Yoga and golf: A hole in one

Associated Press, Aug. 10, 2003
By Mike Snider, USA TODAY

Golfers will try anything if they think it will help their game.

Even if it requires maneuvering their bodies into exotic poses called cobra, pigeon, locust and alligator twist.

So it was that wisecracking CBS golf announcer and senior tour pro Gary McCord found himself, along with some of his golf buddies, in Katherine Roberts’ yoga studio in Scottsdale, Ariz., two years ago. “We were these semi-old guys, and we were trying to get into these contorted positions. It was quite fascinating,” says McCord, 55.

The reason: Yoga, he says, is “relatively simple, and all of us baby boomers need to get a little flexible so we can go out and play golf without jacking our back around.”

Now, in addition to weightlifting and cardiovascular workouts in his home gym, McCord uses stretching cords and yoga on his rigorous travel schedule.

The number of Roberts’ yoga pupils is likely to increase. She’s hosting a show called Yoga for Golfers on The Golf Channel; it premieres Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT. Roberts also filmed one-minute yoga breaks the network plans to run regularly, along with commercials during other programming. She just joined Golf magazine’s fitness panel, and some of her recommended yoga stretches appear in this month’s issue. She also has a Yoga for Golfers book due next spring from McGraw-Hill.

Is it just luck or coincidence that these two big breaks would come at the same time for this 40-year-old yoga instructor who markets her own Yoga for Golfers DVDs and videotapes on the Web? Roberts says she doesn’t think so. She sees a growing interest and acceptance of yoga, especially among athletes.

The numbers support her. More than 15 million people now practice yoga in the USA, an increase of 28.5% over 2002, according to a Harris poll for Yoga Journal magazine. Another 35 million said they plan to try yoga during the coming year. Currently, more than three of four yoga practitioners are women.

Yoga, however, has a particular attraction for golfers. David Duval talked about his reliance on yoga last year in Golf magazine. PGA Tour yoga practitioners range from Ty Tryon, 19, to J. L. Lewis, 43, and on the women’s tour, top golfers Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak include it in their regimen.

A golfer since she was 15, Roberts connected with yoga by chance. Eight years ago, she played in a foursome with a woman who had a handicap of 5 or 6 — impressive to someone with a 24 handicap.

“She was a yoga teacher who was originally a marathon runner and was very much into golf,” Roberts says. “She got into yoga because she had so much pain from running so much and she got such benefits for her golf game that she became a yoga teacher. I thought if it helped her game that much I would start taking yoga with her.”

As she continued to evolve in her yoga training, Roberts, who already was a fitness trainer at gyms and corporations, became an instructor herself. “My passion in life has been fitness,” Roberts says.

Then five years ago, as interest in golf grew — thanks partly to the exploits of Tiger Woods — Roberts began developing a yoga regimen specifically for golfers. “I looked at the biomechanics of a golf swing and selected from the thousands of yoga poses those that specifically address the golf game and golfers’ needs.”

Her training is in Ashtanga yoga, an extremely physical form of yoga that emphasizes strength along with flexibility — a perfect combination for golfers.

The prospect of becoming more flexible is what usually draws golfers to yoga. Yoga is an exercise that uses poses and stretches that can improve flexibility, strength and balance. Properly practiced, yoga breathing also can be calming.

The flexibility aspect is what drew McCord to contact Roberts after reading an article about her in a local newspaper. McCord plays the Champions Tour (for golfers 50 and over) part time and works full time as an announcer at PGA Tour events broadcast by CBS.

“I’m on the road constantly, so a lot of (conditioning) has got to be done in the hotel room,” says McCord, who recommended Roberts to a host and producer on The Golf Channel. “It keeps me looser and keeps me more flexible.”

Golf Channel senior producer Jay Kossoff says the Yoga for Golfers show is meant to inform viewers about the benefits of yoga. “(Roberts’) drills and routines teach us all a little about why yoga can energize the golf game and the golf swing,” he says. “A lot of our viewers watch The Golf Channel with a club in hand. When they watch the show, they can literally get up and practice a yoga drill.”

Beyond the benefits of flexibility and strength, yoga also can enhance a player’s mental game. “Yoga really is a way to quiet the mind,” Roberts says. “They learn how the practice of breathing in yoga will help them to quiet their mind.”

Adds Golf magazine senior editor Tara Gravel: “You can use it to calm your nerves. Who isn’t looking for a way to calm down on the course and focus a little better?”

Along with weight training, yoga has become a complementary fitness factor for golfers, Gravel says. She hopes to develop the magazine’s fitness panel into a monthly feature. Roberts “is really at the forefront of this whole movement.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday August 12, 2003.
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