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Upping the stakes

Tech or teacher to improve your golf game?

Story By B.C. Rausch

For a game, the amount of data and variety of technology available to golfers, and, perhaps more importantly, to their instructors, can be overwhelming. Information overload does not lead to good swing thoughts.

But top golf instructors are making the most of what’s new by bringing their knowledge of the golf swing and technology together for more effective teaching.

“I like to look at technology as providing me – the coach – with some facts as to what is actually happening, rather than just using my opinion,” says Tim Cooke, director of Instruction at The Sea Pines Golf Learning Center. “Most of the time, technology is for the coach,” he added. “But at times it can be utilized as a feedback or learning tool for the student.”

Tim Cooke is the director of golf instruction at The Sea Pines Resort. He was named the 2014 PGA Teacher of the Year for the Carolinas Section and was listed among Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Teachers in America” in 2018.

Cooke should know. In the past four years, 22 of his students have made the jump from junior to collegiate golf. He also has worked with, or is currently instructing, players on the Korn Ferry, LPGA, and PGA Tours. For all of these students and others, he noted that the “savvy golf consumer expects technology.”

Krista Dunton, director of golf instruction at Berkeley Hall’s Learning Center, agrees. “The art of teaching is to help the student better understand the technology and be able to apply it to their game and on the golf course.”

Krista Dunton is the director of golf instruction at Berkeley Hall’s Learning Center. She holds the distinction of being listed multiple times as a “Top 100 Instructor” and “Top 100 Teachers in America” by Golf Magazine and Golf Digest.

“We have to be careful not to overuse technology,” she said. “It’s a blend – working with a person and technology, I try to use it as an enhancer. For some people, it creates quantifiable results. But I like to look a person in the eye and work with them. It has to relate back to the student.”

As Dunton explains, “Once the student leaves technology, then what happens? We need to give the student a way to practice without all the bells and whistles.”

Technology most often is used in a static environment – a hitting bay or a driving range. But golf is played in an ever-changing environment – shifting winds, varying temperatures, impacts of the elements — exaggerated by the variables incorporated by the golf course architect – hazards, lies, and optics. All of which make taking practice onto the course often a tricky proposition.

“Everything is different, every day on the course,” said Dunton, who has been a Golf Magazine Top 100 Instructor since 2013. “It’s key for golfers to develop a feel – anything that gives feedback is useful.”  The best combination is a successful melding of the teacher’s knowledge and practice techniques. Technology is important because you can’t guess, you must measure.”

And don’t think the player’s age makes a difference when it comes to effectively using new technology. “People of all ages embrace it,” said Cooke. “Some people relate to numbers and data — or to instructors who can explain it.” The same is true for the instructor, and Cooke is quick to credit technology for helping him improve as a coach. “There is more information provided to me, which helps me teach better and continue to grow as a coach.”



The art of teaching is to help the student better understand the technology and be able to apply it to their game and on the golf course.”



What’s the hot technology being used by top instructors?

Foresight

Foresight has been making strides in the launch monitor market. The simplicity and accuracy of the data is a key selling point for instructors. The company also offers a line of golf simulators.


Swing Catalyst

Both Dunton and Cooke use Swing Catalyst, a system of force and pressure plates that the golfer stands on and can be connected to a video camera. Pressure on the feet, especially the center of pressure, is clearly illustrated. “The beauty of the Swing Catalyst is that the golfer can really see what they are doing — moving, stalling, or hanging back,” said Dunton. “Then it’s up to me to make adjustments to the player – the ball flight, the pressure – to adjust.”


TrackMan

A new, radically improved software update has made this launch monitor even more powerful. Two radar systems ensure instant and actionable feedback on club delivery, launch, ball flight, and landing. “Trackman gives you valuable info for fitting drivers, controlling spin, height and distance on wedges, understanding the relationship between the path of the club and the face  and very easily teaches players how far they hit all their clubs,” Dunton said.


K-Vest (from K-Motion)

K-Vest, which the student wears like a shirt when practicing, incorporates the worlds of 3-D and biofeedback. According to Cooke, the amount of data about body movements and motion it provides can be overwhelming.


Sam PuttLab (from Science & Motion Sports)

This comprehensive training system analyzes all important parameters of the putting stroke and displays the results in easy-to-understand graphic reports. Cooke described Sam PuttLab as good for fact finding. “It measures things I can’t see and provides precise data that I need. For the better player, this is a key tool.”


GEARS (from Gears Sports)

Gears is a full-body, optical motion-tracking system designed to measure and analyze every aspect of the golf swing in full 3D. There also are applications for volleyball, baseball, soccer, and other sports. Built on the same technology used by biomechanics and filmmakers, Gears is the most advanced motion-capture solution on the market, utilizing eight high-speed cameras to capture different angles of a golfer to create the full-body image.