I promise this blog post won’t be entirely about golf this week. But, I will begin on that topic…sorry. I tweeted out last week about how Augusta National bought more land in 2017 to make the course longer. This made me think about how technology has not only changed the business of golf, but also the sport.
In 2010, the longest driving average was 315.5 yards, which does not differ much from the present day. Ten years before that, the longest average driving distance was 301.4 yards. And, just five years before that the longest average driving distance stood at 289 yards. In just fifteen years, the longest average increased by 26.5 yards. Now, this does not say much given that fitness began to emerge into the sport during these years…so with that said, let’s look at one player: Phil Mickelson. For those who aren’t familiar with Phil, he is known as one of the best lefty golfers on tour. What he is not known for, though, is his driving distance (probably due to his very significant dad bod). In 1995, Phil had an average driving distance of 270.7 yards. Presently, he is averaging 298 yards. Throughout those 23 years, Phil was in no way shape or form fitter or younger to gain 28 yards in distance…are you starting to see my point?
The 1980s was a turning point for club manufacturers as persimmon clubs were being replaced with metal. Once materials such as graphite, metal, and steel started to make way into the golf industry, club manufacturers started to improve specifics of the club such as the grooves, shapes, and weight. As the materials of golf equipment such as golf clubs and golf balls will continue to improve, the controversial topic of lengthening golf courses will become a key factor in the future of the sport. Eventually, the technology is going to have to plateau or compromise to the length of courses, since traditional courses such as St. Andrews or Augusta National will come to a point when it cannot get longer.
Material has been a key driving factor for the improvement of physical objects used in sport. Most people automatically think about balls or sticks, but surprisingly even the material in swimsuits have advanced to better a swimmer’s movement underwater. Innovators at Speedo have been experimenting with different materials to make swimmers go faster. The LZR swimsuit was invented, which “compressed a swimmer’s body into a streamlined tube and trapped air, adding buoyancy and reducing drag.” This suit created much controversy after the 2008 Olympics where 98% of the medals won within swimming were from swimmers wearing this suit. Following the 2008 Olympics, LZR was banned in 2010 from being used in competition. Since this suit was able to make one go faster underwater, regardless of technique or skill, swimming government bodies saw this as cheating.
The development of tech-enabled training is also a topic that is rarely mentioned. Yes, people have been getting faster and stronger over time by solely analyzing the numbers and records, but that does not mean humanity has been getting faster and stronger. There are a number of factors that goes into the performance of athletes, one of which is training: “Dr. Michael Joyner, a physician and Mayo Clinic researcher who is one of the world’s top experts on fitness and human performance [says,] ‘What you know for a fact is people began to train progressively harder starting sometime around 1900.’” The progression of techniques and training aids has helped improve time and efficiency. In swimming, the flip turn, which was implemented in 1956, helped cut time. The present day seems to go beyond just technique, as technology for training has improved drastically. Film is now available in 3-dimensions, which not just analyzes an athlete’s movement, but also keeps track of heart and respiratory rate: “‘We’re able to tell exactly how the athlete is moving in real time…it’s going to really enhance a lot of athletes’ ability to perform.’” Sports biomechanics expert, Cynthia Bir, states that sports will always be evolving, which means the more humans improve their understanding on genetics and biomechanics, athletes will be able to improve their skills and performance.
With little investment in sport (for some countries), some athletes might struggle to keep up with the latest technology and therefore be at a disadvantage compared to those with the best equipment and/or medical care. Technology has created numerous ways that athletes can have an advantage, which could possibly lead to cheating. The need to be the best has led athletes to use technology in ways whether or not it would be considered legal. So, what do you think, are athletes getting better or is technology?