Lately, I’ve taken up boxing training in my gym. It’s a great way to practice timing and rhythm, and is actually a good aerobic workout. Of course, after a long work day, I can put any number of adversaries on that punching bag and let loose. But punching that stand-up bag has led to some insights around the golf swing as well. What I’ve found is the shorter the punch, the more powerful the impact on the bag. With golf, it means the more in control the backswing, the more connected the swing is, leading to a more forceful blow at impact. If you bring your arms and hands up too high, they have a tendency to separate from the core, and lose power by leaving the proper swing plane. This is particularly true on uphill holes, hitting big shots over water, and generally trying to take on more shot than you can handle. The mind gets involved by sending signals that you’d better lengthen the swing, or swing harder, or widen the arc of the swing in order to conquer the chasm ahead. That signal fools the body into thinking that it must swing faster, and so the arms leave the sanctum of the core to gain a longer arc. The conditioning is centered in the cerebral cortex which has learned that the arms are the main source of power in the body. As boxers show, they are not.
The boxer powers into a punch with a low center of gravity, strong and supple legs, good breathing technique, and a combination of strong arms connected to a solid, muscular core. The short jab is the boxer’s chief artillery, used to soften and wear out his opponent over the course of numerous rounds. The effective golfer knows that the arms and core have to work in coordination, neither overtaking the other. Miguel Angel Jimenez is a good example of this. Close to turning 50 and just recently winning his 20th worldwide victory, he generates great power as the arms stay within the confines of his core and shoulder turn. Fully coiled at the top of his backswing, the downswing is smooth and unhurried, taking full advantage of the uncoiling of his upper body. What results is a powerful jab that creates a drive that is sufficiently long and accurate (see his swing below). Lee Westwood also comes to mind as a golfer with a boxer’s move to the ball.
Foot and leg work is also vital in boxing, as Mohammed Ali used to show us. Dance like a butterfly: Sting like a bee. In golf, Jack Nicklaus was the model for how the legs can generate power, and do so without the danger of over-rotating the hips. I was fortunate enough to see Jack play in his prime and witnessed close up those high, long, slightly fading drives which set him up for yet another great angle into the green. His strong thighs were the engines of his swing as they drove the upper body into the impact area. Jack drove it as far back in his day as many pros do now with all the high-tech equipment. In his swing, the right knee was key in his initial move towards impact. That initiated a whip-like move that got the clubhead accelerating towards the coup de grace while maintaining the balance of a boxer.
Nicklaus, too, had the attitude of a boxer, although, as far as I know, he never actually boxed. He and one his adversaries, Raymond Floyd, had that stare that could intimidate opponents and get them second guessing. A boxer aims to create doubt and hesitation, even starting this at the weigh-in with verbal jabs and threats. A golfer can use the same intensity by bearing down, concentrating, and delivering an impressive shot to create a bit of insecurity in their playing partners. Lee Trevino, also a great “boxing” golfer, talked up a storm until he fired his shot. One of the best shotmakers of all times, he intimidated and humbled his opponents.
There are no practice swings in boxing. The boxer is confident of his or her ability to land a punch or protect themselves from receiving a punch. They can take a punch and come back and give one in the next instant. No tears. No tangles. You get knocked down? Get up, if you can, without complaint, and return to the ring, trying your best to find a strategy that helps you forget past failures and stay in the moment. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the last ace I scored came immediately after a double bogey.
Nelson Mandela was an amateur boxer in his youth, and, on a personal note, so was my father, Big Mo Altschuler (“Don’t say no Mo,” he joked to a radio interviewer). On much different levels, they both had failures and successes, but at the core, they both took on life like boxers would: getting in the ring, punching, getting up, punching some more, risking, staying optimistic, and impressing everyone they ever came in contact with as someone to treat with respect and admiration. Mandela eventually left prison after 27 years confinement, and went on to knock out apartheid in South Africa as its first democratically elected president. My father was a great builder of houses in post-war America. Big Mo was too often humiliated by golf so he gave up the game, giving his teenaged son his set of Bobby Jones Signature clubs.
Of course, golf gives me the opportunity to apply my boxing skills without getting my head bashed in. It’s a gentler sport–a sport where the only contact involved is the camaraderie between players. Like boxing, it’s a physical sport since you’re trying to coax your body into doing things it may be uncomfortable with. But unlike boxing, it’s more a mental and strategic sport that involves factors far removed from an indoor boxing ring. Still, you may want to try to improve your golf game by assuming the attitude, courage, and physical conditioning, to a degree, of a boxer, imagining your clubhead coming into the impact area from the inside, delivering an uppercut knockout punch to that dimpled pill.