There's a scene in the film Tin Cup in which driving range pro Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) tries desperately to conquer a bad case of the shanks with a wide variety of self-help golf gizmos that he'd confiscated from a student. Even if you haven't seen the film you can probably imagine what these contraptions look like: Dangly doodads and wacky clothing attachments that promise to straighten stance, help with weight shift, adjust swing plane, and generally fix everything about your swing that you think might be wrong but can't see or feel yourself.
As a 30-year veteran of the sport (and someone who once attended a school that produces club and teaching pros), I feel like I'm qualified to say that, generally speaking, these devices are a bunch of hooey, and certainly no substitution for spending an hour with a qualified instructor.
And yet the gadget geek in me is nonetheless interested in seeing how they work.
That's why I decided to test the SensoGlove ($89), a golf glove with a small computer that detects the pressure applied by each of your fingers while gripping a club. It's certainly less obtrusive than the apparatuses McAvoy adorns himself with, which is a vote in its favour. And heaven knows I've seen plenty of death grips that could do with fixing, so it's not targeting a phantom problem.
But before looking at why and if such a device might be useful, let's examine the glove itself.
Made of soft sheepskin with stretchy yellow nylon between each finger, it looks and feels much like any other leather golf glove, save some high-tech additions.
Thin pressure pads have been stitched into the tips of the three outermost fingers, with one more located between the two middle joints of the index finger. They create an additional barrier between finger and club -- generally not a good thing -- but are surprisingly comfortable. I didn't feel as though they negatively affected my grip.
Narrow wires feed up the finger seams to a matchbook-sized computer on the back of the Velcro fastener. This computer has a small screen that displays an illustration of the glove and a meter that represents applied pressure via a series of horizontal bars. A power button switches the computer on and off, and plus and minus keys allow you to adjust sensor sensitivity on an 18-point scale (a seemingly arbitrary number chosen, one imagines, because rounds consist of 18 holes, making most golfers subconsciously fond of the figure).
The pressure sensing system works as you'd expect. Apply pressure to any of the sensors and the bars on the gauge will rise. Go past the halfway mark and the computer will start to beep, the hand illustration indicating the offending finger (or fingers) by colouring it (or them) black.
I used a digital scale to measure the amount of pressure required to set off the sensor alarms and found that it varied from sensor to sensor, with the amount of pressure required to set off each one growing moving from index finger to pinkie. Set to minimum sensitivity, the index finger required 1300 grams of force to trip the system while the pinkie required 2600 grams. Set to maximum sensitivity, the index finger required just 300 grams of pressure while the pinkie needed 800 grams.
Results were fairly consistent over multiple tests, so I'm led to believe that the sensors were calibrated for this specific variance. However, players can also customize pressure sensitivity by first gripping the club as they naturally would, then switching on the computer.
Long story short, the technology works. It provides users with reliable, repeatable data. The question, then, is this: Can it help you learn to play better?
Knowing how much pressure you're applying to your grip is one thing, but interpreting and making use of that information is something else entirely. There's no firm guide as to how tightly you should grip your club. Even the glove's instruction manual notes that your grip "is determined by your own constitution and preferences."
To field test the SensoGlove I took it out on the driving range a couple of times. (Sensosolutions, the glove's manufacturer, states that it can be used on the course as well, but any decent golfer knows not to tinker with swing mechanics during a round. Plus, the computer's beeping will likely prove a turn-off to your playing companions). Here's what I learned about my swing:
I grip a little more tightly with full swings and with short irons. My two middle fingers were the most likely culprits to set off the alarm. My index finger never set off the alarm, even on minimum sensitivity (possibly a consequence of my interlocking finger grip). The sensitivity setting that seemed the best fit for me was between 7 and 12, or what the glove's manual calls "medium grip pressure." I never set off the alarm when chipping and putting on the practice green, even on minimum sensitivity.
What do I do with this information? I haven't the foggiest clue.
It could be that my naturally light grip pressure means I'm not part of SensoGlove's target demographic -- which one assumes to be people who grip too tightly and suffer a loss of distance and accuracy as a result -- and that, consequently, it can do little to help me. Sensosolutions recently announced that it has partnered with 20 golf schools around the world to use the glove as a training tool for students, so clearly some teaching pros see value. Indeed, if the glove beeped frequently even on minimum sensitivity it would likely be a clear indication of an unusually firm grip that might require attention. But even then, as Sensosolutions admits, it could simply be a matter of the player's individual constitution.
I actually think the manual provides more meaningful aid than the glove. It advises players that correct grip pressure should be free of tension but firm enough to feel in control, and that you'll achieve higher club head speeds by gripping with your fingers as opposed to your palm.
Of course, you could also discover these tips in a golf magazine or from your local pro.
In the end, I don't see how the SensoGlove is substantially better than the old golfer's maxim that suggests if someone can't pull a club out of your hand with a quick tug then you're holding it too tightly. I don't know if that's true, but I feel just as confident using this adage as a guide as I do using SensoGlove. And it's free.
Replacement gloves that fit the detachable computer sell for $25.