Can high-tech training aids outperform experts doing the same tasks?

April 23, 2012

Golf gadgets have reached new technological heights, but can high-tech training aids outperform experts doing the same tasks? With our testers as judge and jury, three humans battle three high-tech toys. It's mano-a-gizmo!

Real Caddie vs. SkyCaddie

Andy Anderson; SkyCaddie

MAN: John Gardner, 55, veteran caddie and PGA pro
MACHINE: The SkyCaddie SGXw
BATTLEGROUND: TPC Stonebrae, Hayward, Calif.

SkyCaddie literally got off to a fast start, impressing our 6-handicap tester by spitting out distances with eye-blink speed and laser-like accuracy. Meanwhile, flesh-and-blood looper John Gardner, 55, too-leisurely paced off the yardage from sprinkler heads. Snap to it, man! The smart-phone-sized gadget is faster, more accurate and more portable, with more than 30,000 courses available. SkyCaddie also offers the latest course information, so that brand-new bunkers will appear on its easy-to-use LCD display. (Bonus: SkyCaddie doesn't linger by the clubhouse after the round waiting for a tip.) Still, Gardner made a late charge by using his greatest weapon: his humanity. He rewarded good swings with smiles and fist bumps. While not accurate to the inch, the corporeal caddie's yardages were mostly spot-on, and he reliably gauged factors blind to a machine, such as a swirling bay breeze on the par-3 fourth hole. What's more, his good reads gave our man confidence on the green. SkyCaddie is ingenious, but it can't read putts, fix divots, or swap stories over a post-round pint.

Man, 2-and-1. SkyCaddie (; $399.95) is a useful, high-tech marvel, but until they build a cyborg that lugs your clubs to your car, nothing beats a living looper.

Jamie Sadlowski, Momentus Speed Whoosh

Angus Murray; Momentus


MAN: RE/MAX World Long Drive Champion Jamie Sadlowski
MACHINE: Momentus Speed Whoosh
BATTLEGROUND: Chelsea Piers driving range, New York, N.Y.

Long-drive champ Jamie Sadlowski, who once cranked it 434 yards in competition, shared this power tip: "Tension kills. To hit it farther, grip the club like you're holding a baby bird, and let your wrists feel like rubber. That gives you the delayed release needed to generate clubhead speed." That sounded good, but an hour on the range yielded mostly pull-hooks and pop-ups—except when our guinea pig so loosened his grip that his driver helicoptered toward the Hudson River. (Call it the swing whoops!) Keep your day job, Jamie. The Momentus Speed Whoosh proved easy to use. Just swing it six or seven times in a row at full speed, grab your driver and hit some balls. Weighing the same as a typical driver, the Whoosh (named after the noise made by its magnetic timing ball) lets you swing it up to 20 mph faster than your driver. Purportedly, the practice swings activate "fast-twitch" muscle fibers that increase your regular swing speed by 7-10 mph. We don't know from muscle fibers, but our tester powered several drives into the net 250 yards away. This gadget works!

The Speed Whoosh, 8-and-7. Sadlowski was more than graceful in defeat, and no wonder. "That's fine," he chirped. "I endorse the Speed Whoosh, so either way, I win!" ($79.99,

Mike Shannon, iPing Putting App

Angus Murray; Ping

MAN: Top 100 Teacher Mike Shannon
MACHINE: Ping's iPing Putting App
BATTLEGROUND: Practice green, Sea Island Golf Club, Sea Island, Ga.

"The aim of the putter is the foundation of good putting," says Top 100 Teacher Mike Shannon, who specializes in the flatstick. "Without it, the stroke must be manipulated to get the ball on the right path." In an enlightening lesson at Sea Island Resort, Shannon shared a simple three-step process for taking dead aim at address: "Hold your putter straight out, draw your elbows into your rib cage, then tilt forward." Presto! Instant aim. Our tester began dropping 10-footers with surprising ease, and his misses were short but on-line. Could Ping's iPing putting app for the Apple iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPods pose a comeback? It's a snap to use. Simply clip your iPhone or iPod to your putter shaft (the app is free on iTunes; Ping's $30 cradle is available via golf-retailer websites), and the app uses the accelerometers and gyroscopes already built into Apple devices to measure your putting stroke's path, tempo and face angle at impact. You can even compare your numbers against your golf buddies' and some PGA Tour pros'.

Match halved! While the results that Shannon oversaw were dramatic, Ping's app provided instant numerical feedback for long-term improvement, and it was just plain cool. Use Shannon's three-step address to get your putts tracking, and use Ping's app to keep them tracking.

Technology Special Part 2: Recent breakthroughs prove you need two swings to score low
Technology Special Part 1: Five innovators who are changing the game of golf