It’s a frustrating realization for those of us who are, for lack of a better word, unathletic. Those athletes seem to be good at everything. Michael Jordan couldn’t just stick to basketball. No, he had to show off on the baseball diamond, too. Jim Thorpe was an Olympic champion in multiple track events, but played professional baseball and football as well. Babe Didrikson was perhaps the greatest female athlete of all time dominating in golf, tennis, basketball, and track and field.
But does being an athlete automatically translate into being awesome at every sport? How well do these notorious athletes play golf?
After announcing his retirement from swimming after a historic showing at the 2012 London Olympics, Michael Phelps took up golf. And he was pretty darn good. According to Golf Digest Golf Digest, Phelps took golfing quite seriously, and after studying the game for nearly six months, he went from not being able to break 100, to now a consistent 70s golfer… with a much better swing.
On the other side of the coin is Yao Ming, the retired Chinese NBA player, who at the time of his retirement boasted the tallest height in the league at 7’6”, is one of those athletes who should stick to his day job. After taking up golf in his retirement, his hand eye coordination on the court does not quite translate onto the green. In this video he repeatedly misses the ball, and with that swing, it’s not difficult to see why.
Apparently being an extremely tall, extremely talented basketball player means that you will likely struggle at golf. Shaquille O’Neal, standing at 7’1”, struggles with his golf swing, too. Perhaps it’s the pure size of the man, or the distance his shoulders are from the actual ball, but this swing just doesn’t look pretty.
Maybe it’s not the tall thing, maybe it’s the basketball thing. Perhaps basketball players just are not good at golf. Charles Barkley, Hall of Famer and current basketball analyst, has made an appearance on the golf course plenty of times and each time he provides more footage for a blooper reel of bad swings. He once told NBC Sports Network that he “just chokes. I don’t know the reason for it. Under pressure, when there are people around and crowds, I can’t just swing the club.” People and crowds used to fuel Barkley on the court, but now it frustrates him? Hmm…
Then there was the time Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice tried his hand at professional golfing. He got a sponsorship exemption allowing him to play in the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in April of 2010. Although Rice golfed regularly throughout his football career, his early morning golf sessions did not help him for the big leagues. Rice finished one stroke ahead of last place at the Classic, and did not make the cut.
NFL lightning rod and Dallas Cowboys Quarterback, Tony Romo has been the poster child for great athletes who are great at golf. Although never making the tournament, he once shot a 69 in the US Open Qualifying. Unfortunately, his bad back has forced him of the links.
TheSandTrap.com did a poll asking if people thought natural athletes were naturally good at golf. Using Charles Barkley as the example for “no” and Tony Romo, pre-back problems, as a “yes”, a 63 percent majority voted “no”. I guess Barkley really is that convincingly bad.
Perhaps golf is just a difficult game to learn. The mechanics of the swing, the science behind which club to grab, the elements of the course. It is an individualized sport and you cannot depend on the entirety of a team when you are out there by yourself. It’s all on you– the pressure, the winning, the losing. Golf is not a contact sport. It doesn’t matter as much that you are big and strong. If you aren’t disciplined enough to learn the right way to swing, you are probably going to struggle. It is also a mental game. Once you start thinking too hard, your golf game can go up in flames.
Golf has long been the recreational game that many people, athletes and non-athletes, get into on the weekends. It is so different than so many other sports that it allows for athletes to take a break from the “real world” and focus on something different for a change.
Although, if you’re Charles Barkley, perhaps you should pick up bowling. That swing is just… wrong.