Suzann Pettersen's perfect form

Pettersen is currently ranked No. 5 in LPGA. Jeff Lipsky for ESPN The Magazine

How was it growing up with two older brothers?
SP: I looked up to my brothers. Whatever they did, I did. I was a tomboy. I didn't have a lot of dolls and dresses. And everything was a competition. If they biked on two wheels, I was definitely not riding the three-wheeler. One spring when we were getting our bikes out, I saw my brother take off with his two-wheeler and I said, "I want to do that too." When he came back I grabbed his bike, biked about 50 yards and went straight down. I was bleeding. I was crying. I had sand all over me. I got back up, did another 100 yards and fell again. But I got back on it the next day. That taught me the mentality I have today. You might fail, but you get straight back up and try again.

Talk about your back injury in 2005.
SP: It was probably the toughest part of my professional career. When you can't walk or even dress yourself, you're just focused on getting up and trying to move like a human being. It didn't really hit me how bad it was until I asked a doctor, "Do you think I'll ever play golf again?" "Well, I can't guarantee that," he said. But I was like, "I'm going to prove you wrong." You look at every setback as a challenge. It was very tough. The training was quite painful -- starting to hit golf balls again and feeling like an amateur -- but you quickly pick it back up. It's nice when everything flows and everything kind of runs along, but you learn when you hit the wall. It makes you think, makes you appreciate. It's sad to say you have to go through stuff like that to appreciate what you do, but it's true. I used to say golf was my life, but since that time, it's "Golf is a part of my life."

How did your adjust your training after your injury?
SP: Before the injury, I did a lot of Olympic training. But since then, I look more at what I need to do. As a golfer, do I really need to squat 308 pounds? Maybe not. You can run, but you aren't going to run a marathon as a golfer, so what are you trying to achieve? You are trying to get good cardiovascular conditioning, but is it necessary to run X amount of miles a week? I questioned a lot of the stuff I did. Now I try to train smarter. I don't do anything that I know can hurt my body, but at the same time, you can't be afraid to get injured. Stuff happens. Injuries happen. What I do is so extreme. It's not a hobby where I play golf once a week. I don't think God made the human body to play golf because everything -- the rotations, torque, repetitions -- is against the natural way to move the body. That's why you need to be strong and in good shape. You establish better technique, prevent injuries, recover faster and, obviously, feel better.

What do you like about your body?
SP: It doesn't take me long to get into good shape, and it's easy to maintain. I did a variety of sports when I was a kid—gymnastics, skiing, ice hockey, tennis, horseback riding -- which built a great platform of coordination, balance and stability. I think as a kid you need to do a little bit of everything. You're enjoying different sports and having fun but also building a foundation for your body to eventually dial into one sport.

Describe your toughest day of training.
SP: In the offseason, I'll have a workout early in the morning -- could be strength or cardio -- anywhere from an hour to an hour and 30 minutes. Then I'll be out on the golf course for three hours before lunch, working on technique, maintenance or short game. After lunch, I'll play 18 holes, and then I'll have another workout at night. I try to mix it up so it doesn't get too boring. Nine hours is probably the absolute minimum I work out in the offseason. The max is probably 15 hours a day.

When did you start getting serious about training your body for golf?
SP: When I was 13 or so, I started working out in the mornings before school. At that time, Tiger [Woods] was beginning to break through, and he represented a new generation that was very into fitness and workouts. There is no right or wrong in golf. You could have long arms, short arms, short legs, big legs. There's no formula and everyone is different, so you have to maximize what you have and find what's best for your body. But lately you see golfers train as athletes and look at themselves as athletes.

How does fitness help you during a tournament?
SP: Being in shape helps whatever you do. You'll have better balance on the course. Being strong makes golf easier because your body listens and remembers the patterns and movements; eventually it's all about repetition. And if being in good shape can save you one or two shots in a tournament, that could be the difference between first and fifth place.

What is the most unusual training you have ever done?
SP: I recently picked up road biking. It's great because you can get out in the morning and get fresh air. You can work your cardio at the same time as your legs, so you get a lot done in one workout. You'll find a lot of golfers into biking. I biked 96 miles one week, but obviously I won't be able to do that in season. When I did that, my legs were so tired they didn't quite function.

What exercise can't you live without?
SP: Core and back exercises. I have a routine of deep core, back rotations, hip rotations, hip mobility, everything that strengthens the core and back. That 20 minutes is like brushing my teeth. Once I do it, I'm done for the day, and at times it's boring, but I know that if I do it my body will function fine. Plus I don't need any equipment, so there is no excuse to not do it.

What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any further?
SP: I've learned that you have to listen to your body. When I was younger, if it said "training" on the schedule, I trained even if I was tired or not feeling well. But the body is not a machine. Now I might skip a session or two to make sure I get enough rest.

What about your body would surprise us?

SP: My core is probably the strongest part of my body. I can golf for a long time before my core gets tired. I always get sore in my legs and arms, but it rarely happens that I get sore from a core and ab workout. That's where the engine starts, that makes you able to hit the rotations and get the torque you need for golf.

Have you ever felt betrayed or disappointed in your body?
SP: I've had my fair share of injuries—ankles, knees, hips, elbows. It's the body's way of telling you it needs a break, so I've learned to listen. You push your body to the extreme, and at some point the body has to let you know enough is enough. Injuries make you realize you can't take anything for granted.

What was your best athletic moment, when everything clicked and you felt completely in tune with your body?
SP: There are times when you feel like you are in your own bubble and your body is responding perfectly to everything you try to make it do. But you also have to deal with when it doesn't feel as great. How often do you actually play to your perfect game plan? It rarely happens, but you have to learn to execute with what you have and make the most of it. That's what separates the great athletes.

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