GolfForever Director of Performance Dr. Troy Van Biezen has been a fixture on the PGA Tour for more than two decades revolutionizing the way players prepare their bodies for tournament play while working with trusted clients like major winners Scottie Scheffler, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tom Kim and others.
Van Biezen’s personal and working relationship with Ryder Cup Captain Zach Johnson goes back about 15 years and the duo enjoys a productive dialogue that now has implications on how the United States Ryder Cup team prepares. In fact, Van Biezen brought up the idea at the Paris Ryder Cup for the U.S. team to fly overseas and play a practice round on the Ryder Cup match venue Marco Simone Golf Club. It was the first time a U.S. team played a group practice round at a European Ryder Cup venue prior to the event.
We recently caught up with Van Biezen to talk about his experiences traveling with the U.S. team and his relationship with Johnson and several of the U.S. team players.
What was your takeaway from the practice round/scouting trip most of the United States Ryder Cup team made to Marco Simone a few weeks ago?
I think it was great for them to see the golf course, to see the visuals off the tee. It’s a great way to put together the strategy on a golf course that’s not long but probably has the craziest rough I’ve ever seen. Being sort of your typical European golf course, it’s narrow. The rough is long, so I think, obviously, they will use the set up to take away the big advantage of the U.S. team, which is their power off the tee. This course sets up for a series of options. ‘Do I go for it? Do I lay back with my opponent doing so?’ We’ll see a lot of cat-and-mouse tactics in these matches.
Conventional wisdom says that taking driver out of the hands of the U.S. players with narrow fairways and penal rough is a success formula for the European team. Is that maybe a bit too dismissive of some of the extraordinary iron players on the American squad?
They did the same thing to us in Paris. They narrowed the fairways and raised the rough and, unfortunately, our guys couldn’t hit a fairway. That was a different team, though, a team full of bombers. There have been a lot of discussions behind the scenes now. You know, I’ve worked with Zach Johnson for 15 years and we’re able to have some candid open discussions. One of the things I brought to his attention is that we needed to play a practice round and the trip with nine of the players a few weeks ago was the first time Team USA had ever played the course before the event. It’s so hard going across the ocean, adjusting to the time zone, and then trying to learn a golf course in two and a half days. You’re tired, and then you're competing at the Ryder Cup on Friday. It’s just so hard at a golf course you’ve never played. So, I think Zach made a great decision. It was definitely a worthwhile trip.
That’s a very interesting tactic, a very heady decision to earn some crucial familiarity with the golf course with that practice round, with co-captains and stats gurus in tow…
It wasn’t necessarily an easy feat to get most of the team (only Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Scheuffele missed the trip due to other obligations) over there and back, but it was a great decision by Captain Johnson and very important for the team to get on that golf course. These guys are so visual and feel-oriented, so knowing the lines and looks into holes goes a long way. I think if you look at Paris, who was basically the best player in Paris? It was Justin Thomas. JT had played that course before and used it to his advantage. Why wouldn’t we use that to our advantage again?
We know GolfForever ambassadors Scottie Scheffler and Captain Zach Johnson will be using GolfForever Swing Trainers at The Ryder Cup. How many other Ryder Cup participants would you say are GolfForever users and do you think GolfForever training will be critical as these players prepare their bodies for this competition?
I would say every single player has used the Swing Trainer on the PGA Tour in the fitness trailers or have their own Swing Trainer. I honestly don’t know of a player on either team who hasn’t used it, whether it’s on the PGA Tour, they have one in their own home gym, or their trainer has one in his gym. Right now, there’s six swing trainers in the PGA Tour fitness trainer trailer and pretty much every week I go in, there’s at least two or three guys using it to some degree. It’s been fun to watch. When golfers see somebody have success, some will try and copy that person. Scottie’s been that guy, as has Jordan. Good players see Scottie using it and having success, and now several top players are using GolfForever.
How much of Captain Johnson’s philosophy was about chemistry - having players willing to play with anybody and who can play with anybody - how much of that do you think was a factor in Captain Johnson putting this team together?
It was huge. It was a big factor. He wanted to make sure that we were a team that bonded well in the locker room and on the golf course. Balancing strengths and weaknesses and trying to have everybody complement everybody was probably the biggest priority. I always agreed with Zach on not being a big fan of who's playing hot. I’m a big fan of horses for the courses. The reality this year is that if you’re playing hot at the end of the PGA Tour season, you’re not playing again for four weeks. In times past, we jumped on a plane and went straight to Paris, right? So, this one was a lot different. There's a four- or five-week window when Team USA is not competing. Experience matters, too, just due to the pressure that comes with playing in a Ryder Cup. It’s hostile and hard to just to get that first drive off the first tee box.
You're obviously very close with Scottie Scheffler who had one of the all-time great seasons this year from a tee-to-green perspective and was probably a few putts away from an epic season. How good of an opportunity is this match play environment, where a player’s putting really stands out, to sort of just kind of cleanse the palate and move into a new phase of great play?
