(Editor’s note: All week long, Golfweek will celebrate the beautiful walk that makes this game great. We continue with a personal look at some of our favorite memories.)
Shauna Taylor remembers trying to convince Stacy Lewis to use a push cart 15 years ago after Lewis had a metal rod and five long screws implanted in her back. Lewis said something to the effect of no way, that’s not cool.
Last month Lewis sent the Arkansas coach a picture of the push cart she used at the Texas Women’s Open, just like old times. In college, Lewis was one of the few women in the country using a push cart, and she had the excuse of a massive surgery to correct scoliosis to silence any critics. Now the Razorback team has nine push carts in storage. A member of the men’s team reached out over the summer to ask Taylor if he could borrow one.
“It’s like part of our pregame now,” Taylor said of the 30 minutes it usually takes to get the team’s carts in order at a tournament.
Today’s push carts are smaller, lighter and easier to pack, and they come with seats, coolers and a spot for an umbrella. They are a enormous advantage in the rain. And in recent years the stigma of using a push cart is beginning to wash away, too.
Push carts are no longer reserved for retired folk. Or the injured. Perfectly healthy twentysomething males are using them in record numbers. Kids, too.
North Carolina men’s coach Andrew DiBitetto said a turning point in his thoughts on the subject came last year when the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Erik Hernandez, traveled with them to a tournament in San Diego. After a 36-hole day, Hernandez asked why most of the Tar Heels carried their golf bags.
“He said, ‘I think you’re crazy if you’re a golfer who carries your golf bag,’ ” said DiBitetto. “I was so shocked and so stunned I said, what do you mean? He took me through the biomechanics of it. He talked about fatigue and decompression, dehydration. Basically, once you put weight on your neck and shoulders, it impacts the rest of your body. Even the simple motion of turning your neck and head to have a conversation while having 20 pounds on your back impacts your body.”
Three years ago everyone on the UNC men’s team was a bag carrier. Now it’s split 50-50. Sometimes the team even has a competition within a competition at tournaments – carriers vs. pushers.
Baylor coach Mike McGraw said the push cart stigma still exists on some level. Some guys are still going to razz their teammates about pushing. But for McGraw, the tough-guy barrier is gone. Push carts are simply part of the game now.
He likened it to when Oklahoma State became the first program to put a kickstand on a carry bag 30 years ago. Everyone looked on in shock. By the next fall, practically every team in the country had stand bags.
In 2007, AJGA chief operating officer Mark Oskarson and executive director Stephen Hamblin observed at the Junior Solheim Cup that every member of the European squad used a trolley while every American carried. The pair went home and researched the damage caused by overloaded backpacks on schoolkids.
The junior circuit was among the first groups to allow push carts from a health perspective in 2008 on a test basis for their youngest members, Junior All-Stars aged 12-15. The next year it was extended to all members.
In 2009 only 16 percent of AJGA players used a push cart. About five years ago, those numbers started to dramatically change. In 2014, Stanford’s Cameron Wilson won the NCAA Championship (on television) while using a push cart – as did the majority of his teammates.
McGraw, like many, thought that visual was a turning point, though many on social media took the pushers to task.
In 2019, 67 percent of all AJGA players used a push cart in competition (94 percent girls/52 percent boys). At the Junior All-Star level, 97 percent of girls used a push cart, and 70 percent of boys used one.
“I think every kid under age 18 ought to be pushing a cart to save their back,” said Dr. Neil Wolkodoff, medical program director at the Colorado Center for Health and Sport Science.
It’s especially important for younger players, he said, given how much a golf bag weighs compared to their relative weight.
In 2010, Wolkodoff enlisted several volunteers to help conduct a study to look at the physical impact of playing golf three different ways: riding in a motorized cart, pushing a cart and carrying a bag. The subjects burned 450 calories per nine holes while riding in a cart. They burned more calories whether pushing or carrying the bag – about 750 per nine. And they shot lower scores with a push cart.
“One of the reasons I felt that people played better with the push cart was they burned the same number of calories as they did carrying the bag but 1) their heart didn’t go up into the anaerobic zone going up those hills and 2) there was a lot less stress on their shoulder and their core, so when they had to swing they were just a little bit more efficient.”
And who wouldn’t want that?