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The Great Tech Debate

If you’ve been following golf lately you very likely have been privy to the mass influx of advanced high-tech measurement devices into the world of coaching and player development. Radar devices such as Trackman and Flightscope which capture detailed club and ball flight data, as well as products such as Swing Catalyst and GEARS that provide ground force and 3D motion analysis, have provided coaches with more tools than ever to gain a clearer, more comprehensive picture of the actions and reactions associated with the swinging of a golf club.

While common logic would make you assume these highly accurate devices would provide a fast track to better learning, there are a number of opponents who believe they’re ruining the game. It’s a heated topic pitting players, TV golf analysts and even coaches against one another.

The interesting argument taking place seems to be entirely unique unto golf. Each day thousands of athletes playing virtually every sport under the sun use every possible resource to run faster, jump higher, throw harder, exhibit more endurance or other. It’s an expected part of the elite training environment that’s embraced as progress in athlete development.

In golf, however, there is an ever growing divide on the importance and or effectiveness of such technology. A recreational golfer may not be aware of this, but every day there are social media forums and threads with coaches ready to tear at each others throats over this debate. So why the heated exchange?

Athletes are always looking for that competitive edge. It’s in their nature.

There are a number of factors at play, possibly starting with the “haves” and “have nots.” Radar technology can cost a coach upwards of $25,000 to have available for clients on the lesson tee, whereas 3D data devices can run up to $35,000. These stratospheric costs coupled with facility fees, continuing education, program marketing and other daily overhead can potentially put a small business owner in a tough spot. If you don’t have the resources to possess such technology, the natural reaction is to downplay its relevance to the learning environment.

The next point of contention is rooted in losing the artistry associated with playing the game. Some believe reliance on technology is forcing golfers down an uninspired path filled with strict parameters and numerical values for which to base their experience within the sport.

Finally, in what I believe is an unfair assessment, many are making straight line accusations linking tech usage to struggles some players are experiencing in their careers.

Case in point, Tiger Woods. Most golf fans are aware of Tiger’s relationship with various coaches. At the height of his dominance he was linked to Butch Harmon. An old school guru with the Midas touch, Harmon is perennially ranked as the game’s top coach. Relying on a keen eye and decades of success, Harmon has been the choice of many top players looking for more tools to elevate their performance, without an intrusive overhaul in technique.

Under Harmon, Woods arguably played the greatest golf in history. A fact critics will forever associate with any step Tiger makes to improve his game. Since Harmon, Woods has engaged the services of three other coaches: Hank Haney, Sean Foley and Chris Como. Woods actually won the most Majors with Haney, none under Foley and now seems to be steadily increasing his confidence under Como. It should be noted that with Foley, Woods not too long ago earned “Player of the Year” honors. Great golf for sure, but Tiger will always be judged only by his success in majors.

Whether in golf or life, the road to success is challenging. In the world of athletic dominance, sustainability of that success is even more so. Athletes are always looking for that competitive edge. It’s in their nature. A player like Tiger Woods does nothing related to his golf game on a whim and each coaching relationship he has entered into has been wrought from intense research, planning and most of all results. He’s employed the brightest minds in the game and I guarantee, in each case, he has seen a result that got him excited about the prospect of continuing his relationship with that coach.

Still, this week Tiger Woods is currently the 125 ranked golfer in the world. Let that sink in for a moment. You might ask, how that’s even possible? Some golf analysts have argued that the greatness has been “coached out of Woods,” blaming an overly technical approach for losing his grip on what was once a sure bet to best Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship victories.

At the most basic levels you could say sustainable high-performance is rooted in emotional, physical and technical excellence. It’s clear to anyone who has followed the Tiger Woods story that he hasn’t been clicking on all cylinders in each category for some time. Perhaps most of all emotional and physical.

With so many possible and highly public reasons for Tiger’s dip in performance over the years, it’s interesting to consider why are so many pointing the finger at technology and coaching?

One thing is for certain, this debate appears to be largely based upon fear. Fear from the player’s end on possibly becoming over analytical and fear on the coaches end on the cost of keeping pace with other academies. A productive learning environment serves the player when the coach takes something that’s inherently complex and makes it simple. When used correctly technology always supports a winning environment. Bottom line, resistance comes from fear. As costs go down and coaches become more adept at infusing technology into the “Art of Play” we’ll all be in a better place than we are today.

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