A natural fit on the links: golf and yoga


Darlind Davis, whose father was a golf pro, can't remember the first time she picked up a golf club to begin learning the game. She was too young.

Now 56, the Columbia resident still spends much of her time on the golf course. And when she's not there, a likely place to find her is at the yoga studio.

The combination of those two activities are a natural fit, Davis says. And more golfers seem to be agreeing.

Last year the Golf Channel added the show Yoga for Golfers. Magazines devoted to golf regularly feature articles on yoga, and pros like Ty Tryon, Annika Sorenstam and David Duval are said to be devotees of the ancient mind-body exercise regimen.

"Yoga is perfect for the golfer," says Joey Corona, head of the golf yoga program at Miami's Doral Golf Resort & Spa.

Corona, a former collegiate golfer, first got into yoga as a way to recover from a back injury. He says yoga offers strength, mobility and equilibrium. His hourlong workout takes players through a series of hip-openers, spinal twists and stretches to open up the body and limber ligaments and joints.

"Golfers pay little attention to their bodies, but they will buy $500 drivers and all the latest equipment," Corona says. "You cannot take advantage of technology unless your body is ready."

In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, Davis says, there are also mental benefits.

"I realized yoga was very good for concentration and mental acuity, something I had problems with in golf," says Davis, who has been passionate about yoga for two decades. "It helps me center myself and relax. And golfers will try anything for a cure -- for that thing that will give them the one-up."

With spring in full bloom and many golfers hitting the course after a winter layoff, golf pros advise getting in shape before going out and trying to hit 300-yard drives.

By practicing yoga, says Bob Glickstein, owner and director of the Yoga Center of Columbia, "you get more power with a greater range of motion. Too much strength without flexibility is rigidity, and too much flexibility without strength is collapse. Yoga facilitates a balance between the two."

Richard Rounsaville, director of golf at Bulle Rock Golf Club in Havre de Grace, uses videotape to analyze his students' golf swings. If the body is not in proper condition or is too tight, a player won't be able to do what is needed to correct his or her swing. Although yoga is not necessarily something he suggests, Rounsaville agrees it could be a good fit.

"Yoga certainly would be beneficial to anyone who plays golf from the stretching standpoint, mental standpoint and relaxation standpoint," he adds.

Although it's unclear how many yoga practitioners also play golf, according to statistics from Yoga Journal, about 15 million American adults practiced yoga in 2003, an increase of 28.5 percent from the year before. The study also indicated that another 35 million people plan to try yoga within the year.

Dr. Richard Levine, an orthopedic surgeon with Union Memorial Hospital whose practice provided medical services for the Senior PGA Tour at Hayfields Country Club in Baltimore County last year, says the most common golf injuries include lower back pain, shoulder and elbow pain from overuse, and knee problems.

The latest trend for getting golfers back in shape, he says, is good flexibility.

Levine points to a recent study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine that found a correlation between golfers' lack of hip flexibility and an increase in lower back pain.

"If you can increase the range of motion in various joints, ... then that could minimize the stresses on your lower back and alleviate some back pain," Levine says.

The best way to prevent injuries is to have your swing analyzed, he adds.

"Find out where your deficiencies are and formulate a program in stretching that will help minimize those problems," Levine suggests. "Amateur golfers tend to not have good form, which puts the stresses on the wrong parts of your body."

Experts say three main components of fitness are involved in golf -- strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health. A little work in all three areas before hitting the links can go a long way.

Yoga can help golfers find their flow -- a term used to describe a focused yet relaxed state -- according to yoga instructor Mary Frankos.

"Yoga helps you do any sport better, including golf," says Frankos, who teaches at the Greater Baltimore Yoga Center. "You can't hit the ball unless you are focused and relaxed. You see the jokes about the frustrated golfer. That's because the harder you try, the more you inhibit the flow state. Your mind has to quiet or you can't do it."

Not all golfers, however, are quick to jump on the yoga bandwagon.

Bernie Najar, a golf instructor at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, says, "as an instructor, generally I do not recommend stretching. It sounds counterintuitive, but for our sport there are other ways to get people much more ready to hit the golf ball."

Najar suggests taking lessons from a golf pro, who can look at a player's swing and give specific instructions on how to improve.

"The reality is most people need technique," says Najar. "And they need awareness of where they need attention on their swing. Once you give that to them, then they will get somewhere."

Preventing golfing injuries

After a long winter, golfers are itching to get out on the links. Union Memorial Sports Medicine offers the following tips for injury-free play. For more information, contact the sports medicine clinic: 888-447-7678; www.unionmemorial.org.

* Check with your physician before starting any exercise program.

* Warm up and cool down by stretching 15 minutes before and after playing. A good head-to-toe stretching program is essential.

* Improper technique is a leading cause of injury. A few classes from a professional golf instructor can be helpful.

* Strengthen the core torso muscles, along with upper and lower extremities, three times a week with moderate intensity. Cardiovascular training is also recommended.

* Most golf injuries are overuse injuries. Make sure you are getting adequate rest between rounds.

* Any continuing injuries should be evaluated by a medical professional.

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