‘It’s daunting and nerve wracking but that’s what makes it exciting’

News & Tour

Double gold medal-winning olympian, sailor and keen golfer Sarah Ayton explains why golf and sailing are actually far more similar than you might think

This year is all about getting more women into golf, and Golf At Goodwood is just one of the many clubs celebrating Women’s Golf Day.

They are hoping to attract 100 lady golfers, ranging from total beginners to those with low handicaps, to come along for free coaching and a round of golf.

As a member of Goodwood and with her own personal training business, Olympic sailor Sarah Ayton will be offering physical and mental coaching to the new golfers.

She explains how golf and sailing are actually very similar, and why nerves can actually be a good thing…

When did you first get into golf?

My son Thomas started playing in 2009 and that’s when I really fell in love with the game.

I wasn’t brilliant at it but I loved that it involved a bit of exercise and learning something totally new. Then I moved to near Goodwood and I discovered their golf academy and passion for getting women into the game.

At this point I really started having fun on the driving range and learning a bit about the technicalities. I loved the journey of learning and the endless process of trying to perfect the skill of swinging a golf club.

I’ve got two boys, and we can all go to the range and enjoy doing something together. Hopefully it will evolve to the point where they start beating me, then I will probably stop!

How does it compare to sailing?

There are so many similarities between golf and sailing. It’s actually kind of bizarre.

Both are very technical, and also involve lots of variables, Whether it is the wind or the course or whatever it is. Actually the mental state is also very similar. So although you wouldn’t put sailing and golf in the same sentence, they require the same mindset and technical approach.

Is having mental discipline just as important in both sports?

Well golf is a long game isn’t it, and it’s the same in sailing. We can push off the dock at 9am and not come back until 5pm. So it’s about managing your own gears, and working out how you switch off and how you turn it up again. How quickly you can make good and fast decisions, it’s really similar in that respect.

Do you find golf quite physically draining?

It is an intense sport. From the process of picking which club to use to generating the power to hit it far enough. It’s intense and long. You need to manage your mental energy and be physically fit enough.

In sailing, we say that at in a seven day regatta, you need to be as fit on the seventh day as you were at the start. It’s the same with the golf, you need to be as fit and mobile and agile on the 1st as you are the 18th hole.

Do you ever get first-tee nerves?

Oh yeah, as I’m a newbie to the game the nerves really kick in sometimes! But nerves are great, they make you feel alive.

There’s nothing like teeing off in front of everyone and having in your mind that there’s a high percentage that you are going to miss the ball.

It’s all about laughing it off if it goes wrong, because it is funny. You just have to not worry about it.

Sarah

What do you enjoy about golf?

I really love the game and enjoy it. I’m definitely not brilliant at it but I love the challenge of learning something new. It’s daunting and nerve wracking but that’s what makes it exciting.

Goodwood has a great environment at the academy and whether you want to join a ladies-only or a mixed session, it’s really friendly. You’ll be with people who also haven’t done it before and that’s great because you can learn together and share the experience.

It’s brilliant for fitness, flexibility and mobility; it really makes you focus on those areas.

Does playing help keep you fit?

Absolutely, we are all wearing our trackers now and aiming for at least 10,000 steps a day aren’t we. The gym and classes aren’t for everybody but you can get fit in other ways, and golf is one of them.

You are outdoors and probably getting your 10,00 steps in just nine holes. You’re burning calories, having a lovely time and challenging yourself both mentally and physically. It ticks all the boxes.

You can take it very seriously or just do it for fun, which is wonderful. We have that in sailing as well. On the start line you can be next to an Olympic champion or someone at club level.

Do you know many other athletes who play?

I used to play with most of my sailing team. Before the Olympics in 2004 and 2008 we had a R&R camp and one thing we would do is play golf. I know a lot of athletes and sailors who spend their down time playing golf. If there was no wind they would go to the course or the driving range. They were always moments full of laughter, and the competitive streaks would come out of some people!

How are you involved with Women’s Golf Day?

I think with golf we are prone to just getting our clubs out the car and going straight to the first tee.

I will be taking the ladies through a bit of a warm up. I’ll be going through some stretches that are designed to make it so that when you take that first shot you’ve got a full range of movement, which definitely helps.

I’ll also advise them on the mental side and how to perform under pressure. Although of course there will be no pressure at the event as it just about having fun. But you still need to be in the right place mentally.

It’s mainly about those people who haven’t played before. It’s about creating an opportunity and a safe environment where there’s no pressure. I think as we get older we are less brave about trying new things so that’s really important.

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