Swimming Saves Golf Strokes

Here are two masterful golf lessons you can learn from one Masters Swimmer. You might guess they focus on how the huge health benefits of swimming help golfers with stamina and flexibility. Nope. These lessons have to do with the overriding value of good form.

My buddy John Ziegenhagen is a nationally ranked Masters Swimmer, and the butterfly is one of his events. When I cross-trained for the Twin Cities Marathon a few years ago, he coached me on how to get the most out of my swimming, giving me these two swimming tips that have helped my golf game:

"Relax Your Face"

Let your energy and effort go toward efficient movement in the water, not tension. The reminder to "relax your face," says John, helps with deeper breathing and with getting rid of stress and negative thinking. When you relax your face, you set the tone for your whole body. Look at the swimmer above, how she's relaxed and almost smiling. I like her odds in her race. The same with the guy below; his mouth is wide open, but his face is relaxed and full of operatic confidence. It certainly appears that his energy is positive and going directly to his power sources.

Now, check the face of the swimmer below. Lots of tension, and it appears that she's fighting the water, her demons, whatever. I don't like her odds in her race.

The golf lesson is to relax your face on down as you set up and as you approach your round in general. Let the tension drain so the negative energy moves out and allow room for the positive energy to fill you. The message to relax your face is your cue to loosen that death grip on the club and hold it as if you were "holding a baby bird," as Sam Snead once said. This looser grip cascades to better tempo and form and attitude — and better results.

Be Fussy About Form

Sure, you can muscle your way up and down the pool pretty fast, and you may even find some early success as training builds your natural strength. But you're far better off, says John, if you go slow from the start and be meticulous about form.

"Form is the goal, not distance."

The water offers so much resistance to stuff that sticks out, so it pays big dividends to pay close attention to how your body, especially your head, glides through the water throughout the entire stroke. Also, clean technique with your arm and leg action will help you get the most of your power sources.

The golf parallels are clear. Sure, you can muscle the ball down the fairway and even find some early success. But to have a reliable swing for a lifetime, go slow in your practice and be meticulous about form. Three tips:

  1. Instead of banging out a big bucket of balls in an hour at the driving range, hit just a dozen in that time. Use a friend's feedback, a mirror and/or your smartphone camera and video to check your posture and lines and hands and head from the front and the back.
  2. Pay particular attention to your form at setup, at the top of your backswing and at the finish, especially the position of your feet (see photo below).
  3. Practice swinging slowly from setup to finish using your best form and without hitting the ball. Only increase your swing speed when your form and finish are perfect. When you can swing fast and with excellent form, start hitting balls. Form is the goal, not distance. Swing slowly with good form and let the ball get in the way of a good swing, even if it only goes 100 yards using a driver. Increase your swing speed as you hit the ball only when your form and finish are perfect.

Do you have a favorite drill that helps you with your form?

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