Islanders have golf game, too

The Islanders held a golf outing Monday at Bethpage State Park and right winger Kyle Okposo talked about why hockey players tend to be good golfers. Videojournalist: Patrick McCarthy (Sept. 9, 2013)

There is an obvious explanation for why professional hockey players are such good golfers: Swinging a club is the same motion as taking a swipe at a puck.

That also happens to be a wrong explanation, in the opinion of people who know best.

"It's not the motion, because I play golf righthanded and I play hockey lefthanded. A lot of guys are like that," said Butch Goring, former Islanders star and coach and currently a broadcaster -- and reigning club champion at Tam O'Shanter in Brookville. The real connection between the two sports, he said, is that hockey players are good athletes with solid hand-eye coordination, and they have summers off.

Several current Islanders said there is slight similarity between a long-iron shot and a slap shot, but they agreed with Goring. Being good at golf is more a matter of strength, coordination and one other major factor. To quote Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo, former first-round draft pick and current 6- handicap: "I just love the game. It's a game you can't perfect, so you have to keep working on it."

There always has been a kinship between dropping the puck and dropping a putt, witnessed Monday at Bethpage Red, where most of the roster played in the Islanders' Children's Foundation outing. John Tavares, formally named team captain in the clubhouse minutes earlier, striped a drive on No. 1, long and just right of the fairway (although his scramble foursome used the tee shot of goalie coach Mike Dunham, a plus-2 handicap).

Tavares has worked on his golf game, just as he has on his hockey skills, having improved his handicap from 19 to 12.

"I play golf mostly recreationally, but if I can go a little lower somehow, I'll take it. I'm pretty competitive," he said. He might have been able to trim more, but was busy last month with Team Canada camp and NHL promotional trips.

"I played a lot early in the summer, which is when I'm usually not very good," the captain said.

Okposo played only once a week at home in Minnesota this summer, but he is enough of a golf fan to have attended the recent PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y. He was inspired to take up the game by watching Tiger Woods, whom he met when as a PGA Tour Twitter correspondent during The Barclays at Bethpage Black last year.

"He's a sports fanatic, so we talked about the lockout, we talked about saving the body a little bit, we talked about the tournament that was going on. It was pretty cool," Okposo said, impressed that new Islanders Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck are a scratch and a 3-handicapper, respectively.

Clutterbuck is proof that not only finesse hockey players are good at golf. At work, he is more of a gritty type, having been Tavares' enforcer in juniors. At golf, he is smooth.

"My dad used to take me out there when I was 10 or 11 years old," the 25-year-old forward said. He acknowledged a slight weight-transfer similarity between swinging a club and a hockey stick, but thinks there isn't much real technical carryover. "Most hockey players are pretty athletic, so I think it's just a natural progression," he said.

Josh Bailey used to play a lot of baseball and believes his golf swing reflects that. He also mentioned it isn't all that great. "You don't want to be that good a golfer," he said, "because that means you're going home early every year."

Outings. The Rotary Club of Patchogue will hold its 44th Annual Fuoco Memorial Golf "Feastival" at Bellport Country Club Thursday, Sept. 19. A pasta bar, Italian deli and zeppoli stand are included. Proceeds benefit Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in East Moriches. Visit patchoguerotary.com.