Monday, August 15, 2011

The journeyman does what journeymen do

It's the major tournament for journeymen, so it seemed only right that the journeyman's journeyman was doing nothing but hitting greens and making putts.

Jason Dufner, he of the quiet mien and distinctive waggle, was also leading the PGA Championship on Sunday by four strokes after a kid named Keegan Bradley tripled No. 15.

So Dufner, the guy with no career tour wins, the guy who'd missed the cut in his previous four tour events, bogies three straight holes, while Bradley, a bona fide gee-whiz kid, birdies 16, 17 and 18 to force a playoff.

As so often happens, the guy who should have won in regulation has no heart for the playoff. Dufner didn't get close to a birdie putt on 16, the first playoff hole, and Bradley made birder from closer range. There were two playoff holes to go, but it felt like it was over.

Dufner bogied 17, and it was over. Dufner managed a nice birdie putt on 18, but Bradley needed only a two-putt par to win. He got it with a two-footer, and fell into a group hug with his wife, baby and caddie.

The better known young guns were nowhere to be seen at the end ... Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler. McIlroy had a story, all right, but it didn't involve contending at the end.

The 40-somethings represented ... Jim Furyk hung around and hung around, then hit one in the water. Steve Stricker, who had a beautiful 63 in Round One, was steady as ever until he wasn't. He now holds the mantle of "best American never to have won a major." And he might be running out of time.

Keegan Bradley, with one major and counting, has got nothing but time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

News flash: Pro golfers repeat their biomechanically sound swings more consistently than amateurs

In an issue that included studies headlined “Differences in Geriatric Anthropometric Data Between DXA-Based Subject-Specific Estimates and Non-Age-Specific Traditional Regression Models,” and  other titles similarly impenetrable, the latest Journal of Applied Biomechanics found room for this one:

“Rotational Biomechanics of the Elite Golf Swing: Benchmarks for Amateurs.”

The study looked at 10 professional golfers and five amateurs. To make a short story long, I quote:

“Upper-torso rotation, pelvic rotation, X-factor (relative hip-shoulder rotation), O-factor (pelvic obliquity), S-factor (shoulder obliquity), and normalized free moment were assessed in relation to clubhead speed at impact (CSI).

“Among professional golfers, results revealed that peak free moment per kilogram, peak X-factor, and peak S-factor were highly consistent, with coefficients of variation of 6.8 percent, 7.4 percent, and 8.4 percent, respectively.

“For amateurs, the number of factors that fell outside 1–2 standard deviations of professional means increased with handicap.”

Translated into English, it says, I’m pretty sure, that pros are more consistent.

They make better swings more often. And they hit the ball farther.

Holy shit.

Now, I would never be the guy to judge any study’s findings to be thunderingly inane.

And I would never say scientists are overpaid. But any money made by the people who did this study might as well go to me. I could have reached the same conclusion (and tarted up the language some, for free) … outside the laboratory!

I could have watched Rory McIlroy on TV. I could have looked at my own swing in the mirror. I could have watched the guys I regularly play with – whose swings don’t bear much study – and told you McIlroy’s swing is smoother, faster,  more powerful – in all ways, and at all points through its arc, better.

More often.

A more valuable study would look at why an excellent college player – whose swing might be microscopically similar to a Top 10 PGA pro – never makes it on the Tour. Or why a mini-tour stud never gets through PGA Q-school.

That study would have nothing to do with biomechanics, or if it did, it would be in how the mental game trumps the physical.

I’d be interested in a biomechanical study that looks at why humans without classic pretty swings – Palmer and Trevino, say – nevertheless, at their peaks, were powerful, consistent ballstrikers.

In an indirect way, the Journal study did answer that question. It found that at key checkpoints of the swing, the positions of the hands and torsos and hips were remarkably similar among the elite players tested.

Which is to say there are only so many ways to swing a golf club, cosmetic irregularities aside, such that you generate superior clubhead speed and get the sweet spot square to the target damn near every time.

So that you hit it straighter. And farther. More often.

The study did look at how better mechanics can help prevent injuries among average Joes. That’s useful, and would have been worthy of a study by itself. But it was secondary, when published, to the revelatory finding that pros have better swings, more often, than amateurs.

The Journal’s study looked only at male golfers. If these esteemed scientists ever do study women, my hypothesis, and yeah, it’s radical, posits that women professionals will strike the ball better than women amateurs.

Furthermore, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that a female pro will make better swings more often than the average Jane.

Please tell me the check’s in the mail.