Yes, I think it is a good opportunity for Scottie. You know, these guys are true competitors. They always want to compete. They will always want to play their best and I think Scottie did an amazing job this season. Putting wasn’t up to his usual standards, but I like how he didn’t freak out. He just stuck with the process and just did his best week to week. For sure, I think he would have won six, seven more tournaments, but, in all fairness, tee-to-green, he had an insane year. His game is in a good place.
How encouraged are you for the future given the way Scottie is hitting the ball and how simple it might be to just turn the corner and have another sensational year?
I've known Scottie since he was 14 years old. I've worked with him since then. I’ve always said there are three, maybe four, golfers that show that burning desire to compete and to succeed. We’re talking guys like Scottie Scheffler, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. They all have that same innate burning desire to compete at a high level and I'm not worried about it. You know, they all go through it, they all know how to figure it out. Scottie has always been a great putter from junior golf all the way up until the PGA Tour. At some point, he’s going to find it. A lot of it comes with confidence and momentum and once he starts sinking a few, he’s going to take off again.
You talked about your closeness through the years with U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Zach Johnson. What has it been like for you to just see him take on this role as captain, this being your fifth Ryder Cup as a fitness trainer for the U.S. team and having seen different approaches by different captains. What has impressed you the most about the ways he has taken on the honor and duty and made it his own?
In working with Zach for 15 years now, he has always talked about one day being Ryder Cup captain and it’s come to fruition. It’s been exciting for everybody on Team Zach. You know, I did the President’s Cup with Tiger Woods in Australia and I like to really sit back observe players and how they interact with their captains from Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. What I noticed with Tiger, and I noticed was Zach, is the players really respect Tiger and they really respect Zach. Zach still competes with them on a weekly basis. I think because of that, the guys are really dialed in to what Zach says. Zach has also been very fair in asking the players what they think. He's very open to that. I’ve seen captains where they're not competing at the PGA Tour level anymore, there's a bit of a disconnect and there's maybe it's kind of ‘My way or the highway,’ and I think the players react differently to that. I think Zach has done a very good job by embracing the team concept, which is so critical, especially in going overseas. Everybody’s got everybody's back. Number two has been valuing everybody's opinion. Number three, they respect that he still competes on their level week to week. I think it’s just a great relationship between Zach and the players. He’s done a really good job with that.
How critical do you think it is for a captain to be a leader and as well as a peer, so it’s more natural to riff and react with the team?
When they were out there on the practice rounds at Marco Simone, Zach teed it up with them. Zach put the shoes on, took the bag out there and practiced on the range with them and went out there and played with and against them. It’s big to be able to walk that walk and talk the talk. In addition to playing and competing a lot this year, he's just done a really good job embracing the guys’ opinions. I think guys appreciate that.
It must make a captain an even better strategist if they’ve played the golf course. That makes sense.
There was certainly a lot of getting out in the fairway and analyzing longer hitters like Scottie or shorter hitters like Zach, or something in the middle, and analyzing how different players would approach the shot. The analytic scout team is out there, so they’re all ears and trying to figure out the course planning. So, it’s one thing to look at our paper and put teams together in pairs. It’s another to get out on the golf course and strategize how to play the course.
You work with three-time major winner Jordan Spieth who is playing well but went winless in 2023. How critical is a good Ryder Cup performance for guy like Jordan given how passionate he plays and performs in team competitions?
Yeah, the Ryder Cup for these guys is the Super Bowl. They all want to play on the team. They all want to represent Team USA. They all want to compete at the highest level. They always want to bring the Cup home. So, I think for Jordan, this is a huge thing for him. I’m assuming that he and Justin Thomas will probably pair up and those two are like ham-and-egging out there. They play great together and they’re close friends and they always seem to rise to the occasion. JT will rise to the occasion. I have full faith in him. Jordan will do the exact same thing. And, as weird as it sounds, Jordan is going to be the leader on the team. I think he's going have the most Ryder Cup appearances on this team. He is the vet now. He’s the older guy and the guys are going to look up to Jordan, who is very vocal and verbal out there, and the guys ask him a lot of questions. The guys look up to Jordan and I think that will help feed Jordan’s positivity. I think he is going to play great.
In addition to keeping tee shots in the short grass, what are the real keys to victory at this Ryder Cup?
The guys are to have to be really strategic. There are more drivable par fours than I can remember on different Ryder Cup golf courses. But it's a game of chess out there. If I’m behind, do I do try to drive the green? Does my guy drive it? Do I drive it up there with them? Do I lay back? Some of the shots off the tee with a driver are very narrow, so there's a higher chance of putting in the rough. But if you get in the fairway, it’s just short-iron going in. With 3-wood off the tee, it’s further back, but it’s a wider landing space on the fairway and more onus on the iron game. It will be interesting. I just didn't see a lot of holes where you can overpower somebody like at Whistling Straits.