Andrew Dys

‘Be the ball?’ Northwestern golfers turn to yoga to help lower scores

Northwestern High School golf team members, from left, Clara Ruffalo, Mattison Pittelko, Kayleigh Reinke and Blair Johnson and teammates participate in a yoga class.
Northwestern High School golf team members, from left, Clara Ruffalo, Mattison Pittelko, Kayleigh Reinke and Blair Johnson and teammates participate in a yoga class. aburriss@heraldonline.com

There were no irons or woods, no putters and balls at practice Wednesday for the Northwestern High School girls golf team. No golf course, either.

There was soothing music. And bare feet. And balancing and breathing.

Just yoga.

Time normally dedicated to hitting balls instead was spent learning the best ways to breathe, stretch, relax and focus, so that on the course they might rip the cover off the ball, then have the aim to drop a putt.

And it just might work.

The ancient discipline combines breathing and mind and body. But the idea is not just some wiseguy move by a lover of the iconic golf movie “Caddyshack,” in which a goofy millionaire tells a caddy to “be the ball.”

The players seem to love it, after just a couple of sessions.

Faith Novak, 15, said she posted her best score yet by employing the breathing and relaxation techniques she has learned.

“Love it,” Novak said.

LeighAnn Faulkner, 16, said yoga helped loosen her tight back.

“I played better,” she said, which – after all the stretches and breathing and the rest – is what matters.

Athletes using yoga to help performance is not new, but the idea to take the team to yoga came after David Rector, Northwestern’s golf coach, tried it himself a couple of years ago and saw that the tenets of yoga are similar to golf. He even stretches his old bones on the yoga mat with his players.

“To be successful in golf, you have to control your breathing, focus,” Rector said. “For example, you can’t grip the club like you want to chop down a tree with it.

“Flexibility is very important in golf.”

Promoting unity and togetherness always helps, Rector said, even in a sport that depends on individual performance.

So Rector made arrangements with Sara Cain-da Costa, owner of Synergy Yoga and Wellness on Caldwell Street in downtown Rock Hill, to bring the team over and see how it worked out.

Cain-da Costa didn’t just lead the team through the yoga exercises, she told them how breathing and focus have helped her not just play golf well, but often out-drive men off the tee.

“Calm, centered focus,” she told them repeatedly as they breath and stretched.

The 13-member team has so far embraced yoga and the time spent on the mat instead of on the course. In their first three-way match after starting yoga classes, Rector said, the Northwestern golfers performed well – finishing ahead of York Comprehensive but behind Fort Mill.

So about once a week for the next few weeks, the Trojans’ practice will remain focused on deep breathing, stretching and balance.

And like Chevy Chase’s Ty Webb in “Caddyshack,” they will be the ball – in bare feet.

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