MORGANTOWN — As West Virginia football pauses for a weekend in the midst of spring practice, one’s mind turns, as it always does this time of year, to the Master’s Golf Tournament, but this year we find ourselves looking at it from a different point of view; a prospect that connects him to WVU football.
Now this is hard to understand, golf is the sport, a walk in the park is that, especially among the azaleas and lush fairways of Augusta, and football is the thing that seems to have been born more in the Coliseum in Rome than at St. Andrews Golf Club in Scotland. that there is a thread that ties the two together.
This thread is technology.
Soccer may be late to incorporate technology into the techniques of its athletes, but it’s all in now, at least in West Virginia, and there’s an element that is used with its players and players that have become an integral part of golf technique today.
It’s called TrackMan technology, and anyone who’s watched professional golf on TV is familiar with it, as it’s a computer program that follows the trajectory of the ball, records its exit velocity, its height and distance, which is a great viewing aid but it is only part of its capabilities.
The same technology, of course, has invaded baseball broadcasts and drills, with launch angle, spin rate, pitch rate, distance traveled, swing arc, arm angles and everything used in teaching.
At WVU, they’ve invested heavily in technology, much of it in athlete safety and conditioning, whether it’s nutrition or heart rate, effort, etc., but also heavily in things like throwing and catching the football.
“You choose where to invest your money, and we’ve tried to invest in things that are right for player development — two areas, player recovery for the health of your players and performance technology,” coach Neil Brown said.
Fans would be most interested in the area of performance for this skill development — and that’s where soccer and golf meet — through TrackMan technology, and the closest analogy is in the area of kicking a football.
Linebacker coach Jeff Kuntz is in charge of special teams.
During the Golf Channel’s telecast of The Teacher on Thursday, former Masters champion Tom Watson, who once represented Greenbrier, was asked about the biggest difference between today’s game and the game from his era, and he didn’t point to the equipment or the ball, but , instead to the golf swing that today has been developed with the help of technology.
And this can be transferred to a kick for a leg swing in football, and the momentum it creates is quite similar to that of the golf swing – or, for that matter, the baseball swing.
“What’s cool about us is that we have some technology that not a lot of people have with the TrackMan system, where these guys go out there and can get instant feedback,” Kunz said. “Those guys can see the difference in foot speed, power, where they hit the ball, how far it went, where it would be good from. They’ve really bought into it and are embracing it.”
“Right now, it’s important how quickly we can give them the feedback. We can fix things right away. The correction does not take two days. They see it instantly and are up and running within two seconds. That’s the nice thing about it, the instant feedback.”
This is precisely one of Watson’s main arguments.
“Now you can see what you’re doing right now,” he said. “I had to see my swing through Byron’s eyes.”
Byron was Hall of Fame golfer Byron Nelson, who was Watson’s mentor. In his day, Nelson would give suggestions on how to improve, but that’s hard to do without visualization.
WVU kickers can now kick the ball and instantly see the kick, get the metrics, know what went wrong, what went right.
“It’s like anything else. You try to instruct, you try to give them cues with every swing,” Kunz said. “You want to be as consistent as possible, but at the end of the day you have to run the ball through the uprights or put it in the end zone on a kickoff. You have to have hang time.
The kicking game – punts, field goals and extra points – are among the most overlooked parts of football. Punts and kickoffs determine field position during a game, and of course field goals and extra points make a huge difference on the scoreboard.
WVU is currently running pro competitions as Casey Legg has graduated after a strong career.
“Michael Hayes, the transfer we brought in, did a really good job. He was really productive. We’re really excited about it. He has experience. He kicked in a live environment with a big crowd and a great atmosphere,” Kuntz said of the Georgia State transfer, who is competing with Danny King for the job.
And Aussie Ollie Straw is back to punt.
It’s a competitive field recruiting kicking specialists.
“At the end of the day, when you’re consistent with what you give, guys, when we’re recruiting, we’re honest. We tell them the opportunity they’re going to have,” Kunz said. “It was no different with Parker (Grothaus) last year and Michael this year. We don’t promise anything either. These guys are drawn to compete.
And having technology helps attract recruits.
“It’s like going to a school to play golf and they have the best practice facility in the country … well, these guys have [TrackMan] and can add to their abilities and no one else has it,” he continued. “It was a huge advantage for us. Then being able to get out and take in the atmosphere that we have in Morgantown is what draws kids here.
And they have another big advantage, certainly non-technological.
“I’d be naive to think that kids don’t come here to be the next Pat McAfee,” he said. “He’s done a great job in his career as a kicker and punter and what he’s doing now (as a personality and analyst).
He’s part of our history here and we’re excited to have him.”
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