Sport - Golf

How The LPGA’s Ryann O’Toole Uses Surfing And Snowboarding As Cross Training For Golf

The RSNG team

Current world top 50 ladies golfer Ryann O’Toole has been enjoying a string of successes since turning 30. Her use of other sports to improve her main career has echoes of Mildred Ella ‘Babe’ Didrikson Zaharias, often called one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Zaharias won ten majors, so what strategies is Californian O’Toole using to follow in those footsteps?

Longevity past 30

Ryann O’Toole is 35 years old and turned pro way back in 2009, and yet in the past five years has achieved her highest finishes in four of the five LPGA major championships. She also landed the Scottish Open in August 2021 – a first LPGA Tour win, in which she saw off the challenge of both Lydia Ko and Atthaya Thitikul.

O’Toole is clear as to the things that have given her golf longevity past the age of 30, and neither involve a driver or a putter. Instead, the Californian cites surfing and snowboarding as ways in which she has managed to prolong her fitness, posture and agility, all the time crossing over benefits to the golf course.

“I just had to be out there on the water”

Growing up, O’Toole found that the wakes and breaks of Orange County were worth as much of her time as practicing her swing on the tees and fairways of the San Clemente Municipal Golf Course.

“I began surfing when I was about seven years old after having moved to San Clemente about two years before,” she says. “I saw that the local beaches were amazing, and I just had to be out there on the water.

“It took me about that time to stand on the board properly; before that I was getting used to the water and the board by bodyboarding. Once I gained confidence and balance, I made it into the junior school surf team.

“However, once I got to high school, I stopped competitive surfing and just continued to do it as a hobby. I’m glad I never gave it up totally, as the upper body action, core alignment and back strength really benefit my golf.”

Swimming For Golfing Fitness

Of course, O’Toole isn’t alone as a disciple of multiple-sport activity; yet few golfers have been known to use water-based activity to strengthen their competitive prowess. That’s despite experts from the University of Massachusetts declaring, in a 2015 study, that swimming is one of the most analogous activities to golf, noting swing (arm) action, alignment, posture, leverage, rotation, balance, tempo, relaxation, mental strength and a faith in the process as being synonymous across the two.

“Obviously, the fitness and strength required for high-octane sports is always going to be high, and that really builds into a mental mapping of what I do, which is one of the non-physical things that translates most for me when I get on the course,” says O’Toole. “In the same way as I do on the board, as soon as I get to a shot, I am mentally mapping out the opportunities and risks. It’s an unconscious thing, and I’m straight in that moment.”

“I will also assimilate danger and hazards in the same way – on the waves you risk falling in; on the course you risk a bunker or a water trap.

“At the heart of it, my cross-training gives me a mental platform on which I can trust that I’m going to make that right decision at the right time.”

Surfing Thrills

As golf is O’Toole’s career, it means that for almost 80% of the year she is traveling from one tournament to the next. While that means she isn’t able to surf, wakeboard or snowboard as much as she would like, compensating with gym work and running is a must.

“During a regular golf season or calendar year, we’re usually making our way to around 38 events. So, that means I will get about 14 weeks off, and I’ll then go surfing once or twice a week. I own two boards and it’s a thrill to get them out.”

“While it’s exciting to travel, it’s a very insular life”

Cross-training feeds into the study of plyometrics – exercises that are designed to get muscles exerting the maximum amount of force in short bursts to increase power.

This helps O’Toole with her striking of the ball and ability to hit good distances. It keeps her in contention in competitions, but also it helps with the stamina required of her with constant traveling from place to place.

“While it’s exciting to travel, it’s a very insular life. I know that I am very fortunate to be able to do this as a career, but the demands are much greater than just what happens on the course.

“That’s why when victories come, I hold onto them. When you get that ‘W’, it feels like you should never let it go.”

O’Toole will be hoping to replicate that feeling a few times before finally hanging up her clubs. Even at 35, that looks like some way off…

Photos: Shutterstock