In the (tech) swing of things

golfFeature

Golf pro Michael Manavian corrects Leif Skodnick’s swing. Photographs by Bob Rozycki.

 

Around this time every year, I get restless knowing that golf season is rapidly approaching and start looking at the new clubs and balls, anxiously wondering what will improve my game.

Like most golfers, I’ve always been somewhat of an equipment junkie, buying a new driver to try and get 15 more yards off the tee or trying out new wedge shafts to get more spin on the green. The problem with my approach was that it was haphazard. I tried things out without any analysis of my swing mechanics, so while I was changing my equipment, I wasn’t necessarily optimizing it.

But on a snowy February day, I took a step toward optimizing my equipment and swing the right way, paying a visit to Michael Manavian, the golf pro at Clay DX Sports Labs in Port Chester.

Manavian, who played college golf at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., came out of college undersized for the professional game.

“I got tired of hitting fairway woods into par fours,” says Manavian, who took up bodybuilding to add muscle to his frame and distance to his game. He’s since competed as an amateur bodybuilder, as well as built a practice as a golf pro around using technology to fix golfers’ swings as well as enhance their strength and conditioning.

Manavian is a certified teacher of Stack And Tilt Golf, a swing method that has improved the games of top PGA Tour professionals such as Aaron Baddeley and 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir. The swing method is simple. It’s designed to give a player the control to hit the same spot on the ground consistently every single time, as well as to have good power and control his shot shape.

But a visit to Clay SX Sports Labs is more than just a swing lesson, because Manavian uses the unique GEARs motion-capture video system to dissect and rebuild a player’s game. If you’ve seen “Avatar” or any CGI-animated movie, it’s the same technology applied to golf.

When I got there, Manavian fitted me with the motion capture suit and my 7 iron with the little white stick-on balls. He fired up the computer and punched in the specs for my 7 iron — a Titleist AP1 with a True Temper Dynamic Gold S300 stiff shaft. The system literally has the data for hundreds of clubs and shafts and can tell you how each is performing in your hands with each swing.

So now that I was wearing the motion capture suit and the computer knew which club I was holding, I started to hit a few balls. My golf swing is mostly self-taught, as I was left to wander the fairways alone by my father, who was never able to cure a horrible slice in his teens and gave the game up entirely. I took a lesson or two in college, but for the most part have hit balls and made adjustments on my own, with varying success.

After a few swings, we looked at the video. Manavian liked what he saw, noting that I have a good foundation, and I make good shoulder and hip turns to generate power. He also noticed that I moved my head in a way that limited my turn and was costing me power and had the answer. By putting my left ear on my left shoulder as I started my backswing, I could turn my shoulders a full 20 degrees further, generating more power, club head speed and distance.

We also tinkered with my equipment. A few years ago, I changed iron sets, going to Titleist AP1s with stiff shafts because, well, I thought I swung hard enough to use them. The truth, as revealed by my session at Clay DX Sports Labs, is that the stiff shafts are OK for my game. I generate good club head speed, and the shaft responds fairly well to my swing.

But during my session, I found out that a regular flex shaft responds much better. And based on the data compiled, Manavian was able to figure out how I could optimize my irons. By switching to a regular flex shaft that is a quarter-inch shorter than standard and adjusting the lie angle (the angle between the sole of the club head and the shaft) of my irons to make it a bit flatter, I’ll hit more accurate shots.

If you’re a low-to-mid handicapper and want to build a simple, repeatable golf swing or optimize your clubs, you should visit Manavian at Clay DX Sports Labs before you hit the course this season. And because it’s located at the luxurious Clay Health Club and Spa, you can also get a workout, steam bath, sauna, massage or facial after your lesson.

For more, visit insideclay.com.

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