U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Fitness Coaching Keeps Mitchell’s Game in Shape
August 27, 2019 | Durham, N.C.
By Tom Mackin
When Billy Mitchell walked into the locker room at Old Chatham Golf Club this past Saturday for his first U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “It was like, oh my God, there are guys stretching in here,” he said. “What the heck is going on? Back in the day it was two bourbons and let’s go.”
The scene was a pleasant surprise for Mitchell, who advanced to the Round of 32 with a 2-and-1 win on Monday over Kevin King of Bluffton, S.C. He faces Keith Decker, of Martinsville, Va., on Tuesday morning at 9:03 EDT.
The 55-year-old runs a performance health coaching business in Roswell, Ga., and has worked with a number of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players, including Stewart Cink, Roberto Castro, Casey Wittenberg and Mariah Stackhouse, along with many high school and university golf teams.
“People didn’t even think about their body 20 years ago,” said Mitchell. “I think guys my age are just more aware these days and they’re all just tired of hurting.”
This week that includes Mike McCoy, one of the three medalists during stroke play and the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. Mitchell helped him with a neck issue before his Round-of-64 match on Monday.
“Mike’s an example of a guy who wants to get better,” said Mitchell. “Why give your competitors an edge by not taking care of your body? I’m happy to help anyone who asks. We all need to be working on more mobility at our age.”
When helping clients Mitchell tries to figure out how to get the most speed out of each individual, since everyone has a different physiological composition.
“I may not be a Ferrari, but I could be a Shelby Mustang,” he said. “Or I may just need to be the fastest Hyundai on the road. What we’re trying to do is get the ball further down the fairway so we can get proximity to the hole numbers reduced and hit shorter clubs into the green. Just look at the pro game now. You’ve got to hit it hard and hit it long.”
In addition to various training certifications, Mitchell also brings a wealth of golf experience to his business. The son of lifetime PGA member and longtime club pro Lawson Mitchell, he turned pro in 1984, playing largely overseas for more than a decade without reaching the PGA Tour.
“When people ask I tell them I was basically a Triple-A baseball player,” he said. “I played more mini-tours than I’d like to remember.”
After getting married in 1995 he put the clubs away and worked in retail for Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers.
“When you play that much and don’t reach the PGA Tour, well I just didn’t want to be one of those guys who gets bitter about it,” he said. “I loved golf, but I could see if I kept playing, that would have happened. I wanted to raise a family, move on with my life and start the next chapter.”
In 2005, with the support of his wife who had her own successful career in cosmetics, he decided to give golf another shot. After being reinstated as an amateur, a quest to strengthen his own body for a return to competition led Mitchell to a new career as a performance health coach.
“What helps me is that I actually played at a high level so I’m able to translate thoughts from a training perspective into a golf coach perspective,” he said. “I kind of got lucky because I played, I understood the vernacular and I understood what the body needed to do. But I also understood from a player’s view what that should feel like and what the benefits are. When players talk to me, we’re talking on the same level from a competitive standpoint and a physiological standpoint. That’s really helpful.”
His own game has benefitted as well. Earlier this year he won the Senior Division at the John T. Lupton Memorial played on The Honors Course in Tennessee, site of the 2021 U.S. Senior Amateur. He is also a two-time winner of both the Georgia State Golf Association State Public Links and the Georgia Senior Open Championship. In 14 USGA championships, he’s advanced as far as the Round of 16 in the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Catigny Golf in Wheaton, Ill.
“I have never been long, but I haven’t lost distance at the speed a lot of guys do when they get to my age,” he said. “The injury piece is way down, too. The inflammations, the aches and pains, when I get those I know how to handle it. I can figure out what my body needs, which is helpful.”
Mitchell’s 19-year-old son, William, is making his caddie debut on his father’s bag this week. “I catch myself lagging back sometimes just to watch him walk down the fairway,” said Mitchell. “It’s nice to share this with him and show him that the old guys can still play.”
But Mitchell has noticed one major difference this week after players conclude their daily rounds.
“Now we all sit around, tell stories and laugh,” he said. “When I was playing in [U.S.] Amateurs and [U.S.] Mid-Amateurs, everybody still thinks they can play on Tour. So there’s a lot of grinding and not much hanging around. But here we all have a lot of life experiences and a vested interest in the game. I really, really enjoy it.”
Mitchell estimates he has about 5 to 10 more years of playing competitive golf.
“I want to go out, work hard and find out what I’ve got,” he said. “I think I may have a little advantage because I’ve worked harder on my body. That may give me a few more years than most.”
Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA digital channels. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.