News & Opinion

High-tech gear helps golfers get grounded

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

By Gary Van Sickle

It was going to be ugly, but I did it anyway. I put on a pair of IOFIT Smart Shoes to make a golf swing so sensors in those shoes could map the weight shift, pressure points and energy exchange in my feet during the shot. 

Afterward, I watched the graphic representation of what was going on with my feet. It looked like a weather radar on the table. Green was the color of my feet at rest. As pressure points arose, the colors turned yellow, orange and red. It was a lot like watching a storm approach on the Weather Channel, except this storm looked awkward and slow and burped yellow at inappropriate places.

As expected, IOFIT’s data showed my weight transfer was lousy and inefficient. 

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COURTESY OF IOFIT
IOFIT Smart Shoes collect data on pressure distribution, center of pressure and balance.

COURTESY OF IOFIT
IOFIT Smart Shoes collect data on pressure distribution, center of pressure and balance.

I suspected as much, but now I had the numbers to prove it.

Ground technology is a fairly new science for golf. While it sounds like a FedEx delivery system, ground technology consists of data used to analyze and decipher how golfers use their feet and legs to swing a club and generate power.

Remember the old basketball coach who used to say that you shoot free throws with your legs? Ground technology proves that you swing a golf club with your legs, too.

IOFIT (www.iofitshoes.com) is part of Salted Venture, a company spun off by Samsung Electronics. IOFIT uses sensors in its Smart Shoes soles to collect data on pressure distribution, center of pressure and balance. You have to buy pricy shoes ($359-$399) to access the technology, which is delivered to your phone or mobile device, but you can play golf in them and get data on every shot. Even if you don’t want any data, hey, you’ve got a nice pair of golf shoes.

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COURTESY OF BODITRAK
BodiTrak uses a high-tech mat made of fiber sensors to measure vertical force, center of pressure and CoP velocity.

COURTESY OF BODITRAK
BodiTrak uses a high-tech mat made of fiber sensors to measure vertical force, center of pressure and CoP velocity.

Another option is BodiTrak, which uses a high-tech mat made of fiber sensors. The basic mat, about 2 feet by 3 feet, is portable, can be used in a bunker or on a green and has a USB port that also serves as a battery. It sells for $2,500 to $3,200, depending on the model. BodiTrak (www.boditraksports.com) is the experienced veteran in this field, even though it has been around for four years.

Ground technology has two important parts. One is getting the data. The second is figuring out what to do with it. BodiTrak measures vertical force, center of pressure (CoP) and CoP velocity in its overall ground reaction-force analysis.

“Force and pressure data reflects every move you make with your body and the club,” said Ben Salisbury, BodiTrak’s marketing director. “This was previously technology reserved for research-grade applications. Now, it’s accessible for instructors.

“One thing we see in great ballstrikers: they start to build pressure under their lead foot earlier than most amateurs. They start their swing transition with the lower body before the actual downswing is initiated.”

Noted instructor Jim McLean wrote “The X Factor” as a Golf Magazine cover story in 1992 about the importance of the lower body and footwork in the swing. 

“The BodiTrak mat is changing the face of teaching across the world,” McLean said. “Some teachers have been trying to keep the [student’s] weight left or say there’s no weight transfer in the golf swing, but BodiTrak and other pressure mats have proved that there is weight transfer, and you can see it clearly.”

That transition and how the body reacts to create power is what McLean calls the “key move in golf.”

Salisbury said it’s exciting to get this technology in McLean’s hands. “It validates what his instincts have told him for the last 30 years.”

The numbers tell the story. BodiTrak found that a typical PGA Tour player loads about 80 percent of his pressure on the back (or trailing) foot on the backswing and gets to 80 percent on his front (or leading) foot before impact (although some reverse from there). Jason Day, for instance, measured at 95 percent loaded on his trailing foot.

“It’s hard to tell someone to do what Justin Thomas or Bubba Watson do,” Salisbury said, “but both of them use their natural athleticism, especially explosiveness in their lower bodies, to generate clubhead speed.

“If I had to pick a favorite case study for ground interaction, it’d be Justin Thomas. He pushes hard against the ground to orient his body so he can hit up on the ball. He also pushes against the ground to generate speed. I don’t think his dad taught him that. It’s just a product of Justin being a natural athlete.”

BodiTrak has partnered with noted golf researchers such as Sasho MacKenzie, Mark Blackburn and TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) to gain insight from its data and ascertain how best to apply it. Salisbury estimates that two dozen PGA Tour players own BodiTrak mats.

Perhaps the best thing about BodiTrak, besides its meticulous data, is the way it provides support and educational tools for its users. On its website, BodiTrak has a wealth of information about understanding ground technology and how to use it in golf, in addition to a market-leading online learning and certification platform. One video features PGA Tour player Kevin Chappell getting his center of pressure analyzed on a BodiTrak mat. In another, Chappell and Tiger Woods talk lower-body power at a clinic. Other videos include an analysis of Sergio Garcia’s footwork and Rory McIlroy discussing how to use the lower body to create the perfect drive. 

“This science is so much more established than it was two years ago,” Salisbury said. “The demand is there from instructors if they have room in their budgets. We’ve seen massive acceleration of people using this and understanding it. Ultimately, force and pressure data will be ubiquitous in teaching.”

How is your golf ground game? With this new data, now you can find out.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle