This week marks the annual opening of the most storied golf tournament in the world, the Masters, with yesterday's practice round kicking off the high profile, high stakes festivities. Winners of the Masters immediately join the estimable ranks of golf lore’s finest. It’s the most coveted win in the sport, with the most coveted prize—the green jacket, not to mention a hefty winner's purse.
For one golfer, the stakes are higher than usual this year, as the 2010 tournament marks a return to the game for Tiger Woods, the world's most famous (and now infamous) golfer. In case you missed it, Woods took a break from golf for about 4 seconds, largely during the off season, to tend to the personal and public fallout following his recent sex scandal.
Since breaking the story, my blogging brethren have covered and commented on these events ad infinitum, along with sports analysts, members of the media, and just about anyone with a Twitter account (#TigerWoods was among the top ten trending topics in 2009, and the scandal didn’t even break until late November of last year). I’ll leave the commentary to those who are more qualified, more snarky, and/or more invested.
I don’t want to talk about Tiger Woods.
However, in honor of the Masters this week, I do want to talk about golf—specifically, how yoga can help golfers of any level, from amateur to elite, improve their game. Upon the request of a pro golfer pal, I’ve developed a yoga program to meet the unique needs of golfers. The objectives of the program are captured by a simple acronym that I created called F.O.R.E., as in the command a golfer might yell upon hitting into another group of players. If we ever hit the links together, you will surely hear this one on occasion . . .
F.O.R.E. stands for Focus, Openness, Rotation, and Efficiency, representing the four key elements of a yoga practice that supports and enhances one’s golf game. Below, you’ll find an example of each element of my program and how to master it on your own.
Focus: Any golfer knows that vision is paramount to success on the course. From lining up a putt to aligning your eyes properly before, during, and after your swing, your eyes are a powerful way of gathering information, adjusting biomechanics, and focusing energy. Yoga is no different. The Sanskrit word drishti refers to the focus and power of one’s gaze. To practice this concept, try keeping your eyes open during meditation. Set them on a steady point on the floor; let them be soft and relaxed, and see how your brain responds to having a visual anchor. Add the uninterrupted flow of your breath, and you'll immediately feel your nervous system become steady and energy level sustainable. Next, apply this principle to the ball during play.
Openness: Golfers, like most athletes, seek yoga as a way to improve flexibility. For golfers, key areas of the body to open, stretch, and expand include the hamstrings, hips, lower back, shoulders, neck, chest, and hands. To get you started, here's a great series for the hips, using a foam roller, a helpful and cost effective piece of equipment for athletes.
Rotation: Creating space and strength in the torso is essential for golfers who rely heavily on their ability to rotate through their golf swing seamlessly. Tightness and imbalance in the body translate into a choppy swing, and a choppy swing translates into crappy golf. A seated twist (shown above and explained here) is a very easy movement and an important posture for golfers. For added strength in your core, check out the following abdominal exercise (video).
Efficiency: The most essential element of yoga and golf is the same. Meditation. In its most distilled form, meditation is the skill of being aware in the present moment. When we are present, we are always more effective, as golfers, yogis, and people. Golf is a fickle game—even maddening at times; the best golfers know this and accept it. They train their minds to adapt to obstacles (physical or metaphysical), thereby becoming more aware and efficient in a given moment. It’s widely understood that you cannot excel off the next tee if you are still focused on the frustration of being in a bunker on the previous hole. Here's one of my favorite meditations, geared toward soothing nerves, creating a feeling of trust, and developing a sense of grounding. Yogis and golfers, both, meditate to find greater peace and efficiency on their course.
Whether you're watching the Augusta action on TV this week or hitting the links this season, happy golfing, om guys and gals!