First let me say that I love technology and own a lot of it. From Gears to Trackman, to JC Video and BodiTrack Pressure Mats, my facilities are equipped with the latest and greatest technology. Pressure mapping and release factor is sweeping the teaching world right now. It’s all about balance, transition, and how to improve your body action. Since I wrote the first cover piece article on the X Factor™, I’ve been a huge proponent of studying body angles, body positions, and body motions. I believe that using technology to teach the golf swing can be both an asset and be potentially inhibiting to a student’s learning process.
Since the mid-1990s, I’ve had force plates at my schools to understand the underlying biomechanics of the golf swing. Dr. Rob Neal, a renowned PhD in golf biomechanics, came to work for me at Doral in 2003 and stayed for about 11 years. We had many talks, many arguments, and we both learned a lot. Incorporating biomechanics into teaching a golf swing entails explaining a lot of kinematics, analyzing graphs, and visualizing avatars. In many cases it is far too overwhelming for the average golfer, although some golfers truly love it. My teaching staff use biomechanics as a great learning tool.
Dr. Neal did a ton of schools with me. His company, Golf BioDynamics succeeded in that setting. In the “one on one” settings it was very difficult to sell lessons. Perhaps with Gears that will change, because it is much easier to set students up to the machine. Additionally, GEARS uses sensors, making it wireless in comparison to Dr. Neal’s machine.
One thing that I wanted to mention about Dr. Neal is that he’s a very good golfer. Not a pro per say, but a solid 1 handicapper. His playing abilities made our detailed discussions very productive. Dr. Neal took “The Eight Step Swing” concept of corridors and safety zones to heart. Together, we mapped that concept of corridors in his Golf BioDynamics print outs. That was a major step forward in measuring our students.
Looking at the cons of using such technology, I look at some golf biomechanics experts and wonder why they “can’t play golf”. They can tell you in excruciating detail exactly how to swing perfectly, yet they can’t hit a decent shot to save their life. Some have never teed it up in a tournament or posted a real score. They can explain power generation in exact scientific terminology and how to achieve it, but they can’t do it themselves. Why is that?
This is an easy question to answer. Knowledge of how to swing in no way means that a person can do it. Showing you a detailed graph on body sequencing, time ratios, while compounding this with confusing science speak only confuses most golfers. Though technically perfect, it’s often terrible teaching. The data spewed out by Gears and 3D analysis is great for research and great for teachers to learn. I love the learning part for the teacher. But, in my opinion, biomechanics experts have to be very careful on how they deliver the high tech info to students of any level, including tour professionals.
The job of our teachers is to simplify the details into ideas or drills that will truly help our students. Talking over your student’s head might impress some teachers, but it’s not useful teaching if your student gets confused. If it’s too complicated, serious damage can be done in no time.
At Doral, I had Dr. Neal simplify his 3D analysis down significantly for our golf school students. Using the safety zones, we had a lot of success and positive feedback. You start to realize that “no one is the same” after using such technology for a while. There are variations in all swings and timing sequences. This is disrupting the method that teachers preach in saying that one size fits all. Yet the new technology proves the point that everyone is not the same.
BodiTrack details “center of pressure” and shows us exactly when transition takes place but we must have parameters here, too. I’ve seen big differences with BodiTrack in tour player traces. Trackman is awesome and as mentioned we use it at all JMGS facilities, but 26 parameters is too much to show any amateur student. We never put up every parameter that Trackman shows. Also, I believe that using Trackman outdoors is superior to indoor training. For one thing hitting off mats gives a far different number on spin rates and launch angle, even with the exact same type of golf ball. This once again, is another reason to understand technology.
Video remains the best tool for me because most people are visual and I can show students important improvements fast. I want my students to see what I’m telling them to do. I can show them the correct golf moves and then together my student and I can monitor how they are doing. I’ve worked hard with JC Video to have all the tools and the speed I need to provide the student with the most useful teaching experience.
In conclusion, I feel that technology is great, but a top teacher has to use it wisely. I’m reminded of a story Butch Harmon told me of a teacher working with a pro at a recent US Open. The teacher had a Trackman and Butch was right next to that teacher (and the pro he was working with that day). Butch listened in to the lesson and told me the teacher was spouting out super technical details that Butch could not understand. Butch thought to himself that if he couldn’t understand it, he knew for sure the pro being taught couldn’t either. The pro hit numerous drives off the planet to the right, but the teacher told the pro his numbers were great! Butch just shook his head and laughed to himself. He said no top teacher would say those shots were good. Butch said that obviously the swing wasn’t good and that he would have told his student the same. He would have helped that pro stop that giant push. It just reinforces the point that you need to have a balance in using technology while teaching your students. Technology can be great, but it does not give you all of the answers.