Walk on most practice tees today and the random lesson being given won’t look much different from one you might have seen in 1970 or 1990. The teacher might be using a camera—or an iPhone—to record some video, but other than that, the paradigm is remarkably similar to how players took lessons when they were swinging woods that were actually made of wood.
Shaun Webb is giving Robert Hall a different kind of lesson.
Webb, the director of instruction at the David Toms Academy 265 in Shreveport, La., certainly spends time watching Hall stripe balls onto the tour-caliber 400-yard range. But the twosome will spend just as much time in a squat building on the other side of the property. Here, they can utilize two pieces of technology that are redefining the learning experience: a golf robot and a three-dimensional motion-capture system.
How good could you get with unlimited resources? There’s a growing contingent of teachers and students attempting to hack the learning process in just this manner.
Forget the hourlong, once-a-month tuneup. Hall is getting an “extreme lesson.”
This is Extreme Coaching – Can you handle an 8 Hour Lesson?
Hall, 59, has been mostly self-taught since age 9. Sick of his plateaued game, the 10-handicapper decided to commit to a comprehensive lesson program. When he saw a Golf Channel telecast highlighting the David Toms academy as one of a handful of places in North America to have a $150,000 RoboGolfPro, he called to book a full day of lessons. Then the industrial-equipment executive flew his plane to Shreveport.
“Once I got there, it took about 10 shots for me to know that I’d made the right decision,” Halls says. “I had never had a lesson with any kind of technology. It proved to me that I’ll get better faster if I commit to the building of the foundation. It gives you hope that you can get better. That’s what gets you out of bed every day.”
The RoboGolfPro looks like an automated paint sprayer working the line at a Chevrolet plant—a sort of thickset Iron Byron.
A golfer will stand across from the machine and hold a shortened club that extends from its hinged mechanical arm. A teacher can then program any kind of swing pattern and set it for any speed—from slow-motion to PGA Tour-quick. The student must hold on and move in response to the club’s motion. If you want a sense for what Ben Hogan’s downswing felt like, this is the only way.
Hall was intrigued, but it was the GEARS 3-D motion-capture system that led to his quickest initial transformation. To get started, Hall had to dress in a suit covered with 26 sensors and hit shots before an array of eight high-speed cameras. This created an animated, three-dimensional rendering of Hall and his swing on a large screen, offering him a detailed look from any conceivable angle.
With the aid of this rendering, Webb helped Hall change his hip tilt and improve what had been a too-steep attack angle.
“My ball flight improved immediately,” Hall said after that first three-hour session.
“When you can use something like 3-D or biofeedback, it gives the player more than just words,” says Webb, who works for Toms at the academy and as swing coach to the major champion. “A player can get a feeling faster, and feelings are what translate into swing changes.”