GAM Blog: Hockey Playoff Edition
The Golf Swing vs. The Hockey Swing
By Susan Smiley
Happy Gilmore was able to successfully transition his hockey slap shot into a grip-it-and-rip-it style golf swing in the 1996 movie of the same name. Although Happy Gilmore is a fictional character, there does seem to be some truth to the theory that hockey players often make great golfers. From high school athletes who play both hockey and golf to former and current NHL players like Brett Hull, T.J Oshie, and Justin Abdelkader there seems to be an overlap between the two sports.
Oakhurst Golf & Country Club Head PGA Professional George Bowman is an example of someone whose stellar golf swing started as a hockey swing. Bowman, grandson of former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Ralph “Scotty” Bowman, grew up playing hockey and picked up golf when he was 15 years old. His motivation for playing golf was simple; at his high school, athletes were on a different schedule than the rest of the students and he wanted to be with his pals.
“It was a means to be able to be in classes with my friends who were all playing football,” says Bowman.
Bowman found the transition from hockey to golf to be nearly seamless.
“I had been skating and skiing since I was three years old,” says Bowman. “So when I started playing golf and went from the ice to being flat footed on grass it was a piece of cake. It was just so much easier to hit something while I was standing still. And after playing hockey for so many years, the motion for the golf swing just seemed very natural.”
Bowman went on to play golf for Western Michigan University and ended up making golf his career. But he has not forsaken hockey. He continues to play goal for the Detroit Red Wings Alumni team and is an avid fan of both sports.
“As a goalie I’m able to hide behind the mask and hit people and be tough,” says Bowman, “but in golf, you don’t have that aspect. You have the time to stand over the ball without worrying that someone is coming in to hit you”
This brings to mind the idea of full-contact golf which could add a whole different dynamic to the game. Imagine trying to sink a 40-foot putt and having another golfer issuing a hip check!
“I think one of the differences between the two sports is that hockey is reactionary and golf is more thinking and planning,” says Bowman. “You don’t get out there on the ice and stand and think about how you are going to shoot the puck. You just have to react depending on what is happening in the game.”
But from a physics standpoint, the golf and hockey swings are similar.
In an article in USA Hockey, Harry Thompson explains the hockey shot using Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion: Any object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
The hockey shot starts with weight transfer. The player hits the ice with his stick just behind the puck causing the stick to bow. Once the stick meets the puck, the energy that has traveled from the player’s body to the bowed stick is released. Wrist movement or wrist snap at the end of the shooting motion allows the pick to spin and travel through the air on a stable trajectory.
The science behind a golf swing is very similar. The golf swing, too, begins with weight transfer and includes a wrist snap. In the golf swing, the timing of the wrist flick during the down swing determines the amount of torque. More torque means more distance.
All of the talk of “coil versus sway” when developing a good golf swing tend not to come into play for hockey players trying to perfect their slap shot simply because the hockey player doesn’t have time to break down their swing in their head in the midst of play. The golfer, on the other hand, can do that which is not always a good thing. Sometimes overthinking the situation can lead to problems with the golf swing.
“When I started playing golf, for me it was a natural motion and everyone told me I had a natural swing and not to mess with it,” says Bowman. “I really did not have any expectations when I started golfing. Then I started playing in tournaments and I started thinking more. With golf, you sit and think and you can have a meltdown all by yourself.”
After playing a team sport for so many years, it was difficult for Bowman to get used to not having his teammates around him during competition. If you hit a great drive, no one is going to come in and putt for you unless you are playing in a scramble event. That, too, is a difference in the mental and emotional approach to golf versus hockey.
“In hockey you have a lot of people rooting for you,” says Bowman. “My friends in the PGA all root for each other in tournaments but if you look at golf at the highest level, I can’t imagine a guy like Tiger Woods has many friends on the Tour. In that sense, golf is totally different than hockey and can be very isolating. It is the hardest part of the sport.”
There are obvious physical similarities that serve both hockey players and golfers well. Both need strong core strength and great hand-eye coordination. Bowman sites one key difference between the hockey swing and the golf swing: “In hockey, you are looking at the target where in golf you are looking at the ball.”
He also points out that in hockey, it is good to hit the puck “fat” or to hit behind the puck before your stick actually makes contact with the puck. In golf, hitting fat is a bad thing and makes for a pop up shot or a shot that doesn’t go as far as you envisioned.
“The single isolator is the motion that you use for both swings,” says Bowman. “You are hitting something off the ground in both cases. There are probably more technical movements in golf because there are more variables but it all comes down to the motion”