Defend yourself!

DARREN FRIESEN -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Gone are the days of professional golfers heading for the clubhouse for a burger and beer after their round.

Instead, this new breed of greensmen heads for the range, followed by the weight room and finally a consultation with a swing coach, nutritionist, psychologist ... you get the idea.

Yet skeptics still question whether golfers are real athletes.

But ask any pro who makes a living at golf and they'll tell you otherwise.

Take David Hearn. Last year's Alberta Classic winner at Redwood Meadows and recent PGA Tour card recipient, the Brantford, Ont., native says Tiger Woods's commitment to conditioning provided a wake-up call for other players.

"When they saw Tiger come in and how good of shape he's in, I think that certainly helped out a lot of guys," Hearn says.

"It gave them that little extra push."

Natural talent aside, a successful golfer requires a balance of physical fitness and mental toughness, Hearn explains.

"Being a part of it and seeing the dedication that players put into the game, I think you have to classify it as a sport," says Hearn. "Just about everybody on the PGA Tour are pretty amazing athletes. They all have incredible hand-eye co-ordination. Physically, most of them are in pretty outstanding shape."

Four-time world long drive champion Jason Zuback echoes these sentiments.

"To hit the golf ball as far as the guys on tour are hitting it, you need to be physically strong," says Zuback, a Calgary resident.

"Technically you need to be good, plus you've got to be flexible.

"It involves the whole body in the golf swing because you're turning violently away from the ball and violently towards it.

"Relying on flexibility, power, strength and mental toughness are all the elements that other sports have."


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