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Alex Danson-Bennett MBE, Olympic Gold medallist and all-round hockey mega star enquired about golf lessons with me back in the summer of 2020. I will admit that it was a dream coaching her for many reasons. I chatted to her about the decision to switch sticks, what motherhood has taught her and got to know just a bit more about Alex the person and her views on golf.
You’ve had an incredible career in hockey, you were almost superhuman on that pitch. Tell me about Alex Danson-Bennett the human being and what makes you tick?
As an athlete I was definitely 100 per cent in – completely dedicated. Hockey was number one and everything else was secondary. I’ve had so many significant events that have happened and given me a different perspective. Now, family is number one; where I live is different; I don’t play any more; now I’m a coach. Life has changed. Priorities have changed. I had a really bad head injury in 2018, I couldn’t tolerate noise, sound and light. I couldn’t walk without support. It was a good two-year recovery to get to a life of vague normality, though it’s not 100 per cent back to where it was. Going from having full health to very poor health was my first wake-up call. During that period of time what is important to me changed.
If you were still playing competitive hockey, do you think becoming a mother would have changed your approach towards playing or not?
Motherhood is a game-changer. It definitely would have changed the way I played on the pitch. But I don’t think playing and being a mother ever crossed my mind. Playing was everything. Athletes who do have children and continue to compete tend to be from individual sports: Serena Williams, Jessica Ennis, Michelle Wie. A team sport is harder to accommodate individual needs. I cannot imagine ‘Alex the hockey player’ being ‘Alex the mum’.
You switched your stick for a set of sticks back in 2020. What most appealed to you about playing golf?
This was really related to my health. I was still unable to raise my heart rate or do anything too exerting. Golf gets your heart rate up by walking over a period of time, I could do it at my own pace and more sedately. I felt I could still be competitive. I am from a sport with a stick and a ball. Though golf and hockey have their differences, there are lots of similarities. Learning again, being back in that environment.
What did you think about golf following your first lesson and subsequently your first year playing?
I love that there are so many different parts of golf. There’s putting, long game, short game, getting out of the rough – lots of variety. Particularly with a young family now, playing nine holes suits me better, socially with people, I prefer that. I’ve played a few golf days with sponsors, which is fun and I like that I’m now able to do that.
How would you sell golf to your girlfriends who may have only associated it with those old-fashioned archaic stigmas?
I think it’s totally changed. I’d sell it as less time-consuming than I thought it would be, or it can be if you choose it to be – you can go play nine holes, hit balls on the range, just have a putt. It can be what you want it to be. We’ve done golf in an hour-and-a-half round trip and I love that. I would absolutely love to have a whole day where I can just go and play. It’s not an option at the moment, but one day it might be. It’s about squeezing it in at the moment.
What do you think needs to change in golf to see more mums and young women take up the sport?
The stigma and length of time. Traditionally I definitely saw it as a male-dominated sport. There are, in fact, much better interventions to get young females into clubs and that’s something that encouraged me to join the class I joined. That made me feel comfortable to join, I don’t think I’d have walked into a club and asked to join. I think the women on tour are more visible than they used to be and I’m a believer that if you don’t see it you are not going to be it. That’s getting better.
What skills in hockey do you think transfer easily onto the golf course?
The obvious hand and eye, the connection with the ball helped. Technically the trunk rotation is similar. The finesse with putting and the touch on and around the greens. With hockey you have an innate understanding around how hard you push a ball to send it to a certain spot. That was similar. Mentally, the one thing I wanted to do was charge round the course as quickly as possible. Then I realised, no I don’t need to do that, it’s much more controlled, you have to control your thoughts and take your time. In hockey it’s instinctive and you are always making a decision in a split-second. The game is reactive.
Has anything ever happened to put you off playing golf?
I’ve been really lucky and not had a nasty experience playing golf. For me a worrying thing would be getting the rules or etiquette wrong, like I wore the wrong thing or did the wrong thing. I’m lucky that I’ve always been in an environment where I’ve been very welcome.
What’s the one tip you’ve learnt in your golfing journey you always return to?
Take a deep breath and step back away from the ball. Then let it go!
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Katie is an Advanced PGA professional with over 20 years of coaching experience. She helps golfers of every age and ability to be the best versions of themselves. In January 2022 she was named as one of Golf Monthly's Top 50 Coaches.
Katie coaches the individual and uses her vast experience in technique, psychology and golf fitness to fix problems in a logical manner that is effective - she makes golf simple. Katie is now based at the stunning Hamptworth Golf Club on the edge of the New Forest. An experienced club coach, she developed GardenGOLF during lockdown and as well as coaching at Hamptworth she freelances, operating via pop-up clinics and travelling to clients homes to help them use their space to improve.
She has coached tour pros on both LET tour and the Challenge Tour as well as introduced many a beginner to the game.
Katie has been writing instructional content for magazines for 20 years. Her creative approach to writing is fuelled by her sideline as an artist.
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