By Ralph Cissne
Southern California Golf, May 2002
Power has been a raging hot topic in golf for most of my life. We’re all mad with the desire for greater distance, especially off the tee. Everyone wants to generate more power, but our new high-tech alloy equipment only provides the means to transfer energy as the club head strikes the ball. Ultimately, power is something you must find and cultivate within yourself.
I’m a bit of a purist about the game and was slow to surrender my sweet persimmon driver. It’s a beautiful club and has held a special place in my closet for a very long time now. I’m not going to give up thirty yards off the tee. Who would? But once we have all the technology we can handle, then what? If you truly want to improve your game, lessons are always on the agenda. Work with your local golf professional to develop strong fundamentals of grip, stance and alignment. Balance, fluid tempo and bringing the club head down the line with consistency are the keys to success. Learning, and practicing, proper swing mechanics are mandatory if you want to increase your skills and self-confidence. This is also the gateway to your power.
Get Leaner, Longer and Stronger
Physical conditioning is also important. Go to any driving range and notice the people who stretch before they practice. Most people just drop the bucket and start swinging away. True athletes wouldn’t think of practicing or playing without warming up and stretching the muscle groups involved. Virtually every professional athlete works with strength and conditioning coaches and trainers to optimize their performance. This is particularly important if they have injuries. Why should golf be any different? Your local health club most likely has a certified personal trainer who can help you create proper stretches and “core conditioning” exercises based on your level of fitness.
Given the enormous popularity, you probably have a Hatha Yoga studio nearby. Yoga classes are an excellent way to increase your balance, strength, flexibility and range of motion. The stretches you learn from a trainer are almost certainly based on aspects of this five-thousand-year-old science of life. Modern physics theorizes matter and energy are similar manifestations only with varied density. Consider your body and mind in this way. In yoga postures the breath is used to direct attention to the point of the greatest sensation. This process of concentrating energy promotes growth and healing of the muscles and connective tissues. The beauty of yoga, taught by experienced and inspired teachers, is the classes are self-contained. You find everything you need to get leaner, longer and stronger in one place.
The Powerhouse of Conditioning
The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to fuse the body into an instrument of the will, which makes an ideal discipline for golfers. I discovered golf and yoga in my early teens. In my twenties I sustained lower back injuries and quickly learned, if I wanted to continue playing golf, I had to maintain my core strength and flexibility. So, over twenty years later, I practice yoga every morning without fail and hit the golf ball longer than ever. Of course, I’m not using my old persimmon driver anymore.
The Pilates Method is another mind-body discipline, which blends the best of Western and Eastern approaches into exercises performed on mats or special equipment. Pilates exercises are similar to yoga in that they condition the entire body with special emphasis on the specific core muscle groups supporting the spine and pelvis. Called the Powerhouse, this group of muscles includes the rectus abdominis, internal obliques, lower back muscles, transversus abdominis and gluteus maximus. To engage your Powerhouse, pull your navel in toward your spine. Try this, lengthening from the center of your body when you stretch, walk or swing. As a golfer, you should immediately recognize the benefits of conditioning these muscles to help prevent injuries and promote a fluid and powerful golf swing.
Relax and Be in the Moment
Extraordinarily hard swings destroy your accuracy and the rhythm of your round. How can you maintain balance and tempo when you are swinging out of your shoes? Yoga teachers encourage students to “find your center,” the place in your body where you are balanced and complete. In yoga you learn how to breathe and that every breath is a moment of growth followed by a moment of surrender. A heightened state of relaxed self-awareness is a natural result of this process. With yoga practice, your physical and emotional balance is maintained and you enjoy a meditative quality, which is easily accessed on the golf course and throughout your daily life. All that is required is to take a deep, full breath. Take in whatever is necessary. Then relax and enjoy the power of being in the moment.