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FOCUS ON GOLF: PGA CHAMPIONSHIP | INSIDE THE INDUSTRY

Analyze This

Silicon Valley produces unit that can study player's swing with the help of infrared cameras, high-speed video and the Internet.

August 17, 2000|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From graphite shafts to titanium club heads to gel-filled balls, there's no escaping the technology that has invaded golf.

It's time to add another material to that growing list: Silicon, as in Silicon Valley.

A group of computer gurus from Sunnyvale got together with some golf addicts and concocted a way to use computer technology in golf. The company, Swing Solutions, and their inventions, the Golf Video Analyzer 500 and 1500, differ from other technological advances in that they focus on improving the swing rather than the equipment.

Using an array of high-tech features, including infrared cameras, high-speed video and the Internet, their products stand to revolutionize the way golfers learn the swing and the way teachers teach it.

Top golf schools such as the Jim McLean School of Golf in La Quinta, David Ledbetter School in Florida and Arnold Palmer Golf Academy jumped at the chance to use the equipment, unveiled last September at the PGA show in Las Vegas, to stay on the cutting edge of the golf instruction industry.

"It's a tremendous, tremendous way to teach," said Danny Gray, master instructor at the McLean School of Golf. "Instructors are always looking to gain an edge in what they can offer their students. With these machines, we can offer everything that is technologically available right now."

The 1500 GVA is a stationary unit that is normally housed indoors. It has five cameras that film a swing from all sides of the golfer plus an overhead shot. There is also a swing-activated infrared camera that films the ball at impact.

The large touch-screen television allows instructors to telestrate, showing the student swing planes, shaft angles and arm positions. All the information is recorded on video tape and computer. Still frames of the critical positions in the swing are also captured and printed in an eight-photo sequence.

The screen will also split, allowing the golfer's swing to be run side by side with that of the many professionals stored in the computer database.

The 500 GVA is a scaled-down unit that houses a Pentium-based computer and VCR in a portable casing. The portable version uses two cameras and does not have the ball-impact camera technology. Its advantage is that it weighs only about 50 pounds, and can be easily set up at any location.

PGA Tour player Sergio Garcia is among the professionals using the equipment. He brings a portable unit with him on the road and has the stationary unit installed in his home in Spain.

"Video is the hottest thing in teaching right now," said Jeff Brockman, a teaching professional who recently purchased the portable unit. "I can't tell you how much it helps a student to see their swing. You can tell them till they are blue in the face, but a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. This is worth 10,000 with everything else it offers."

The key, according to Swing Solutions Chief Executive Marc Matoza, is the ability to store each lesson on computer and download it to the Internet. The teacher can add notes to the still frames, and student and teacher can access the lesson at any time.

It also stores each lesson so teachers will know what they worked on in previous lessons, enabling them to avoid repetition and more closely monitor progress.

"It offers a mentoring that was previously unavailable," Matoza said. "It's hard enough to find a good coach and stay in touch with a good coach. With the aid of the Internet, we've made it easier."

Some would like to see it made easier. Because the portable unit costs about $10,000, it is not practical for individuals to purchase. Bobby Lasken, a teaching professional in Buena Park, has several students on college teams that can't always come in for lessons.

He is awaiting the technology that enables those students to tape their swings and put them on the Internet for Lasken to analyze.

"The Swing Solutions product is pretty incredible technology for teaching," Lasken said. "But in my situation, it's not something I'm ready to invest in right now."

Lasken, who uses a complex video analysis system in his teaching center, said another disadvantage is that Swing Solutions may actually be too far advanced.

"It takes a long time to download swings on the Internet," Lasken said. "The high-speed connections are available, but not too many people have them. There aren't too many people that don't have a VCR."

Personal technology is on the way, according to Matoza. He plans to unveil a unit designed for home use at the next PGA show in October. It will retail for about $2,000.

"We have a lot of technology in the works," Matoza said. "We have more technology than any company in the industry because we are in the middle of the Silicon Valley."

Other plans include putting the units in hotel and corporate training facilities so golfers can get in lessons on their lunch breaks or after long business meetings on the road.

"We will provide the ability for remote golf lessons," Matoza said. "If you are looking for where golf lessons and mentoring are headed, this is it."

Gray said employing this type of computerized technology will be essential for any instructor to remain competitive in swing instruction.

"Just like the teachers who aren't using video now," he said. "I don't think I could give a lesson without video. This is definitely going to be a requirement to compete in this business at the higher levels."

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