x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Golfers take a swing at yoga at Abu Dhabi Golf Club

The Abu Dhabi Golf Course is offering yoga for golfers, which participants say is improving their game. Hugo Berger investigates.

Yoga for Golfers can increase flexibility, mobility and stability in the spine, all of which are good for a golf swing, says the teacher Pem Fassa. Antonie Robertson / The National
Yoga for Golfers can increase flexibility, mobility and stability in the spine, all of which are good for a golf swing, says the teacher Pem Fassa. Antonie Robertson / The National
One might think the strait-laced world of golf would be completely at odds with the blissed-out, hippyish world of yoga, but Abu Dhabi Golf Club is proving there is a connection.
The yoga teacher Pem Fassa recently started lessons aimed specifically at those who enjoy smashing a small, dimpled ball around a grassy expanse.
Fassa, a 40-year-old mum of two from Switzerland, has been teaching yoga for 22 years. She never plays golf but describes herself as a "golf widow" to her husband Ali, who spends much of his spare time out on the course.
He convinced her that her yoga expertise was valuable in the golfing world. So she jetted off to the US to train under Katherine Roberts, the author of Yoga for Golfers, who works with many elite players.
Now Fassa gives weekly lessons in an upstairs lounge of Abu Dhabi Golf Club. So, with views out onto the lush fairways of the championship course, we grasp six-iron clubs and undertake a series of stretches and bends.
Fassa insists that, with persistence, these movements can transform us from a hapless hacker into a golfing genius.
"To be good at golf you need flexibility, mobility and stability in the spine," she says. "In golf you have something called the X factor. This is the disassociation between the shoulder and the hips. So the hips will remain in one position while the shoulders will move into an opposite direction.
"If you don't have flexibility in the spine, which you study in yoga, then you risk injury. Which is why a lot of golfers have a lot of spinal injuries."
As well as helping alleviate ailments, she claims, yoga can vastly increase power in your swing.
"In our classes, we work on spinal rotation, balance, working into the joints and the like, which all helps you swing better," she says.
Tony McKay, a managing director of a engineering-construction firm, who regularly attends Fassa's classes, agrees.
Over the past few months, his handicap decreased from 11.9 to 10.9. He says some of this improvement comes from the added flexibility he's gained from yoga, which has helped him add a further 20 yards (18.2 metres) to his driving off the tee.
But it's also down to the sense of serenity yoga has given him: "When things start to go wrong out on the course, which, to be honest, is every time you play, it really helps with the mental side," McKay says.
"The important thing in golf is to get your breathing correct. Typically, when you take a bad shot, your breathing speeds up, when in reality you want it to slow down so you can take a long slow swing.
"Doing yoga has really helped me listen to my breathing while I'm playing."
Steve Tanner, a 52-year-old from the UK who works for Etisalat, says he previously thought that yoga was only undertaken by lithe young women, but now he is reaping the rewards of overcoming his concerns.
"Recently, I was playing a competition, and the guy I was playing against really lost his cool. But from yoga, I've learnt breathing exercises, which help me relax. I've learnt to stay with the moment and breath when you feel pressure."
He's also seen his handicap decrease from 28 to 25.
This mental discipline is an integral part of Fassa's classes, she says. "I try to teach people your [golf] score doesn't define who you are. You're not a loser if you've had a bad game.
"A lot of golfers are self-loathers. They're very hard on themselves. But they realise that, with breathing, everything clears. I tell them that before their tee-off, they need to focus on breathing, and they see immediate improvements."
She believes yoga techniques are beneficial to most sports. "Golf and yoga are very different, but I cannot think of one sport that won't benefit from yoga, especially one-sided impact sports like golf or tennis," she says. "You're constantly using one side of the body, so it weakens the muscles on the opposite side. Yoga always brings a balance."
Yoga for Golfers is every Wednesday at 6pm at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Call 02 558 8990 for more information
hberger@thenational.ae
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