High-tech aid has golfers on straight and narrow

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Southridge’s Trey Reese, left, and Jasper’s Cam Weyer chatted while walking the fairway during a match last month at Jasper Municipal Golf Course. When the sectional kicks off Friday at Sultan’s Run Golf Club, the Wildcats and Raiders will be among the teams that will come armed with high-tech help, as items like range finders, cutting-edge clubs and cellphone apps have all helped players sharpen their games.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

Golf, the simple game. Tee up ball. Address ball. Hit ball.

Pfff. Whatever. Who does just that anymore?

More and more, it’s becoming a game of itemizing assorted bits of information that’s gathered thanks to constantly evolving technology. Think that an iron shot and a laser seem mutually exclusive? They’re not, because for the first time this year, prep golfers in Indiana are allowed to use range finders, which several players will put to use in Friday’s sectional to more comfortably navigate Sultan’s Run Golf Club’s majestic and expansive layout.

Teaford

The range finders offer a measure of precision, as golfers can aim the handheld device toward the pin and find a reading of the exact distance to the hole. The ones who use them take extra assuredness in knowing it’s, say, precisely 127 yards to the pin instead of estimating they’re 120 yards out.

“I’ve got 5-yard yardage gaps on my clubs, so 7 yards is going to be a whole club. It’s going to be a totally different shot,” Heritage Hills freshman Corey Teaford said.

“It’s knowing that you have your yardage, that you know it’s (an exact distance) for sure, and so all you have to worry about is executing your shot.”

Added Jasper junior Cam Weyer: “Seven yards can make a difference to you being on the green or off the green, which is definitely a huge difference.”

You’ll pay for the preciseness — the average range finder runs a few hundred bucks. They haven’t caught on everywhere; Teaford said three guys on his team use them and Southridge’s Tyler Gray and Beau Schneider are the only Raiders that use them, while Forest Park coach Chris Tretter said none of his golfers have tried the gizmo.

For Jasper, which will be gunning for its sixth straight sectional title Friday, the range finders have become an indispensable part of how the Wildcats operate. Weyer even said the devices are becoming necessity, “kind of like a club. Everybody has it to play golf.”

“It makes them a better ball striker,” Jasper coach Steve Milligan said. “These kids can adjust to that distance now.”

It’s even fostered another measure of sportsmanship, as golfers aren’t opposed to sharing the readings that they’re picking up. If he’s playing with someone without a range finder, Gray said he’ll always share the distance to the hole if he’s asked. Weyer joked that he’ll divulge the info immediately “if it’s somebody that I like,” though after he completes his shot during a round, he’ll announce the distance to the pin for everyone else in his group to hear.

Weyer, Gray and Teaford unanimously said their range finders came in most handy this season when they played last weekend at Henryville’s Champions Pointe Golf Club, which is also the new site for the local regional next week. Teaford said some of the holes “were very deceiving” and included fairway bunkers, and Gray added the course presented “tricky tee shots for me.”

Gray

“I haven’t been hitting it the straightest lately, and it’s narrow fairways,” said Gray, who’s also seen golfers use a similar GPS device that maps out a hole’s layout. “(Having a range finder) helped to be able to hit shorter clubs off the tee and know that I’m not going to hit it through the fairway and into the rough.”

Looking for another toy to straighten shots? There’s a fix for that.

It’s not allowed for use during high school matches, but some golfers have invested in alignment sticks, which are situated perpendicular to each other on the ground. Players then situate their feet and body relative to the ball, allowing them to get a consistent swing going on a straight path when they practice on the range.

“You don’t have to worry about aiming everything,” Weyer said. “You set it up to wherever you want it to be aimed, and then you really know if you’re hitting the ball well if it’s going straight, going right or going left. You don’t have to worry about where you’re aimed because you’re aimed exactly where you want to be.”

At Forest Park, the Rangers amble on the cutting edge a little differently.

iPhones and Android phones offer apps to record an analyze swings and explore feedback on the spot, a step up from the circuitous method of recording initially with a camcorder, then studying the footage later. When Ranger junior Winston Glenn recently inquired about a technique hitch, Tretter simply whipped out his iPhone and was able to show Glenn how his tempo was too quick and his takeaway and delivery could use better rhythm.

“All those little bits of feedback, we can make pretty quick adjustments and then get them back into muscle memory,” Tretter said.

The Rangers have even streamlined their games without setting foot on real grass.

As the owner of Fair-Weather Indoor Golf in Ferdinand, Tretter has been able to record his players’ swings, and later dissect them from different angles, break them down in slow motion and even compare and contrast them to the swings of pro players. It’s not just a jazzy extra. As a team, the Rangers slashed 45 strokes this season from last year’s showing at the Pocket Athletic Conference meet. This spring, they’ve collectively buzzed 20 strokes off last year’s nine-hole average.

“When you’re on the range, the phone technology works well,” Tretter said, “and then when we’re indoors we actually have the cameras we can use, and that’s where a lot of our improvement has come from last year to this year, is refining those swing skills.”

Milligan encourages his guys to use toys and technology judiciously — one of his golfers wanted to get a new putter a month ago, but Milligan warned it was too close to tournament time to tinker with something new.

The wave of the latest and greatest is a nonstop flow, and Milligan joked that the new clubs he bought three years ago now qualify as old clubs. But it’s still a game of execution. And there are still some guys like Raider coach Brock Matthews, who remain enrolled in the old school.

“I’m kind of a guy that just goes out there and plays,” Matthews said, “and goes where the ball lands and hits it again.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com