U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps hits his tee shot on the third hole during the Captains and Celebrity Scramble at the 39th Ryder Cup golf matches at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois, September 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Blake)
By Steve Keating
MEDINAH, Illinois, Sept 27 (Reuters) – For almost 20 years, Michael Phelps was swim coach Bob Bowman’s project.
But Phelps, who retired from swimming as the most decorated Olympian of all time after winning a record 22 medals including 18 golds, is now swing guru Hank Haney’s project as he turns his sights on becoming a top golfer.
Phelps was on golf’s biggest stage this week taking part in a Ryder Cup celebrity event where he was outclassed by comedian George Lopez and singer/actor Justin Timberlake, underscoring the long road ahead if he is to realize a dream of teeing it up on the PGA Tour.
“Even when I’m not swimming I tend to find water one way or another,” Phelps told Reuters on Thursday after watching two of his shots disappear into Lake Kadijah.
Phelps insists that he plans to take golf as seriously as he approached swimming and will give fans a front row seat as he takes his first steps along that journey with Tiger Woods’s former coach on a golf reality show.
Haney, who helped former world number one Woods win 31 PGA Tour events and six major championships, has previously worked with former NBA All-Star Charles Barkley, actor Ray Romano and singer Adam Levine.
“I’m not saying I’m going to be on the tour, that’s not it,” said Phelps. “I enjoy doing this, I enjoy being outside. I have a kind of a plaque with the top 50 courses and I’m just trying to mark everyone of them off.
“There’s always the opportunity (to play on the PGA Tour one day). I’m someone who never rules anything out.”
Bowman has said the moment he met a 10-year-old Phelps he knew he had discovered a once-in-a-lifetime swimmer every coach dreams about.
While it is early in their partnership, Phelps says he sees many similarities between Bowman and Haney and expects to see the same results.
Before the start of each season, Bowman would ask Phelps to write down his goals. They would never share that information with anyone and he has done the same with Haney.
“They (Bowman and Haney) have so many similarities,” said Phelps, who was kept busy on Thursday making appearances for his sponsor Omega and helping out with Ryder Cup opening ceremonies.
“You can look at anybody who is passionate about what they do and they want to see you succeed. That’s how it was with Bob, we worked very well together, we had our goals and it is the same thing with Hank.
“This is essentially going to be learning to swim all over again.”
Many athletes have tried to cross over from their sport of choice to golf with limited success.
Tennis greats Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl, NHL Hall of Famers Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull and NFLer Jerry Rice all flirted with the idea of professional golf but fell short or lost interest.
“It is probably one of hardest things I have ever done in my life,” said Phelps. “I have been able to pick everything else up pretty easily and this is something that is going to take a lot of time.
“I have been in the pool for 20 years and been able to do everything I wanted to do and this is the sort of the next competitive thing I am going to be doing.”