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Man of Steele on the Golf Course

Brendan Steele heads into this week's U.S. Open more physically fit and hitting the ball farther than ever thanks to a workout routine designed more for an NHL arena than a PGA fairway.

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Golfer Brendan Steele
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Golfer Brendan Steele swings with the slap-shot power and precision of an NHL All-Star—impressive for a seven-year PGA Tour veteran. And appropriate, since it’s a hockey-based strength and conditioning program that helped Steele become bigger, leaner, and more powerful en route to a career-best season on the Tour heading into this week’s U.S. Open.

Steele’s four top-10 finishes, including a $1.1 million paycheck from winning October’s Safeway Open, are primarily due to the length of his drive, which has steadily increased over the past five years—an improvement he credits to the

“big guns” of his workouts—deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and pullups.

 “Since I’ve started training, I’ve reached the upper echelon of long drives, instead of hitting right in the middle, which is such a huge advantage,” says the Idyllwild, CA, native. He now ranks among the tops in driving distance, consistently hov­ering around the 300-yard mark—an incredible 10-yard improvement from 2012.

“And my accuracy is better than it’s ever been before. It’s a great combo to have; and aside from that, I’ve been healthier than ever. I’ve been working with my trainer, Brad Davidson, for over a hundred events, and haven’t missed one. So that’s a real testament to the benefits of what we’re doing.”

“You don’t go from age 29 to 34 and get more distance and more club head speed,” says Davidson. “It typically goes the other way as you get older. That’s not supposed to happen.”  

And it almost didn’t. Despite notching a win in his 2011 rookie year, Steele saw his 2012 season turn to disaster. Out of shape, out of sync on the course, and pushing 30, he ended up winless and 108th in driving. That’s when his off-season golf partners—NHL veterans Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, and Shane O’Brien—advised him to get checked out at Irvine, CA’s STARK, one of the area’s top performance centers. There he met Davidson—who’s worked with pro athletes like Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles—and got set straight on where he was going wrong.

At 6’2” and 165lbs, Steele was carrying close to 20% body fat—the result of a diet loaded with pizza and mac and cheese. He was basically a “tall, skinny, fat guy,” says Davidson.

It also didn't help that he was doing zero in the way of working out.  “Brad asked me what I did for training,” Steele recalled. “I said, ‘nothing.’” 

That’s a common answer for a lot of golfers, be they pro or amateur, says Davidson.  “Most golf-based workouts are pathetic, and most guys who play golf don't like to exercise—and they definitely don’t like to exercise hard.”

What Davidson designed for Steele is a variation on the Russian Conjugate System of training: loading heavy early in the week—shoulder presses, squats, bench presses—then finishing off the week with higher reps and more conditioning work, like sled drills, which he’d never done before. But that didn’t stop him from throwing himself into it full force.

 “I may not be able to lift much, but I will give you everything I have every time I’m here,” he says.

He began his iron pumping with a 65-lb incline press, which practically “crushed” him, Davidson says. Worse yet, his lack of strength and balance made back squats and deadlifts a non-option in the beginning.

But after time, the numbers quickly elevated. Steele now squats 275 for reps, and his incline bench has increased enough to bang out a few reps at 215.

Gone, too, is the pizza in favor of a Paleo-style diet. Today, Steele weighs in at 190lbs and carries less than half the body fat he had five years ago. “My diet was terrible,” he admits. “Now my college teammates can’t believe I actually eat any sort of protein or anything that’s healthy.”

By 2014, Steele was seeing the results of his training and diet transformation. He had the two best rounds of his career up to that point, a 62 in both the Phoenix Open and the Travelers—proof that the regimen was paying off.

“That was when I realized, 'Wow, my ceiling is so much higher now that I can hit like this,'” he recalls.

“It’s the culmination of all the work I’ve done on all the different facets of the game, but the fitness side of it has been huge,” says Steele. “I’m never going to be a huge guy, and I don't want to be huge while I’m playing golf. But the difference between 2012 and now is massive. It gives me such a big advantage.”

The workout

Exercise DAY 1

Upper Body Load

Sets

Reps

Tempo

Rest

Fat-grip Bench Press (2-sec. pause at bottom)

6

4-6

2-2-1-0

 

100 sec.

Weighted Pullups w/pause at top
(neutral grip)

6

4-6

3-0-1-1

 

100 sec.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
(neutral grip)

4

6-8

3-0-1-0

 

90 sec.

Bentover Row (elbows out)

4

6-8

2-0-1-1

 

90 sec.

Seated External Rotation (elbow on knee)

3

8-10

3-0-1-0

 

60 sec.

15-Degree Decline Dumbbell Triceps Extension

3

8-10

3-1-1-0

 

60 sec.

Exercise Day 2

Lower Max Loading

Sets

Reps

Cadence

Rest

Squat

6

4-6

40x0

120 sec.

Front Foot-Elevated Split Squat (1 sec. pause at bottom)

4

6-8

31x0

90 sec.

Lying Hamstring Curl (plantar flexed, toes in)

4

6-8

3010

90 sec.

Barbell Good Morning

3

8-10

3010

60 sec.

Standing Heavy Paloff Press Holds

Exercise Day 3

Upper Repetition

Sets

Reps

Cadence

Rest

Decline
Bench Press

5

8,8,6,6,6

4110

90 sec.

Eccentric Pullup
(neutral grip)

5

1

888

90 sec.

30-degree Incline Dumbbell Press (neutral grip)

4

8-10

3010

90 sec.

One-arm Dumbbell Bentover Arching Row

(neutral grip)

4

8-10

3010

90 sec.

Seated 75-degree Incline Dumbbell Curl

(neutral grip)

3

10-12

3010

60 sec.

Seated Rope Pull to Neck (with pause)

Exercise Day 4

 

Lower Repetition

Sets

Reps

Cadence

Rest

Close-grip Snatch from High Rack

5

3

x-o-x-o

120 sec.

 Deadlift

5

6

2110

120 sec.

Barbell Walking Lunge

3

8-10

1010

30 sec.

Frankenstein Sled Walk

3

25 yards

 

30 sec.

One-arm Reverse Sled Drag

3

25  yards (each arm)

 

30 sec.

Heavy Prowler Push (high handle)

3

25 yards

 

120-180 sec.

 

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