Using Sound to Improve Your Swing

If I asked students who take my golf lessons how critical good rhythm is to a good swing, most would agree that it’s important, but not the most important factor. Many weekend golfers would probably agree with this assessment. But a new device developed by a professor at Yale reveals that good rhythm is more important to chopping strokes off your golf handicap than many think.

Bob Grober, a professor of applied physics at Yale University-and a one-handicapper- recently invented a device for translating the rhythm of a swing into sound. Here’s how it works: A small wireless transmitter inserted into the butt end of a club detects the club’s movement. The signal produced is transmitted to an iPod-sized unit attached to the player’s waist. The auditory signal is relayed to a set of lightweight headphones and the sound manifests itself as a pleasing organ-like tone when the player swings.

If your clubhead is decelerating through impact, your transition from backswing to downswing is too abrupt, or your mechanics are way out of sync, Grober’s device tells you through sound. The faster the club travels, the louder the volume and the pitch. The idea is to make the loudest sound at impact, not before. Grober’s device also registers how fast the club is moving on the downswing, and gives you a start-to-finish speed profile. It’s a handy tool for serious golfers.

Swing Profiles
Using this device, Grober was able to isolate three distinct speed profiles among golfers.
Golfers with high golf handicaps (20+) are cursed with lousy rhythm. They’re like dancers who have two left feet, always tripping over themselves. Golfers with golf handicaps from 20 to 5-intermediate golfers- tend to complete their swings too quickly. The loudest sound comes just before impact.

Then there are golfers with golf handicaps below 5. Let’s call them tour players. They also tend to rush their swings but to a much lesser degree than intermediate golfers. Like the intermediate golfers, these players create the loudest sounds just before impact, but they do it much less often than with the intermediate golfers. More often than not, their loudest sound comes right at impact, which explains why they hit the ball so well.

Improving Rhythm
The best swing according to Grober contains a brief period when the club is hardly moving at all while the lower body begins to clear out. Unfortunately, weekend golfers tend to hurry the transition from backswing to downswing. That disrupts the player’s rhythm and throws off his or her swing at impact. So the loudest sound comes just before, not at, impact.

The professor’s device doesn’t tell us anything new about swinging a golf club. It just reaffirms what we’ve suspected all along regarding the rhythm of the swing: That it’s one of the keys to hitting a ball well, if not the key. So how can you take advantage of this information?

First, relax your hands at address. If they’re tense or tight, the rest of your body will be tense. Whenever Johnny Bench, the great baseball player, wanted to hit the ball for distance, the first thing he did was lighten up on his grip. That relaxed his hands and his arms and body.

Second, work on swinging to a beat. Pace yourself when you practice. Think of your swing as a one-two motion. One is your backswing. Two is your downswing. You can even say something like “one-two” during the swing. “Back and through,” “low and slow,” or “turn and turn” also work.

Third, practice swinging with your eyes closed. By swinging with your eyes closed, you can feel the weight of the club and sense its speed gradually accelerating from the top of your swing all the way through to a controlled finish. Once you’ve mastered that, re-create the swing on the course. If successful, you’ll see your consistency improve and your bad shots diminish.

Most golf instruction sessions focus on the mechanics of the swing, not the “intangibles,” like rhythm and tempo. But as professor Grober’s device reveals through analysis of sound, the intangibles are just important as good mechanics, if not more important. If you want to become more consistent and cut your golf handicap down to size, focus on improving both the mechanics and the intangibles.

Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Moorehouse