GolfTEC’s Groundbreaking Study Shows Why You Aren’t a Pro Golfer

GolfTEC has spent the past 21 years collecting and storing motion measurement data from more than 90 million golf swings and six million lessons. With the SwingTRU Motion Study, presented publicly in April, the company released the analysis of those findings, indicating how they’re turning Big Data into big results for their students —  students who are dropping an average of seven strokes over the course of their lessons.

In broadest terms, crunching the data from the SwingTRU study identified six specific swing positions that correlate strongly to improvement: areas in which there are marked differences between elite amateurs/professionals and higher-handicap golfers. These include hip sway at the top of the swing, shoulder tilt at the top of the swing, hip sway at impact, hip turn at impact, shoulder tilt at impact and shoulder bend at the finish of the swing.

Of course, it’s important to mention that, for GolfTEC instructors, the positions and where individual students fit are merely references and points of departure in the course of a series of lessons. Here’s one of the six swing positions, hip turn at impact, highlighting the difference between high-handicapper and professional golfers at that moment in the golf swing.

GolfTEC-SwingTru-1The wealth of data from the largest-ever, fact-based study of golfers’ swings is staggering, and from an application standpoint, we’re just seeing the “tip of the iceberg,” says GolfTEC CEO Joe Assell. To learn more about the study, I spoke with Nick Clearwater, Senior Director of Instruction for the Centennial, Colorado-based company.

BA: How do you describe the study in a nutshell to a layman?

NC: The best way to describe the SwingTRU Motion Study is that it is the most fact-based analysis of the golf swing ever conducted. That is obviously a bold statement, but we say it because it is the first and only example of Big Data being applied to analyze the golf swing. What it proved was that there are specific body positions within the swing that directly correlate to handicap level and play a key role in improving distance, accuracy and consistent contact. In other words, the best players in the world routinely position their bodies in a very precise way, and the further golfers deviate from these positions, the higher their handicaps tend to be. While we will likely unveil additional findings from the study over time, the initial roll-out highlights six of these positions.

By understanding the specific movements correlated to swing and scoring success, it allows GolfTEC coaches to focus on those key motion elements that are proven to have the greatest impact on improvement. Essentially, we’re taking the guess work and theory out of instruction and focusing on just the facts.

[Clearwater indicated that for frequently asked questions and highlights with actual students, visit www.golftec.com/SwingTRU.]

BA: How was it done?

NC: Over the past 21 years, GolfTEC has collected and stored motion measurement data on more than 90 million golf swings, captured during more than six million lessons since 1995. In total, we’ve archived more than 225 terabytes of data, which is roughly equivalent to the entire library of iTunes HD movies. For the SwingTRU study, a statistically significant slice of this accumulated data was examined to learn the differences between how golfers of all handicaps – from tour players to aspiring students and beginners – move throughout the swing. Once we started diving into the data, which was about two years ago, we discovered patterns in how professionals and elite amateurs use their bodies as compared to higher-handicap golfers.

In terms of actually capturing and storing the motion data, we utilized our proprietary teaching technology that includes electromagnetic sensors strategically placed on the student to measure incredibly detailed movements in a three-dimensional space. In fact, the Polhemus® PATRIOT Digitizer that we use to capture pinpoint data of the golfer’s movement is the same electromagnetic technology the U.S. Olympic Committee has relied on to improve athlete performance.

BA: This doesn’t lead to a dreaded “method teaching” approach though, right?

NC: The phrase “method teaching” is often defined as instructing golfers to all swing the same regardless of their own unique problems. GolfTEC coaches always treat each individual golfer uniquely; we do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. This study simply does what no one else in golf can, which is use a large sample of golfers to compare how the average player at every handicap level moves their body relative to the average player you may see on the PGA Tour.

These findings are a tremendous resource for golfers that struggle with their own games. Simply understanding the six concepts outlined in this first version of the study would be a great way to begin learning the game, and also a great starting point for an experienced golfer wanting to get past a plateau in their improvement.

BA: What’s the application for the average golfer visiting GolfTEC? 

NC: The SwingTRU Motion Study reinforces that every golfer should have their swing measured. Without those objective measurements, the average golfer may be severely missing the opportunity to lower their scores by assuming or guessing at what part of their swing needs work. GolfTEC coaches measure every client and use those motion measurements to solve the client’s individual golf problems.

Simply put, if you are the average golfer who wants to get better at the game, the very best initial step you can take is getting your swing measurements and comparing them to the swing measurements of the best golfers on the planet. That comparison will then give you a factual analysis for solving problems that ail your game (with your GolfTEC coach helping you every step of the way).

BA: Can you identify a few surprising/interesting/relevant findings? 

NC: We believe many of these motion measurements will surprise golfers and instructors, which will go a long way to help to eliminate bad advice and common misinterpretations of the golf swing. For example, the commonly taught idea that the hips should move away from the target in the backswing to load “behind” the ball is a direct contradiction to the results found in the SwingTRU Motion Study. Professional golfers were found to move their hips more toward the target at the top of the swing than high handicappers.

Another example is how many less-skilled golfers make backswings without tilting their shoulders toward the ground because they’ve been told to keep their shoulders level during the backswing, or perhaps just don’t know any better. This directly contradicts what the best players do according to our study, which is quantified by measuring the average degrees of shoulder tilt in relation to skill level. A 30-handicap, in this case, tilts their shoulders 25 degrees at the top of the backswing, while a professional golfer tilts their shoulders 36 degrees.

These are just two examples of how the findings from the study can not only help to pinpoint an ideal starting block for improvement, but also help to dispel grossly misinterpreted information which has been taught and consumed for many years.