July 1, 2005 A new golf club uses motion-detection sensors and wireless technology to coach players through the use of sound. A golfer can "hear" the speed of the swing in wireless headphones, and adjust swings accordingly. Professional golfers generate the loudest, highest-pitch sounds. Most golfers say they see improvements within 15 minutes.
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The game of golf is all about physics, from gravity to the flex of the shaft. That's why a Yale physics professor is combining his expertise and love for the game to create an amazing new golf club.
Golf is all about the swing.
"You're not supposed to swing hard to get the ball far, you're supposed to control the club and yourself to hit the ball farther," says Tom Wyer, an assistant golf pro at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif.
Physicist Robert Grober has combined his professional experience with his passion for golf to create a device that offers real-time audio feedback to help you get the swing of things.
"When you can hear your motion, that turns out to be a very useful thing," says Grober, of Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
Grober's Sonic Golf Club uses motion-detection sensors and wireless technology to coach the user. When a player swings, sensors measure the speed of the club. This triggers an electrical signal picked up by wireless headphones. The player hears an orchestra of sounds from low to high pitch so they can "hear" the speed of their swing.
"It can help people make real changes in their golf swing," Grober says, "just by changing what they hear instead of telling them physically to do this or that or the other thing with their hands mechanically."
The technology can easily be inserted into any golf club. The sound is different for each person, but when professional golfers swing, they generate the loudest, highest pitch sound when hitting the ball.
Beginning golfers, like Kimberly Malasky, often create a high-pitch sound before or even after they've smacked the ball. After using the Sonic Golf Club, Malasky says, "I felt that I had more control over my swing whereas before I think my swing was more, kind of, all over the place." It's a physics lesson she hopes to take to the tee.
PGA professional Bill Greenleaf has tested the Sonic Golf Club with 40 golfers. He says 98 percent of them made a dramatic improvement in their swing within 15 minutes. The Sonic Golf Club should be available to consumers in January for about $400.
HOW IT WORKS: Robert Grober's Sonic Golf tool uses motion-detecting sensors. When a player swings the club, sensors located in the shaft send wireless signals to a small base station receiver placed a few feet away. The receiver contains a microprocessor and a sound card that unravels the signal from the sensors and converts it into an audio "soundscape" representing the various speeds of the club during the backswing and downswing. A slow swing produces soft, low-pitched notes; a fast swing produces loud, high-pitched tones. These are transmitted back to the player through a set of wireless headphones. The golfer can then adjust his or her motion to generate the sound of a perfect swing.
WHAT MAKES A PERFECT SWING: Grober collected data during initial tests with PGA players and coaches. He found that when professional golfers swing, they generate the loudest, highest-pitched sound right when they contact the ball. They also produce absolute silence at the top of the backswing before making the transition to their downswing.
This fits with what is known about the physics of a golf swing. It is an excellent example of angular motion. The swing produces a twisting force, called a torque, on the club, changing the club's speed. To get the longest drive, the key is how fast the club head is traveling at the bottom of the swing. The faster it is moving when it hits the ball, the more kinetic energy will be transferred to the ball, and the further it will travel.
Most professional golfers can reach a club head speed of 100 mph at the bottom of their swing; Tiger Woods, known for having one of the longest drives in the sport, can reach speeds as high as 125 mph. Among other key elements, Woods reaches as far back as possible at the start of the swing to extend his range of motion and give the club a greater distance over which to accelerate. He builds up the club's speed as he swings by turning his torso quickly, then drives through the ball, allowing the club head's momentum to extend his follow-through swing far around his back. The result is a long and smooth rotation of the club head.
WHAT IS BIOFEEDBACK: Biofeedback is a technique that allows people to control not just a golf swing, but also their unconscious body functions, such as breathing. The person is connected to a device via electrodes that pick up electrical signals from the body. He or she then receives audio or visual cues to indicate changes in unconscious body activities involving the muscles, skin, heart and sweat glands, among other organs. The process is often a matter of trial and error as the person learns to make adjusts to control their physiological functions.
ON THE WEB: SonicGolf.com