KAREN GARCIA had never won a USGA championship until the 2015 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. But as she crested the hill on the 12th hole of Nashville’s Hillwood Country Club on October 1, she knew exactly what was driving her to that final 1-up victory over Pamela Kuong: Her golf fitness.
Over the course of an admittedly obsessive three-year body remake, the 53-year-old Garcia had lost 60 pounds and overcome the residual effects of four knee surgeries. No hill would defeat her; no golf swing would exhaust her.
“I thought, man, I’ve done a lot of walking this week (10 rounds in eight days), yet here I am, still bopping up the hill, I still have energy. ” Garcia said. “That made me think about the fact that I couldn’t have done that one year ago or two years ago. I would have been limping up the hill. That was a big ‘aha.'”
Now Garcia is sharing her story with you in hopes that other women might find whatever it takes to jump-start a golf fitness program of their own. SPOILER ALERT: The road to golf fitness isn’t easy, and the immediate effects on your golf game may not be pretty.
FIRST STEP TO GOLF FITNESS: MOTIVATION (FROM FAILURE)
It was about this time three years ago that Garcia’s 2013 New Year’s resolution kicked into high gear. A high school guidance counselor living in the Sierra foothills town of Cool, Calif., she had come home the previous fall from the USGA Women’s Mid-Amateur in San Antonio discouraged about her game. The zero-handicapper had shot a two-round 170 and fell nine strokes short of the cut to advance to match play.
That’s when she remembered picking up a business card at a tournament from Mark McCoy, a TPI Expert Certified physical therapist in the Sacramento area. TPI stands for “Titleist Performance Institute” and represents an exhaustive library of exercises and training techniques for golfers — check it out at MyTPI.com.
Garcia finally was ready. “I was frustrated,” she said. “I said, I need to change.”
Over Placer High’s Christmas break Garcia underwent a series of 25 tests and exercises that would provide the foundation for her new program while protecting and strengthening her gimpy knees and ankles.
“There were areas that over time I had gotten weak in,” Garcia said. “I wouldn’t have guessed balance was an issue for me. Core stuff had gotten weak. It was very enlightening, very rewarding to go through that process, and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of doing this. Had I tried to guess, or looked in some magazine, it might not fit what I needed to do.”
THIS WASN’T THE FAIRY TALE HAPPY ENDING
She started losing some weight, and noticed strength and power starting to seep into her golf swing. Her game improved enough so that she qualified for the State Team Championships in 2013, but, again, she went home to Cool frustrated by her showing in a USGA event. Over three days, she did not break 80, and California finished 22nd.
So, she kicked up her workouts and added interval training on her spin bike because her knees don’t allow her to run. Fortunately, Garcia’s husband (and super–green-reading caddy), Ruben, was on board with her program, because it consumed her.
She would get to school by 7:30 a.m., then leave at 4. Then, she said, “Some days it would be fitness and golf. Some days golf, then go home and do fitness work. I have a Fit Bit and am totally into keeping track of my water and my sleep and my steps. My husband talks about how many nights I’d come home, take a quick break, work out, practice.”
To save the time it would take to go back and forth to a gym, Ruben helped make the house workout-friendly for Karen and served as her workout partner when she needed someone to catch the medicine ball. “My Valentine’s gift was a chin-up bar mounted in the garage I asked for. ‘I want a squat rack for Christmas…will you come out and catch the medicine ball…’ He’s been there every step of the way for me.”
By mid 2014, she had lost most of the weight.
“At that point I had to change all the shafts on my clubs,” said Garcia, who also needed a new wardrobe. “Dream story would be I suddenly played better, but it took a little time to adjust to my new body/swing. I was so much stronger and faster that I didn’t always play well enough.”
After failing to win a playoff to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Senior in 2014, Garcia said, “I was hoping to not join the ranks of people who lose lots of weight then never play well again. It took a little more time and opportunity for it to all come together. I play in so few tournaments because of work, so I had to believe and keep working hard.”
NEARLY THREE YEARS AFTER SHE BEGAN, GOLF FITNESS BRINGS A HUGE TROPHY
By the time she went to Nashville for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in September 2015, she had “lost a third-grader.” Playing at Auburn Valley Country Club (representing the Women’s Golf Association of Northern California and the Northern California Golf Association) and with EWGA (under the Pacific Women’s Golf Association), Garcia noticed she had added at least 10-15 yards off the tee, courtesy of summertime sessions with a 50-pound battle rope that strengthened her golf muscles. And not only was she farther down the fairway, she needed less club to reach the green.
“For the first time, I played well in a USGA event,” she understated.
Yes, that was Garcia hoisting the huge trophy, which made an equally huge impression on her students when she returned to work the next day. With rain in Nashville, the finalists twice had to play 36 holes in a day, as if the typical schedule weren’t grueling enough on women age 50 and up with career and family priorities.
“When I look back at the Women’s Senior and think of the (four players) who were still there the last day, every one of them was fit,” Garcia said. “Why didn’t I think about that sooner? That was holding me back. Playing that many days in a row. Sustaining your golf swing. Four of my six matches went all the way to the 18th hole, and on all but one I hit a great drive and a great approach shot, and that was just fitness, being in shape, being able to finish well.”
Garcia found motivation in failure, and in “Win the day,” a University of Oregon slogan she has kept from her days as a college softball player. Where would you find your motivation to achieve golf fitness?