St. Mary’s College golf team maintains high-tech edge
By Lou Fancher
Saint Mary’s College in Moraga has acquired new technology for its golf team, the same kind that is used by professional players on the PGA Tour and increasingly by college teams in the Bay Area.
The college obtained its first $25,000 model of TrackMan 4 last November. The laptop-sized TrackMan 4 is a device that stands innocuously on a driving range and gathers club swing and ball dynamics with dual, high-resolution radar beams. The technology feeds data with video overlays to digital devices from TrackMan’s HD camera.
“We were falling behind, technology-wise,” says head coach Scott Hardy, a 1998 SMC graduate who grew up in Concord. “We’d go to tournaments and see 10 other teams with it. Stanford, Cal, others — they had them.”
Hardy, while playing four seasons with the Gaels, was a team captain and an honorable mention all-WCC selection in 1999. He continues to be a top-ranked Northern California Golf Association amateur. During his eight years as head coach at SMC, the team has set first-ever team and player records and sent golfers to the NCAA Tournament field for the past four years.
Acquiring the TrackMan, Hardy says, helps not only current players but recruiting efforts too.
“Prospective players ask if we have TrackMan. Prior to now, we used FlightScope, but you have to plug it in, and it’s not wireless.”
FlightScope tracks only a ball’s first 30-40 feet trajectory, then extrapolates the rest of the path based on mathematical formulas.
“TrackMan will go as far as you can hit it: these guys will fly a driver over 300 yards, and it gets it all,” says Hardy.
As training becomes increasingly athletic and club design more aerodynamic, players have gained upper body strength and their swings have sped up, increasing from 100 mph to 120 mph in some cases.
“You can look at position, angle and location of the club in fundamental swings. There are similarities to players’ setup, head movement, body posture. But now, the swings are so fast you can’t really see the details with a human eye,” Hardy says.
This is where TrackMan excels. Pav Sagoo, a 22-year-old senior with a plus-3 index was struggling with his 3-wood a few months ago.
“My swing was going slightly to the left. We looked at the numbers and my baseline, and it showed us that all we had to do was move the ball a little. That fixed it. It wasn’t even my swing that had to change. It was ball positioning.”
Connor Blick, 22, uses TrackMan data that comes directly to his phone to dial in to specific yardages.
“I’ve developed a feel for specifics, like what 70 yards feels like versus 73. I’ve gained control.”
Hardy applies TrackMan most often for one of three purposes: club fitting, swing analysis and a test center challenge. To maximize each player’s potential, he uses data to match the best driver head to a player’s spin rate and launch angle. He finds that TrackMan’s high-speed swing analysis capabilities eliminate guesswork.
“You can show them why they’re hitting the shots. I’ve been doing this 18 years, and a lot of times I feel I can tell them what the machine tells them. But this is actual proof, and, especially for this digital generation, it cements anything I say. They may not feel it, but when they see the numbers it validates everything.”
Even so, golf is a sport often described as more mental than physical. TrackMan helps in this aspect by reducing the trial and error needed to fix swing problems before a player’s self-doubt and impatience creep from low irritation to full-blown anxiety. Hardy’s third application, the test center that sets targets at specific ranges and combines shot outcomes into an aggregate score, points out player weaknesses and strengths with objective, balanced feedback.
Nevertheless, the system is not a panacea, nor does it produce a high-level competitor, insist Sagoo and Blick.
“Human input has taught me to manage emotions on the course, to ease up, that each round brings its adversities,” Sagoo says. “Dealing with that is something that without human input I wouldn’t have been able to change just using technology.”
Blick says Hardy and a swing coach he works with know his tendencies, attitude and history.
“A machine doesn’t know where you might fall into old patterns. A coach can say, “You’re going to old habits, I see it with my eye. Here’s your new, good habit. Go to that. … A coach provides emotional support. I don’t think that will ever be replaced, honestly.”