How swimming helped give Michael Phelps an edge on the golf course

Some people are impossibly, imperceptibly, infuriatingly good at everything. Michael Phelps is one of those people.

In addition to being the greatest swimmer and most-decorated Olympian ever, Phelps is also a stud golfer — a player whose skillset appears tailor-made for life on the links.

Yes, Phelps is a preternaturally gifted athlete. But his abilities on the golf course appear to be tapping into something other than natural athleticism. At the Icons Series, a recent celebrity team-style event just outside of New York City, Phelps gave us a deeper look into the origins of his golf game, which he says has come largely from his previous career.

“The best way I can explain the game has been through swimming,” Phelps said. “A guy I work with, Mike Abbott, compares it to what I was doing in the pool, and body position. For me, that’s all I know. I mean I can literally do it in my sleep.”

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Body position is, of course, a key part of any good golf swing. It is also a key to any successful swimmer. For Phelps, improving his golf game came once he realized those two pillars — while inherently different — were in some ways very similar.

“I used to have my top-half closed. He was like ‘are you going to dive off the block like that?'” Phelps said. “And I was like ‘Oh, perfect. Get in line, hold your core.’ And that little tip has helped me knock probably two or three points off my handicap.”

And it goes further than just the physical. Phelps has leaned on his legendary competitive mindset to help him on the course as well.

“Breathing. Honestly, I feel like there are times where I get super excited or maybe I get anxious about a shot. So for me, it’s taking a deep breath,” Phelps said. “That’s been something I’ve really added and paid attention to. I want to slow down. Being in the sport of swimming, you just go, go, go, go, go. Out here, you can’t try harder or hit the ball harder.”

Ultimately, these tiny cues have helped the man who’s good at everything add one more thing to the list. To hear the rest of Phelps’ interview, including the time he used an Olympic medal as a ball mark, check out the video above.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.