On a sunny Sunday morning, my 4-year-old daughter and I spent a few hours at a nearby lake. That afternoon, with rock-skipping fresh in my muscle memory, I wowed my partners on the back nine with three drives of 280 yards.
I was closing in on membership in club 300, if I could just steal 20 more yards. And what better place to commit white-collar crime than in Washington, D.C.?
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The ClubGolf Performance Center was established by Greg Rose, Golf Channel fitness guru and founder of the famed Titleist Performance Institute. It sits on the ground floor of a Maryland strip mall about 15 minutes from D.C. What drew me there was a claim by a ClubGolf spokesperson, who told me on the phone, "Spend the morning with us, and we'll get you another 30 yards."
ClubGolf has hitting bays, a putting green and strength-building machines. But ClubGolf operators keep a secret weapon in the back room: 3-D imaging technology that gives unprecedented glimpses of a golfer's inner workings.
"It's like a super-duper K-Vest," said ClubGolf's Director of Training Tyler Ferrell, referring to the sleeveless wraparound gizmo that instructors also use for 3-D feedback. I stood on a mat, club in hand, hooked up to a web of wires and sensors. An android figure appeared on a screen. "That's you," Ferrell said.
I swung the club, and my digital doppelganger mimicked the motion. ClubGolf's system provides a detailed picture of the swing at every crucial moment from address to finish. The goal, Ferrell explained, is to measure the swing's efficiency which parts are working and which are slacking and then focus on improving the swing you have, not remaking it into that of a Tour pro.
With a few more hacks, sensors gauged the speed of four crucial components hips, torso, shoulder and clubhead and spat out the results in a graph that resembled an EKG.
Ferrell scanned the readout. "You're only using your shoulders for power," he said. "You need to use your hips." He pointed to a chart on the wall showing a graph of Ernie Els' swing. Its peaks and valleys revealed a symphonic move in perfect sequence: the hips initiating the downswing, torso uncoiling, unfurling shoulders, and the clubhead whipping through impact with centrifugal force, like a rock flung from a sling.
"Fire your hips through impact to untap all that power," Ferrell said.
Back in the gym, Ferrell had me draw the club back to waist height, then hit a ball from that position as hard as I could. To muster any speed, the drill forced me to fire through with my hips. It was a powerful sensation, and a feeling I'd never had before. My swing soon seemed more efficient. We went back to the 3-D sensors. Sure enough, my hips were no longer snoozing on the job and were actually accelerating; my clubhead speed had jumped from 100 to 110 mph.
Ding! I'd rung the bell at the county fair.
I floored it down the freeway to Congressional Country Club, home course of a big-hitting friend. I spent five minutes on the range with my waist-high drill, then bolted to the first tee and blasted my opening drive 290 yards.
My friend pinched my bicep. "You on 'roids, young man?" he said.
It was a cool fall day, but my swing was red hot. On the 18th hole, a 400-plus par-4 that swoops toward a water-guarded green, my buddy bombed his drive and shouted, "300, baby!" I fired my hips and flew it past him by 10 yards.
I swaggered down the fairway, intoxicated with my newfound power. The clubhouse at Congressional rose majestically on a hill behind the green. Membership? I'd never even make the waiting list. But it wasn't like I cared. I'd already joined the club.
• Hot Stix Golf, Scottsdale, AZ; driver fitting $200; 877-513-1333, hotstixgolf.com
• ClubGolf, Gaithersburg, MD; complete golf assessment and training session, $599; 301-519-1920, clubgolfmd.com