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Why Michael Phelps is Diving Headfirst into Golf

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Since retiring from swimming in 2016, the most decorated Olympian of all time continues to get his competitive fix on the golf course.

Since he was 7 years old, Michael Phelps spent the majority of his days in the water.

These days though, the record-setting swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time is doing everything he can to avoid the water … and sand traps, and any other hazards that stand in his way on a golf course.

“I’m just obsessed,” Phelps told Boardroom. “I got my wife obsessed too, which is nice so we get to get out and play a ton.”

Michael and Nicole Phelps aren’t the only ones going gaga over golf.

Golf is undergoing a metamorphosis thanks to a number of factors including but not limited to: being a safe outdoor activity during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Netflix’s behind-the-scenes docuseries Full Swing, the popularity of golf-entertainment venues like Topgolf, and more opportunities, resources, and support for women and minorities in and around the game, including the APGA Tour and Steph Curry’s Underrated Golf Tour.

The number of US on-course participants in 2022 increased to 25.6 million — a net gain of 500,000 over the previous year — according to the National Golf Foundation. Rounds played in 2022 were 15% above the average of the 2017-19 period, with a record 3.3 million people playing on a US golf course for the first time last year.

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Not only is golf arguably hotter than ever, but it’s also the perfect sport, and certainly less physically demanding, for Phelps and other competitors to get their fix, especially after retiring.

“I’m a super competitive human, so being able to play golf and compete with anybody you possibly play with is so cool,” Phelps said. “I can go out and play with (world No. 2 Jon) Rahm and he gives me a ton of shots, but I still compete. That’s one of the things I love about golf.”

Mental health

Just like he did in the pool for three decades, getting into a rhythm physically and mentally is the key to Phelps’ success on the golf course, whether he’s teeing it up with his wife, buddies on a weekend trip, or alongside other notable figures during the WM Phoenix Open Pro-Am or Icons Series.

Knowing one bad shot or putt can ruin an entire round, Phelps, 37, said he has tricks to stay out of his own head and leverages simple things like taking a walk and breathing to refocus.

“This game is almost more mental than anything else,” he said.

The mental aspect isn’t just limited to the course, though.

A proponent for mental health, Phelps has shared personal stories of struggles with depression and anxiety, helping others not only identify and address their own battles but to help destigmatize the much-needed conversation around mental health, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The number and rate of suicides in the US increased by 4% from 2020 to 2021 after two consecutive years of decline pre-pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Phelps joins other notable athletes speaking candidly about mental health including Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, and Kevin Love.

“We have dozens of people who have opened up and talked about it, and I think it really has started to help,” Phelps said. “But we need more people standing up and talking about it because the suicide rate continues to climb and rise.”

WHOOP, there it is

Not only does Phelps prioritize his mental health on and off the golf course, but sleep is also a top focus for him. 

During his swimming days, Phelps said he would make sure to get 10-12 hours of sack time each day, not only as he recovers from his prior training sessions in and out of the pool, but also to prepare his body for the next test.

He relies on the data and metrics from WHOOP, not only being one of the wearables company’s first users but first investors.

“I want to try to get as many days in the green as I possibly can,” he said. “I know if I have a green day, the chances of me being productive that day are really good. I don’t have to take any precautionary measures or steps back because of how my body is or what my recovery score told me. Those stats are absolutely everything.”

Founded in 2011 by Will Ahmed, WHOOP raised $200 million in a Series F funding round led by SoftBank at a $3.6 valuation in August 2021. WHOOP, which has raised approximately $400 million to date, also boasts Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures, LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes, Larry Fitzgerald, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas as athlete-investors.

An official partner of the PGA Tour and NFL Players Association, WHOOP recently announced a partnership with Hyperice as well as its entry into brick-and-mortar through third-party retailers including Best Buy.

“We got a bunch of new features coming out and some interesting ways to look at the human body—things that relate to weightlifting, stress, deeper coaching,” Ahmed said. “I think it’s going to be probably one of the most innovative years in the company’s history. Beyond that, we’re starting to expand more internationally through third-party distributors.

“It’s a pretty new and exciting time for the company.”

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