In another life, Zach Gould would be a household name on the PGA Tour.
As a precocious teenager, the Welshman – who many now know as Dr Golf – had been destined for the top of the game having won some of Europe’s most prestigious junior tournaments, beating Rory McIlroy en route. He had been selected alongside McIlroy in Europe’s 2004 Junior Ryder Cup team and was being flown to America to take his pick of college scholarships. The future couldn’t have looked brighter.
But in golf, as in life, there are peaks and valleys.
These days Zach is the man behind the Dr Golf fitness platform, which helps thousands and thousands of golfers to improve their health and fitness, increase their swing speed and change their body shape. The Peloton for golf, as it has been described, offers live fitness classes, training plans, warm-up exercises and much more and is tapping into the growing realisation among golfers everywhere, that more speed means more distance and more flexibility means you can play golf well into old age.
It’s a fantastic success story with a loyal following, but growing up, Zach had a very different dream.
“ I started off as any passionate young junior golfer would do,” Zach says. “I picked up a club at the age of 6 and from very early on, I was dead set on becoming one of the best golfers in the world. I was playing for Wales from the age of 12, all the way through to 18. I was unbeaten in singles throughout. I won the Reid Trophy, the Weetabix, which was big then, The Duke of York Young Champions Trophy.
“I also won The European Young Masters, for the best U16 golfers in Europe. McIlroy finished 4th that year. Carlota Ciganda won the girl’s event. That led to selection for the Junior Ryder Cup team. The whole thing was just incredible experience. It was played at Westfield Country Club in Ohio. Rory was on our team, as was Oliver Fisher. Tony Finau was on the US team. I was unbeaten in that Ryder Cup and Europe won 8 1/2 to 3 1/2. Then we went across to Oakland Hills to watch the Ryder Cup proper. I got to meet all my heroes. Sergio Garcia was a big idol of mine. Tiger was there, Luke Donald, Paul Casey. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was probably the pinnacle when I look back.”
Zach went through a significant growth spurt, but his swing began to run into problems. “I saw Danny Willett go off to America and become the world No 1 amateur. I saw Ollie Fisher turn pro and get onto the European tour. Rory turned pro. At 18, I was watching this happen asking myself ‘where have I gone wrong?’ I’d gone from being as good as, and sometimes better than, these guys to suddenly my game just deserting me. I didn’t have the support around me and although I tried to put it right by seeing Denis Pugh, Karl Morris, and started to invest in the fitness side, it was tough and by the age 20, I was just burned out. I needed a break from golf.”
For many, it would have proved a disappointment too far, a setback that might have broken them. But Zach is not that type of person. Instead, he saw an opportunity to press the reset button and to take a different path. “I had left school at 16 to pursue a career in golf. There I was at 21 and it was falling away. I spoke to a mentor of mine and we made the decision that I should go back to school. It was incredibly tough. Here I was turning 21, with all this lived experience, all these incredible moments and I had to face up to the fact that if I wanted to do my A-levels and go to university, I needed to go back into a classroom with a bunch of 16-year-old kids. I had to go back to go forward. It was hard, but it was a big moment in my life. I knuckled down, got my head into the right place, passed my exams and went to do a PhD.”
It was to prove a remarkable turning point for Zach. University gave him the chance to study physical development, kinesthetics and physiology in a way that would transform his future. “I had that golf experience, but I also now had the expertise in fitness, the research I had done in the physical development, and I was able to put those things together,” he says. “Wales Golf reached out to me, and clients started to come my way. Even after Tiger’s approach to the physical side of the game had made such an impact in the late 90s it still looks a long time for the wider game to really get it. But fast forward to now and for the best golfers this stuff is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity.”
Dr Golf was to be the next chapter for Zach with the pandemic providing the motivation to take a passion project and turn it into something altogether more significant. “It was already in place before Covid hit. I had made the decision capture everything I knew and had learnt and put it online and just see whether the world was ready for an online golf fitness platform, “Zach says. “The pandemic hit, I started doing live classes from my kitchen and people were logging on, training along with me. Of course, you had the whole world’s attention at that point, but that really accelerated things and allowed me to commit to Dr Golf full time, which I did in January 2021. Since then, it’s just been a whirlwind. Everything from working with national governing bodies and counties, to clubs and now we have thousands of golfers on the platform.
“It hasn’t been all plain sailing. Anyone who has set up their own business knows you have highs and lows, laughter and tears but whether it has been Full Swing on Netflix, more exposure on your TV or YouTube, I don’t know but people are starting to recognise that fitness is a vehicle to improve your golf, hit the ball further and to have more longevity as people get older. And that’s something that is relevant to everyone.”
Does Dr Golf think the PGA Tour and the change in the athleticism of the players has finally begun to sink in for golfers who play once a week? “Unquestionably,” says Zach. “It has made the everyday golfer realise that being fit and healthy and in really good shape, ultimately benefits your game. What we’ll see over the next 10/15 years is that it will become almost impossible to break into the top 100 unless you hit the ball a long way. We don’t see many top golfers who look overweight and unfit anymore. And we never will again.”
And yet it will take some adjustment for golfers to really embraced fitness. Is that an opportunity? “I have thousands of examples of golfers, who by training twice per week, have improved their swing speed by up to 15%. Now if you’ve never trained before, your opportunity to improve is huge. If you’ve been training for 20 years, for instance if Justin Rose comes on our platform, he’s been training with a friend of mine for two decades, I’d have to train him a lot to see a minor improvement. But if you’re coming from a low starting point, the opportunity to improve is huge.”
The biggest challenge, as anyone who has attempted to follow a fitness programme will tell you, is finding the motivation to keep going. What is the remedy for that illness? “Motivation and mindset are a massive part of what I do. I could write you the best program, but if you don’t do it and it sits on a shelf, there’s no point.
“I’m a father of two, I have a business, I like bad food – I understand the challenges of real life. But I see Dr Golf as your accountability partner. If you had a call with a client that was at 9am every Monday, you would never miss that call. My job is to create those habits and that motivation around fitness. We reach out to people every week and then they make a commitment to me. And look, people do go off track. They stop. But it’s about helping people to come back and feel they are part of a community where they feel supported and part of something bigger than themselves.
“I believe there are three key priorities in life: family, fitness and finances. If you get those three right, you’re going to be a very happy individual. We want to support people to get to that place.”
And get there they are, in their droves. And what of golf for the man they call Dr Golf? Is Zach able, these days, to venture back out onto the golf course purely for enjoyment and relaxation? “No. That’s the biggest struggle I’ve got,” he says. “I got to a level where golf was my everything and then I had to walk away. I find it very hard to turn that competitive spirit off. I know my game is never going to be as good as it was. So, I need to find something new within my game. I get invited to play in a lot of events and pro-ams, but I avoid it. I feel like I would need to turn up and produce my best golf, but I know I need to find a happy medium where I can just go and play for fun, where there’s no judgment and I can just get enjoyment from it again. But I need to put a little bit of work back in to get my game to a level where I can do that.”
In another life, Zach might have been one of golf’s big stars by now but what he has done in carving out his own second chance, will serve as inspiration to those whose dreams of PGA Tour glory may falter and remind us all there are many different paths to the top, if you’re willing to look hard enough.
*For more information about the Dr Golf Fitness platform visit DrGolfGlobal.com