The similarities between golf and skating

I recently spent a terrific day with three-time World Champion and Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan.

Patrick had signed on as a spokesperson for a Vancouver development company and they wanted to film a television commercial featuring Patrick playing golf. I was asked to search out the ideal golf course for the shoot. Naturally I choose the Quilchena Golf & Country Club in Richmond, BC. (I was the General Manager at Quilchena for seven years prior to joining Golf Canada.)

When I was first approached to assist with this project I wondered if Patrick could in fact play golf. As a former competitive figure skater myself, golf was not an activity we did in our free time. Summers were always spent inside a skating rink and when you had free time the last thing you wanted to do was something athletic.

As Patrick arrived at the golf club he was accompanied by a large film crew who were pushing and pulling him in all directions. In addition, the group was bolstered by the developer and his staff plus numerous on looking members.  It was a real gong show, not something you often see at a private golf club. When it came time for Patrick to tee off, the first tee had all of the elements of opening day at the RBC Canadian Open; brilliant sunshine, cameras snapping off multiple shots, a throng of some 15 or 20 people all snuggled up close to the tee box, (too close actually) and this lone golfer gathering his thoughts as he prepared start his game. I thought at that moment he must really feel the pressure of everyone watching and expecting good things.

He had not had any time to warm up on the range. He just quietly walked to the tee and made a few practice swings. I remember saying to myself, the kid has a natural swing. He just smacked out his first shot. As he watched his ball flight he gave himself a satisfying grin as it landed well into the middle of the fairway.

Patrick’s playing partners for the event were Kris Jonasson, Executive Director of British Columbia Golf, David Atkinson, President of British Columbia Golf and Raymond Li, Sr. VP of ASPAC Development. You can read about their experience here.

I was once asked if there were similarities between good golfers and good skaters. Somewhat dismissively I remember saying “not really, with the exception that they all belong to clubs”. In fact there are many similarities. First off; a skater has a dominant rotating direction that is similar to a golfer’s dominance in swinging right or left. Like golfers, skaters will work on a particular jump until the consistency is automatic. Sometimes it will take years.  Like a golf shot, the skating jump takes only a split second and when doubt creeps up, invariably the jump goes sideways.

When Kurt Browning began his “short” routine in the 1992 Olympics he was the reigning world champion and was expected to walk away with the gold medal. One of the required elements in the short routine was a double axel. Kurt could perform a double axel in his sleep. He had landed it more than a 3,000 times, but on this occasion, under pressure, not unlike a playoff in The Masters, doubt crept in and Kurt came out of his jump in mid air. He pulled off only a single jump. The judges had no choice but to make such an enormous deduction that it took him off the podium.

Two time Olympic speed skating champion, Catriona Le May Doan, after hearing she would take part as a celebrity entrant in the Wayne Gretzky Classic Nationwide Tour pro-am in Collingwood, Ont., immediately enrolled in golf lessons and began hitting the course on a regular basis. “I was a little nervous,” she admitted.

Catriona pointed out that golf has an interesting attraction for her. She stated that while the 500m speed skating event demands 37 seconds of perfection, golf resets itself every hole, allowing her to have “my little vent sessions,” as she called them, and then refocus. Kind of like a figure skater when a jump goes sideways in your routine and you refocus on the next one.

J.R. Celski, the 23-year-old U.S. speed skating silver medalist at the Sochi games is an avid golfer. In the summer he plays golf three times a week. When asked about the similarities between golf and skating he replied, “I actually apply my skating technique to my swing in terms of weight shift. They’re also similar in that the harder you swing, the shorter the ball will go. And when you try to push on the ice when you skate, the slower you’re going to go.”

When asked which is harder to do, win a gold medal or break par? Without hesitation he replied,  “It’s gotta be breaking par. No question.”

Blair_Armitage-2_11303orgBlair Armitage most recently served as General Manager of the Quilchena Golf and Country Club in Richmond, B.C. Prior, he was General Manager of the Dalewood Golf and Curling Club in Port Hope, Ont. He is also a past President of the Canadian Society of Club Managers, Pacific Branch and a Director of the British Columbia Golf Marketing Alliance.

In addition to his golf administration background, Armitage is a former elite figure skating competitor and coach, having competed in Canadian national events as well as the World Championships.
He is now Golf Canada’s Regional Director of Membership for Western Canada.
Golf courses in Western Canada with questions about Golf Canada and how you can help to grow the game should email Blair at barmitage@golfcanada.ca.

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