Writer Greg Granillo
Photography courtesy of Boccieri Golf
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s probably no better feeling in golf than a perfectly struck ball — that moment when the ball comes right off the middle of the clubface, speeding off to its intended target with that perfect stare-down-worthy trajectory. It’s a feeling you wish you could bottle up and use every time you address the ball. It may sound impossible, even for a touring pro. But that’s the mission at Boccieri Golf.
“Our goal here is to bridge the gap between theory and muscle memory,” says company founder Stephen Boccieri. “Through the technology we have here, the golfer can feel what it is we are trying to get them to do, rather than just getting verbal instruction.”
At the centerpiece of that technology are two $150,000 RoboGolfPro swing trainers that mechanically guide the golfer through the perfect swing plane. Boccieri Golf is just one of 15 facilities in the world and the only one in the Valley to offer it, attracting clients from across the country and as far away as Sweden.
Combining the Robo with a wearable biofeedback device dubbed K-VEST and the new SAM BalanceLab — a pressure plate that evaluates balance and weight transfer — Boccieri and his staff of instructors can get a complete picture of what is going on with any golf swing, which allows them to concentrate on one thing: how to make better golfers. Period.
“When most golfers hit good and bad shots, they don’t know why,” says Boccieri, who along with his wife, Sandra, opened Boccieri Golf in North Scottsdale in 2012. “Through repetition, we start to equate muscle memory to the good shots versus the bad ones.”
Rather than just standing behind a student trying to get them to mimic a movement, the technology at Boccieri Golf allows them to build a foundation of knowledge.
“The idea is to give you enough information for you to be able to make self-corrections on the golf course,” says Boccieri. “That’s why we do robotic training in slow-motion, like tai-chi. So your body knows exactly what muscles to engage.”
The Foundation of the Swing
As a nuclear engineer turned golf equipment guru, it’s easy to see Boccieri has put an extraordinary amount of time into analyzing the science of the sport. He is the mind behind the counter-balanced Secret Grip and revolutionary Heavy Putter and believes, just like every sport, the game of golf is built around a person’s balance. In fact, he says, poor balance and irregular weight shift are often responsible for swing flaws.
“Most people couldn’t tell you where their weight is located when they swing,” says Boccieri. “The hit happens in 1.2 seconds between back swing and follow through, so how could you? Even with the robot, we could determine swing plane, but we didn’t know where their weight was being distributed.”
Always seeking the latest innovations, Boccieri decided it was time to add another tool to his arsenal — one that would help his students understand that the swing starts from the ground up.
Born from technology used in the medical field, the pressure-plate technology of the SAM BalanceLab allows instructors and students to see the alignment of each foot, stance direction and angle, pressure distribution between heel and toe, weight transfer and more.
“The golf swing has so much to do with how the body moves, and the weight through the feet significantly influences that,” explains Blake Isakson, an instructor at Boccieri Golf. “Pairing the robot swinging the golf club on the perfect plane with how your weight moves through your feet allow us to teach proper posture and how to correctly load the feet.”
The Boccieri Process
Upon entering Boccieri Golf’s Scottsdale Airpark location, clients are greeted by a spacious facility including a showroom of clubs, a 2,500-square-foot putting green and instruction bays. After checking in, the training begins by hitting practice balls in a simulator bay. (Tip: Be sure to bring your golf shoes, glove and a 7-iron.)
While you’re hitting balls, your instructor takes pictures of your swing from different angles, asks you about your skill level, how often you play and your lesson history. After hitting 10-12 balls, it’s time to meet the Robo trainer.
Standing in front of the 12-foot high contraption with countless arms, levers and monitors, you grip the attached club and set up as you normally would. When the robot moves your arms back and forward on the perfect swing plane, you immediately feel the difference between your swing and the ideal swing they are developing for you. The best part is, no matter how much your body wants to continue your swing flaws, the Robo brings you back to the proper position.
Perhaps the most eye-opening insight comes from the bottom up. While going through the Robo-guided swing, the weight distribution of your feet is displayed on a monitor in front of you in real time. This enables you to immediately make adjustments based on your instructor’s feedback — such as applying more weight on the heels or toes — and truly feel the difference.
After a few swings on the Robo and feedback from your instructor, you immediately go back to the practice bay and hit more balls, implementing the learnings from the robot session.
“To truly understand it and to make sure the brain is picking up on what is happening, you have to do it on your own right away,” says Isakson. “You have to feel the pieces that are moving to achieve what we learn from the robot.”
After alternating between the robot and practice bay, your instructor shares with you a side-by-side video of your swing on the robot versus hitting balls on your own, plus some pointers on how to ensure you are bringing your robot swing to the course and the range.
Isakson says most clients take a series of three one-hour lessons, complete with take-home drills that are specific to the learning from the robot.
“In a short period of time, as you continue to practice and develop that awareness, you will start to see results,” he says.
The Company Transformation
The Boccieri name is synonymous with counter-balanced technology in golf, having invented the Heavy Putter in 2005 and the Secret Grip in 2012. A highlight for Boccieri was when his idol Jack Nicklaus endorsed the latter, which now boasts 19 wins on the PGA Tour.
What started as a company making golf clubs and putters in New York has turned into a passion for making better golfers in the hotbed of the sport, Scottsdale. And while the shift from equipment to a state-of-the-art teaching facility started with technology like the robotic swing training, at the core lies a deep understanding of the mechanics of the swing.
“So many golfers come in here frustrated, ready to give up the game,” says Sandra, Boccieri Golf vice president of sales and marketing. “It’s common for Stephen to spend hours with someone to make them better, purely driven by his curiosity for innovation.”
Boccieri looks at each person coming through the door as a new challenge, a way to gain research knowledge and to create new ideas.
“I’m living the dream,” says Boccieri. “For me, it’s so much fun to be able to work with players. I get more enjoyment out of fixing something or making it better.”
As for what the entire golf research experience has done for his golf skills:
“I wish I had all this technology when I had better physical skills because I know more about the golf swing today than I did when I was a scratch golfer. I can’t hit it as far, but if I have a bad shot, the next shot I am back in the saddle thanks to the knowledge I’ve gained.”