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What do lowering your golf score and overcoming chronic pain have in common?

The key is reliable feedback.

On pain management, recent studies using fMRI technology finds that that showing you a visualization of your own brain’s pain center gives the sort of feedback that lets you figure out what works and doesn’t in fighting pain. Here is a discussion of another study on burn victims. Melanie Thernstrom wrote an interesting article about her own experiences trying this in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine.

Perhaps not as important as pain, but onto golf.

I used to play a lot of golf as a kid. Often eight or more hours a day. I’d do a lot of experimentation, but it was hard to get good feedback when I tweaked my swing or my putting stroke.

While time (and having four kids) has led my always limited golf skills to depreciate badly, technology is on my side. New clubs are much more forgiving then what I used as a kid. But much more interesting to me, especially in light of our recent New York Times column, are new technologies for analyzing the golf swing and providing more immediate and reliable feedback.

I bought a golf swing analyzer for my backyard. You hit a ball into a net off a special pad with electronic sensors and it feeds the information into a laptop with the clubhead speed, angle of attack, spin, etc. On a golf course or a range, it is very hard to really see what works and what doesn’t because the outcome of the shot is affected by so many variables: wind, the exact contact between club and ball, the lie, etc. With the analyzer, seconds after you swing you can get (hopefully) reliable feedback.

Within a week of purchasing the golf swing analyzer, I had added about 7 mph to my clubhead speed with woods, an increase of 8%, implying an increase in distance of 20 yards or even more. Being the weakest human alive, my primary goal in golf has been to hit the ball further, and as hard as I tried without the analyzer, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I made more progress with the swing analyzer in a week than I had in ten years without it.

Not surprisingly, professional golfers have figured this out as well. An interesting article in USA Today shows how the pros are improving their games using these same types of swing analysis.

Forget about piano and ballet lessons. My daughters are spending the summer hooked up to the golf swing analyzer.