaments of the year golfers may have a little more discomfort and fatigue in the larger muscle groups however after the first few tournaments their muscles will have undergone the adaptations necessary to the point that for the rest of the year the aerobic and endurance component of walking from hole to hole will have very little if any impact on how they perform- John Daly included.

Size over looks

Looking like a fitness model may not a golfer any advantage over someone who likes like John Daly. What is most important for golf is having full mobility and ROM in addition to having the strength and power to produce force at a fast rate. Looking good simply doesn’t matter.  If you have ever shaken the hand of a farmer or someone who does manual labor for a living you will undoubtedly sense the immense power and strength that these individuals have acquired throughout their lives. They also likely don’t have 6 pack abs and may be sporting a nice-sized belly, yet I guarantee you they would beat the pants off most college kids walking around the gym in their cut-off shirts. Having a low body fat percentage certainly makes one look more appealing however for an anaerobic sport such as golf it provides little to no benefit in producing longer drives and lower scores.

One in a Million

I would bet the farm that underneath John Daly’s adipose tissue there was a large amount of muscle mass which allowed him to produce such fast club speeds. In addition to this, I believe John Daly would have been primarily comprised of fast-twitch muscle fibers which allowed him to produce his immense power. Research indicates that athletic performance is largely attributable to our genetics with the percentage of fast-twitch vs slow-twitch fibers having a large impact on who excels. If someone is in the top percentiles in slow-twitch fibers they can do very well in long-distance running or other endurance sports whereas those with a large percentage of type II fast-twitch fibers can excel at sports requiring quick bursts of action such as Olympic weight lifting, football, or golf. Despite his prodigious girth John Daly also had the ROM and mobility to achieve one of the longest backswings in golf. I believe that underneath John Daly’s fat was an incredible athlete- 1 in a million-packed full of type II fast-twitch fibers, with natural mobility and suppleness allowing for a long backswing, and an incredibly well-developed nervous system allowing for incredible hand-eye coordination. We can only wonder how good John Daly could have been if he had put in half the work that other golfers such as Tiger Woods who was known to have been maniacal about his fitness.

Why John Daly is the exception

Now before you run out to the grocery store and buy tubs full of ice cream it is important to note that John Daly is without a doubt an anomaly when it comes to what he was able to achieve despite his fitness level. The majority of the population when overweight loses their mobility and ROM and would never have the capacity to hit anywhere near what John Daly did and likely would struggle to hit over 250 yards. It is simple anatomy and physiology that when you gain fat your body will have a much more difficult time attaining full mobility. Lack of mobility is one of if not the most common reason that amateur golfers are not able to hit as far as they like. They simply don’t have the proper mobility and ROM to swing the golf club. John Daly somehow kept his mobility and had tremendous hip, shoulder, and thoracic mobility allowing him to attain incredible leverage with his backswing.

Summary

The point of this article is to show that what we think of as being in “golf shape” doesn’t come in a one size fits all and not everyone needs to look like Brooks Koepka or Bryson Dechambeau. That being said for overall health and wellbeing I don’t advocate whatsoever following John Daly’s diet or promoting being overweight. Quite contrary I believe that to be competitive, golfers should aim to be no more than 20% body fat percentage. I am a stark advocate for strength training and a proper nutrition plan to be competitive in golf-Check out my article on Do you need Protein for Golf?Opens in a new tab. to see the importance of protein for your golf performance. I believe John Daly is a great case study that so long as you have strength, ROM, mobility, and power you can be an incredible golfer no matter how you look. Now if you take an athlete such as Bryson or Tiger Woods who has all the aforementioned and also takes care of his health and fitness you can get an athlete that transcends good and becomes great.

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