Dave Eichelberger made his way through one of the larger galleries he encountered at the Houston Open last month, and, driver in hand, stood face to interface with Sportech. The R2-D2 lookalike has been a star at practice areas all along the PGA Tour this year, holding up an all-too-revealing mirror to the golf swings of amateurs and pros alike.
Eichelberger, however, was confident that he had overcome a tendency to keep too much weight on his left side during his backswing. The Texan just wanted to make sure. Alas, one swing later, Sportech showed him he had only moved 60% of his weight to his right side at the top of his swing, some 30% less than ideal. "Gawd!" wailed Eichelberger, who later missed the cut by a stroke. As the French social psychologist Gustav Le-Bon might have told him: "Science has promised us truth.... It has never promised us either peace or happiness."
Golfers, even good ones, have never been a contented group, and computers that put the impact zone on a graph might make paralysis by analysis a country-club epidemic. And yet every golfer lusts for some kind of objective way to measure just how good, or bad, his swing really is.
Playing on that weakness, Sportech provides instant and precise data on key points in the golf swing that aren't discernible to the naked eye. Designed to assist, not eliminate, the teaching pro, Sportech doesn't interpret. It cannot detect a bad grip, misalignment, overswing or any other of a number of flaws, but its creator believes it can help any player who has a teaching pro and/or a good understanding of a swing.
Sportech is the 11-year-old brainchild of John Cromarty of Old Saybrook, Conn., now 53, an amateur inventor who wanted to get rid of his slice. Encased in heavy-duty fiber glass, the 4½-foot-high computer is equipped with some 30 functions, a video display and a printer. When a golfer swings on the special platform, sensors along a two-foot mat at the bottom of the machine follow the club head through the hitting area. At the same time, scales located under each foot measure weight distribution throughout the swing.
As each swing is completed by the golfer, the computer instantly displays a graph and, if desired, a printout, that include: path of the club head away from and through the ball, relative to the target line; position of the club head during the backswing and at impact; angle of the club face at impact; and weight distribution at address, at the top of the swing and at impact.
A Sportech costs roughly $20,000. There are about 30 of the computers at golf-teaching facilities around the country now, and Cromarty expects to sell or lease no fewer than 400 by the end of the year. Cromarty says that Sportech should be available nationwide through leasing arrangements that would allow golfers to use tokens or, at private clubs, be billed after punching in a five-digit code. Cromarty suggests a rate of 40¢ a minute.
Peter Kostis, a teaching pro at the St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., uses Sportech at the Golf Digest Instructional School. While emphasizing that the computer "generally quantifies what I already know," he calls it a great practice tool that allows the student to focus on a swing goal, such as improving the shift of his weight, and get immediate feedback.
"You have to be careful how you use it," says Kostis. "The danger is for the player to get too precision-oriented and lose fluidity. But I think eventually these machines will increase what we know about the golf swing."
The richest soil for gathering such data is on the PGA Tour, where a Sportech has the blessing of commissioner Deane Beman. According to Ron Purpura, one of the teaching pros who monitor the machine on the tour, about 80% of the playing pros have used Sportech, most notably Gil Morgan, Gary Koch, Corey Pavin, J.C. Snead, Tony Sills and D.A. Weibring.
"There were a lot of Pac-Man jokes at first, but the players have finally decided that this thing doesn't lie," says Purpura. "When they're swinging well, they want to see what the readings are so they'll have an objective standard for the future."
And even when glitches appear in a golfer's swing, Sportech will remain user-friendly.