January 6th, 2017

What Golf Swing Research Can Tell Us

What Golf Swing Research can – and cannot – tell us

  • What is golf swing research, where can you find any?
  • How should you know whether to use the information contained or take it with a pinch of salt?
  • Will your golf game improve with this information?
The best place to find golf related research is at scholar.google.com. Simply type in golf swing, uncheck “include patents” and “include citations” and about 46,400 results will show up. That just goes to show that a lot of people have done research on some aspect of the golf swing. So how should the casual reader interested in knowing more about which research studies might make interesting reading or which swing concepts to apply to their own swings or indeed which studies to take with a pinch of salt? googlescholar Start with a search term which can narrow down the topic, for instance, golf swing biomechanics. Now only 4870 entries appear. The best thing about the google scholar search engine is that many complete research papers are available and do not have to be purchased. Let’s pick one paper  to better understand what good research design involves and understand whether a particular study has information worth incorporating into one’s golf swing or has suggestions for what not to do to. The third hit from the top is titled “The relationship between biomechanical variables and driving performance during the golf swing”, and is freely available as a pdf document. The first few things to look for are how recent is the paper is and which journal it is published in. The ABSTRACT gives an excellent starting point for a reader wishing to know whether the paper is of interest. The next section is the INTRODUCTION. In its final paragraph may be seen the researchers’ question, which they base on the gaps in existing research conducted by others on the same subject. In this paragraph the authors might also state their hypothesis or what they expect their results to reveal. Any “exploratory” study such as the current one might not have a hypothesis. Our chosen paper claims that the authors will look for the key factors among many variables measured during the golf swing which relate to golf ball speed. Next comes the METHODS section. Here it is important to find out how many participants were used for the study. Many golf studies have small “sample sizes” so that they are really not applicable to the general population but only to a few specific people. In order for a research study to “generalize their findings” they should have a large enough number of participants. Our chosen study has a good number of participants. Does the study apply to average or skilled golfers, young or old ones?  This study has a good mix of handicaps and ages of participants, so the results should apply to the average golfer, not elite ones. The METHODS and RESULTS sections are crucial when assessing a paper’s merit, but are rather technical. Sometimes the tables attached are simple to follow. Table 1 shows the variables chosen for analysis. How did the researchers determine what they would measure, of the hundreds of aspects that they could have? Here it is important to understand the background of the researchers. Did they merely take ideas from previous studies? Do they have extensive experience in how a golf swing actually does or does not work? Were there any golf instructors who see cause-and-effect every day of their lives involved in the team to make suggestions for what to look for? This is a weakness in most golf studies. The DISCUSSION typically provides the reader with an explanation of what was presented in the results section as well as the researchers’ interpretations of the results. Once again, the question arises, how qualified are the researchers to make a valid interpretation of what they found? The main issue with golf swing studies is that although they makes for good “fact finding missions” their  results should not be considered as a case of one factor CAUSING another to take place. (Even when the number of participants is decent - which is usually not the case). Why not? NO studies in golf (that I have seen) are EXPERIMENTAL and so cannot really establish cause and effect. For example, if I say “The sky is blue. I am happy” I am merely making a correlational statement which tells a person that when the sky is blue, I am happy. In order to say that the blue sky causes my happiness, I have must conduct an experimental study. I should assess my mood when the sky has some other color. I should look for other factors that might make me happy. Only then can I state that the blue sky actually CAUSES my happiness. In golf, to prove that X-Factor (the difference in how rotated the shoulders are compared to the hips at the top of the backswing) CAUSES greater ball speed, a study should compare those with and without X-Factor to be able to state that X-Factor CAUSES greater ball speed. Better still, a study should take a group of people who do not have a big X-Factor, measure their ball speed, train them to increase their X-factor and then reassess their ball speed to see if it does indeed increase.  MGS research is the ONLY golf swing research ever to actually manipulate the swing to study its efficacy, as is the requirement of truly experimental research. Someone pass the salt, please.

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