July 12, 2006
Most people know how a good golf swing looks, but what does it sound like? Robert Grober wanted to find out. The Yale University professor of applied physics, speaking before a crowd of golf enthusiasts Wednesday at Paepcke Auditorium, discussed his new creation. Grober’s Sonic Golf club uses real-time audio feedback to help golfers of all levels understand the tempo, timing and rhythm of their swings.”If I was to tell you this is about more than making me a great golfer, I’d be lying,” Grober joked. “There’s a lot about the golf swing that you can hear that you’d have no other way of understanding.”Grober’s sonic club has two accelerometers – similar to those in car airbags – embedded in the shaft. At the core is a microprocessor, as well as a wireless messaging device. The microprocessor associates the velocity of the club with a certain sound; the higher the velocity, the higher the pitch, and vice versa. The wireless messaging device provides instant feedback to the golfer via a set of headphones or speaker system.
Lessons primarily revolve around taping a student’s swing and providing analysis after the fact, Grober said. Using this device, golfers receive instant feedback. They can hear when they’re swinging the club fastest relative to the ball and adjust accordingly. On a driving range or out on the course, they can hear what a good shot sounds like, and replicate it.The data is also displayed on a computer. There, the golfer can analyze the length of the back- and downswings, the forces and club speed for comparison with the data from pro golfers Grober has worked with during the past year and a half during his product’s trial phase, he said. The chart of PGA tour veteran Pat McGowan, whom Grober nicknamed a “walking, talking, breathing metronome,” showed an uncanny amount of consistency from swing to swing.The system also allows for archival storage, which aids in comparing different swings over a extended period of time.Grober, who aspired to be a golf pro before delving into physics, wanted to develop numbers and figures that were not meaningless, useless or confusing to the average golfer, he said. He worked to create a learning tool that delivered simple feedback for easy interpretation.
“If one listens to their swing, can they improve it? The answer is yes,” he said. “To tell a beginner that golf swing has rhythm is news to them. For everybody, even if they’re not a tour pro, just being consistent is very useful.”When Grober set up a demonstration in June at the Buick Championships in Cromwell, Conn., his clubs garnered a lot of interest. Instead of a traditional lesson in which one person receives instruction, as many as 50 people were listening to the clubs, Grober recalled. While each individual’s swing path is unique, hearing the correct tempo is something to which everyone can relate.”When regular golfers hear their swings, it changes things in dramatic fashion very quickly,” Grober said. “You have to explore for your self and learn what works best.”The Sonic Golf club drew in European tour players, who often suffer from jet lag and often take days to find their rhythm, with its ability to “click them in” to their tempo more efficiently. Grober has tested his clubs with PGA professionals and their students throughout the country, from Maui to Southern California and Florida.
Audience members, too, had the chance to test out Grober’s clubs Wednesday. One man began to experience results after just three swings; he fixed his tendency to lunge forward on the downswing by pausing at the top of his backswing; the new tempo strengthened the base of his legs, which in turn created a much more forceful swing. Others worked on increasing the speed of their clubs before impact to generate more distance.Grober uses the club to increase his efficiency by pinpointing swing glitches, as evidenced by small changes in pitch. When he finds time to play consistently, Grober is a scratch golfer. “Not bad for a physicist,” he joked.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org