Teaching, technology team up to improve golf swings

Jennifer Cruden
December 04, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Golf professionals and enthusiasts around the world now have unprecedented access to advanced technologies available at the Penn State Golf Teaching and Research Center (GTRC) through a new online course offered by the PGA Professional Golf Management program.

“Golf instruction and sport performance is moving more toward intelligent technologies that allows us to understand more through conducting research and then using those findings to collaborate with coaches and instructors to help their athletes perform at a higher level,” said Eric Handley, GTRC director and PGM senior instructor.

Golf professionals, instructors and coaches who visited the GTRC requested greater access to the expertise and technologies the GTRC could provide, leading to the new course. Biomechanics of Golf, an online, non-credit course, opens up the expertise available in the GTRC and input from faculty who are part of the accredited PGA Golf Management program in a format accessible to students anywhere through Penn State Outreach and Online Education.

The GTRC features demonstrated 3-D motion capture technologies, which collect detailed, quantifiable data of a golfer's swing. Through the tool, the center is able to analyze and evaluate with a greater level of detail, communicate more effectively with the golfer, and conduct golf biomechanics research.

“Instructing and coaching golf used to simply be trial and error for coaches and instructors and a particular technique may or may not lead to a golfer’s desired shot,” said Handley. “With the GTRC, we can take a look at the movements of a golfer and understand what is taking place and not taking place and why based on science.”

Handley, along with co-instructor Mike Duffey, a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology and GTRC biomechanist, and guest instructor Robert Neal, CEO and founder of Golf BioDynamics, review how biomechanics has evolved in golf; how instructors and golfers can use motion analysis equipment; how to review, use and interact with a golfer using 3-D models; and swing analysis, from position to velocity to quality of a swing.

“All of our lives have been changed by technology, and golf is no exception,” Duffey said. “We want our students to interact, experience it and apply it.”

The inaugural section of the 12-week course launched in October. A second section will begin Feb. 8. The online course material is combined with live sessions led by Handley and Duffey.

The course is open to anyone interested in learning more about golf swings and has access to the Internet. Students enrolled in the inaugural section of the course are typically assistant and head golf professionals, directors and instructors of golf, coaches and avid golfers. They live across the United States and in Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, Italy and New Zealand.

One of those students is John Dunigan, a PGA Master Professional and director of coaching at White Manor Country Club in Malvern, Pennsylvania, where he focuses mainly on competitive golfers and uses technology often when assessing and improving golfers’ performance.

Specifically, Dunigan is heavily involved with 3-D motion analysis and sits on the K-Vest advisory board. K-Vest is a 3-D motion analysis tool.

“My goal is to use technology to help me deliver the simplest form of coaching cues I can to aid student learning and retention,” Dunigan said. “I have visited Mike Duffey and Eric Handley at the Penn State GTRC several times to learn from the experts. The team’s desire to get golf professionals up to speed with golf swing analysis and help us learn what really counts in a golf swing is something I think will help the entire profession.”

As a daily 3-D user, Dunigan plans to immediately apply the material from the course.

“I am sure I will have a few more tools in my toolbox by the end of the program,” Dunigan said. “I am very excited about the prospect of an advanced program that will take me further down the road to excellence.”

Fellow student Harry A. Brandt, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, is head of the eating disorders program at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Towson, Maryland, and chief of psychiatry at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. He has also focused on the psychological aspects of sports performance in elite athletes.

As an avid amateur golfer, Brandt has a passion for understanding what factors lead to enhanced power and accuracy in the golf swing.

“I view the golf swing as a complicated puzzle. I enjoy using my background in clinical medicine and research to try and understand more about the myriad of factors involved in hitting a golf ball in a powerful and repeatable manner,” Brandt said. “I hope the course will provide new insights that lead me a step closer to solving the elusive puzzle of the golf swing. I also hope to couple my understanding of psychological factors in sports performance with a fuller appreciation of biomechanical principles.”

Brandt appreciates the quality of content, the credibility of the instructors and the flexibility of an online course.

“The faculty members for the Penn State course are superb leaders in golf biomechanics. The opportunity to study with them in this setting is indeed very exciting. The online materials are well researched and presented in a cogent and understandable format,” Brandt said. “I’ve been particularly impressed with the interactive nature of the materials. Obviously, the professors have worked very hard to make the course interesting and enjoyable, too. Being able to work at my own pace has made it possible to fit the course into my schedule.

The course is the result of a collaborative effort at Penn State, including Penn State Professional and Community Education and WPSU Penn State, both divisions of Outreach and Online Education, and the Outreach Office in the College of Health and Human Development. 

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Last Updated January 26, 2016