By: Todd Keirstead
It’s an age-old question debated in pro shops and pubs for years: is golf a sport?
Lets start off with some basic definitions, courtesy of dictionary.com:
Game: a competitive activity involving skill, chance,or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators.
Sport: an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.
Hmmm, are golfers athletes?
People who dispute this say golf does not even rise to the level of “a good walk spoiled” because the primary action of walking is not required. So says PGA Tour v. Martin (2001) where the Supreme Court ordered the PGA to allow disabled golfer Casey Martin to use a golf cart in between holes rather than walk. The Court supported its decision by finding that whether a golfer walks between holes does not “fundamentally alter the nature” of the game. How can you call something a sport where being ambulatory is not a basic minimum physical requirement?
A “sport” requires athleticism. Athletes are people who demonstrate superior physical skill in the areas of strength, agility and stamina. There’s got to be at least some running to call it a sport. Most prefer some contact, too. But “no walking required? You call that a sport?”
Throughout the years of performing the Golf With Attitude Instructional Entertainment Trick Shot Show at corporate, celebrity and charity golf events all over North America I have seen everything that plays out for both sides. I will, hopefully, have a greater understanding of this question by the time the next issue of The Traveling Golfer comes to you. At the end of January Golf With Attitude will be surrounded by world class athletes in New Orleans at the Superbowl Celebrity Golf Invitational and then in February at Blue Jays Jesse Lynch Celebrity Charity Golf Tournament in Dunedin Florida, and I will pose this exact same question to them.
From my experience the question that is always asked after my Instructional Entertainment Trick Shot Show is “How do you do what you do?” My answer is “I have found the easiest way to teach the golf swing, or in my case become skilled at a new trick shot, is to relate it to another learned sports movements.”
There are many similarities between golf and other sports in the motion that takes place. Learning about the comparisons between them can help any golfer understand the swing. Some examples follow;
The golf swing as it relates to a pitch in baseball.
When a pitcher is on the mound, they stare right at their intended target just before beginning the windup (or backswing, in golf). As their arm (clubhead) comes back, the body weight begins to load up on the right leg (for a right-hander). The pitcher’s arm and ball (or, a golfer’s club) reach a transition point. Then, there is a powerful release of body weight over to the left side of the body (which actually begins just before the arm comes all the way back), with the arm and ball (golfer’s clubhead) following suit. The pitcher then ends up with all their body weight on the left side of the body (for a golfer it would be about 90% body weight in order to keep the right foot on the ground and balanced on the tip of the right shoe). At the finish, both the pitcher and the golfer should face their intended target, having made a full release and follow through.
The golf swing as it relates to a baseball swing.
Both swings are similar in that the baseball player waiting for the pitch is already loaded on the back foot waiting for the pitch. Golfers swing back to the top of the backswing to load onto the back foot. They are also similar in that the forward swing to hit the ball starts with the lower body leading the weight transfer. The real similarity is that both swings involve arm rotation to impact and through, with both arms fully extended after impact.
So all you need to do is transition from a vertical spine (baseball) to an inclined spine (golf posture). Bend slightly from the waist and make more baseball swings with your golf club, until you’re in your golf posture.
The golf swing as it relates to bowling
When a bowler is setting up to roll the rock, they bring the ball back as they are stepping forward. This movement creates more power and ball speed (if it did not, they would simply bring the ball back and through while standing on the line just before the lane). This is like the golf swing in that there is a transfer of body weight (to the left side) beginning before the club has come all the way back to the top of the backswing, creating torque and power on the downswing. As the bowler lunges forward and braces their left foot by the line, the leg must remain very firm, as most of the bowler’s body weight will be loading up on it (just like in the golfer’s downswing). Additionally, the move a bowler makes in order to put ‘english’ on the ball (to get it to spin) can help a golfer understand how to hit a draw, because the more the right hand rotates through contact, the more a ball will draw (or spin right to left, in the bowler’s case).
The golf swing as it relates to tennis
The analogies between golf and tennis are plentiful. A tennis racket must accelerate through the ball in order to make a good stroke. The head must stay stable with the eyes on the ball as contact is made and the racket (club) releases down the target line. Swinging too hard or out of balance will usually result in the ball going out of bounds. Body weight loads up on the right side on the backswing and to the left on the downswing, then completely left on the follow through. The ball must be hit on the sweet spot, directly in the middle of the racket (clubface). Rolling the racket from an open to a closed position through contact will result in a topspin shot (or a draw in golf). Keeping the wrist and hand firm through contact and not allowing it to close will result in a backspin shot (or a fade in golf). The racket (club shaft) should end up in a high position by the head at the end of the follow through.
One can draw comparisons between golf and almost any other sport (fishing, basketball, hockey, etc.).
Here is a great video to see the athletism of Tiger Woods provided by ESPN Sport Science. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5vWrz0HRAk
So, having some experience with other sports can certainly help one learn more about the golf swing (with a little guidance from a teaching professional).
So is there really a clear 100% answer to the age old question? I will leave that up to you.
Is Tiger Woods proof that golf is a sport, or is John Daly confirmation to the contrary? That probably depends on whether you’ve got a set of clubs in the garage.