DURHAM, N.C. – The Blue Devils men’s and women’s golf teams are on the path to better performance after Sports Performance Coach Alex Merrill earned his certification from Nike Golf 360, a holistic approach to improving golfers’ performance through physical evaluation and training, custom fitting of equipment and digital tracking tools.
“The program is really comprehensive so they can use it for golf professionals, club pros and also your fitness professionals as well,” said Merrill. “We have a really great program here at Duke already, but Nike is trying to be innovative and try to find new ways to answer the question ‘how can we make golfers better?’ For the golf team to sponsor me as I become certified is a real testament to what this program wants to accomplish.”
The NG 360 Functional Performance System (FPS) is the component of the Nike Golf 360 initiative that focuses on golfers and their bodies. After two years of development, Nike Golf and their partner, the Gray Institute, have developed a specific athletic performance-based program for golf. Gary Gray, the co-director of NG 360, has worked with some of the best athletes in the world including Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson and Mario Lemieux and has trained more than 10,000 movement specialists through uniting the specialties of rehabilitation, injury prevention and performance training.
“We were very excited to have the opportunity to send Alex to Chicago to be trained by Nike and by these extraordinarily talented and knowledgeable folks they have employed at the NG360 program,” said men’s golf head coach Jamie Green. “Obviously, what Nike does pushes the envelope in a lot of ways in a lot of sports. Duke’s relationship with them goes both ways, and we were really excited to be able to support some things that they do.”
In order to become certified, Merrill went through 22 hours of online training before attending a weekend conference in Chicago, Ill. Merrill, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Keene State and a Master’s degree from Springfield College in Applied Exercise Science, has worked with the golf team for the past three years.
“We do a lot of movements in the weight room,” said Merrill. “My job is to keep these men and women healthy and improve their performance. The game of golf can be very detrimental to the body, the golf swing is like eight times the compressive force that your spine can handle so you add that up with how much these athletes play, their bodies can break down.”
Each golfer on the team has their own individualized fitness program based on a movement screen to determine what their physical limitations are and what the golfer feels they need to improve their golf game. The assessment given to athletes determines where asymmetries exist in the body because a major focus of the NG 360 program is the effectiveness of the “chain reaction.” The theory is that because the body is so interconnected, an issue in ones ankle for example, has the potential to affect the range of motion of the shoulder turn during the golf swing.
“Physical training is a big part of competitive golf, and there are many new ideas out there,” said women’s head coach Dan Brooks. “Some of it is actually ‘new’, but much of it has been around for years. Alex has fundamental understanding, so he only adds what truly enhances our program. He was excited about his visit to the Nike Golf 360 and has incorporated much of what they do without disrupting the continuity of what we’ve already been doing. I feel Alex is keeping us on the cutting edge of golf fitness.”