Game improvement

golf-techAs a society, we spend prodigious amounts of leisure time playing computer games, browsing the web, and participating in other tech-infused activities.

But what about improving our skills through technology? The answer is that the possibilities are extensive and getting better all the time.

For me, if I’m not working (or wasting time) online, I’m probably watching a movie, playing guitar, or attempting to improve my golf game. That last pursuit is today’s topic.

For the uninitiated among you, golf is not just a game. For some of us, it becomes an obsession, filled in equal parts with frustration and sheer delight. OK, that “equal parts” expression is not quite accurate. It’s more like 90% frustration, and 10% sheer delight.

But we digress. Given the amount of frustration, you ask, why on earth would anyone pursue golf as a pastime? And what does this pursuit have to do with technology? Good questions. I’ll try to answer the second question here. As for the first question, that’s a personal matter left to serious soul searching.

Becoming competent

In golf, it’s said that practice makes permanent, not necessarily perfect. So, if you are practicing bad technique, it will become fully ingrained. That’s where the 90% frustration comes from in my humble opinion.

golf-practiceAnd it’s probably why recreational golf is increasingly less popular, and the golf industry is suffering.

People who want to play golf realize, sooner or later, that they have to really commit to it. Otherwise, why bother? There are much cheaper, faster, and less frustrating ways to have fun.

So, what does commitment mean, and how does a person become a competent golfer? According to this article, only 20% of golfers break 100 after a round (18 holes) of golf. So, it’s fair to say that a competent recreational golfer should be able to approach that score on a regular basis.

The most obvious approach to game improvement is to take golf lessons. If you’ve ever taken a lesson, you’ve likely had the instructor capture your swing on video and provide an analysis. It’s a helpful way to visualize the techniques being taught, and how far afield your swing is from those techniques.

While you can learn from a video analysis, the problem is that the insights gained are fleeting, and you tend to gravitate back to your old (bad) habits.

You can always take more lessons, but they are expensive.

Tools to improve

What’s the alternative? Assuming you’ve had a lesson or two, are reasonably coordinated, and know a little something about the rules, etiquette, and techniques of golf, there are other ways to improve your game.

golf-toolsWith apps available for your computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can gain critical insights to your swing flaws, and learn to practice intelligently to correct those flaws.

Other than the investment of your time, improving your golf game can be fairly inexpensive, which is always a bonus.

Although a cursory search of the various platform’s app stores will yield multiple golf apps, two that I’ve settled on to improve my game are:

  • Swing-It—This is a video analysis tool available on the Mac App Store. It costs $30, but is well worth it. You can take videos of your golf swing on your tablet or smartphone, and import them to the Swing-It app on your Mac. (I don’t know if there’s a Windows version available, but I would guess there is.)
  • Golfshot—This is a GPS tracker, score and statistics app that runs on most smartphones. I use it on my iPhone and Apple Watch while playing golf to see distances from my ball to my target. Virtually all golf courses in the world are GPS-mapped, and Golfshot users have access to these maps.

Swing-It

During the few lessons that I’ve had over the years, the video analysis of my swing was very helpful. The golf instructor would videotape my swing, download the video to a PC in his studio, and then open the video in an application.

I’m not sure what the application was, but it had drawing tools that enabled the instructor to overlay lines, boxes, arrows, and other graphics to illustrate my spine angle, my address, and my club head position at various stages of my swing. He also was able to show me a side-by-side comparison of my swing next to a golf pro’s swing. I remember thinking at the time (so long ago) that if I had such a tool, I could improve my game quickly.

Some years later, I discovered Swing-It. It offered many of the same capabilities that the instructor’s application had.

swing-it-full

I bought my own digital video camera to capture multiple takes of my swing, uploaded them to Swing-It, and started doing my own analysis. I’ve done this every year since, usually at the beginning of, and periodically during, the golf season.

I’ve since retired the digital video camera, and now use my iPhone 6s Plus to capture high-res video. It’s much faster and easier to upload the iPhone video to my Mac and into Swing-It.

Whenever I feel like my swing is going off the rails, I use Swing-It to take a look. I can take video of my swing from the side and from behind, check my alignment, posture, spine angle, swing positions, and moment of truth (when club head meets ball).

Golf is really a game of fractions of an inch. If any factor is slightly off, it can mean the difference between hitting the ball straight versus 20 yards offline.

With a half-hour video session and Swing-It, I’m usually able to detect and correct flaws, and get back on track.

Golfshot Plus

By smartphone app standards, Golfshot Plus was expensive: $20. But I knew that I wanted a GPS tracker for golf courses, and also an app that would enable me to keep my statistics across all the rounds I played.

golfshot-screens

Golfshot has delivered. During play, after teeing off, I can locate my ball and see a satellite view of the targets in front of me and their various yardages. Distances to the front, middle, and back of greens are displayed. I can move the locator right on the screen to see distances to hazards (sand traps, water hazards) and possible layup targets. The information helps to ensure that I choose the right club for my next shot.

As my round progresses, I keep track of my score, the clubs used, the types of shots, number of putts, and other statistics. All this data is stored in Golfshot, and can be aggregated across multiple rounds to  spot trends, areas of improvement, areas I need to work on at the range, and so on.

Knowledge is power

Golfshot also calculates my golf handicap, a statistic that is critical to measuring the extent to which I’m improving. Over time, I can see my progress, and as the saying goes, knowledge is power.

knowledge-is-powerSo what’s the verdict? I started using these tools about six years into my golfing career. At the time, I had joined a golf league and, over numerous rounds, my calculated golf handicap was at 25. I was regularly shooting at or near 100 on a regular basis, but I just couldn’t seem to improve much beyond what I considered to be a barely competent level.

In the last five years, since I began using Golfshot and Swing-It, my handicap has improved to 15.2. I regularly score in the high-80s, low-90s, and my best score, which I’ve shot twice, is 82.

Still lots of room for improvement, but not bad for a weekend golfer. I know my swing much better now than I ever did. When I start playing badly, I can usually self-diagnose and make swing adjustments along the way. But if not, it’s back to statistics and video analysis. And then back out to the practice range.

Better-informed practice makes perfect. That’s the theory, anyway.

jim-golf

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