The Guinea Pig: Zenio putt coach

The Guinea Pig thought he was putting well – until a new putting innovation dismantled his perceptions.

Matt Cooper, golfer: a hacker playing off 15. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic golfer. Matt Cooper will be that golfer. Better than he was before. Longer, straighter, holing more putts.

In my previous Guinea Pig feature I explained how after the winter break I shocked myself by playing rather well despite no practice.

One area of my game, however, had seen a bit of work and that was my putting because every time I put the kettle on I practice a few putts as I wait for it to boil – and since I drink a lot of tea, I do a lot of putting.

Perhaps that is why that part of my game felt in good nick; that and a confidence born of the hard work of last year (related in previous columns).

Imagine, therefore, my horror when, after two rounds of solid flat stick form, I had all faith in my putting totally destroyed by a new piece of technology called ZENIO.

First of all I should explain that ZENIO is a revolutionary new training and fitting system that gives golfers immediate and accurate data about the quality of their putting.

It provides the same information a putting lab offers but it can be used anywhere and any time.

You fit the ZENIO unit (which looks a little like a bulldog clip) to your putter shaft and a wire leads down to a sensor that is secured (with double-sided tape) across the face of your putter.

Initially this all seems a little intrusive and clumsy, however you quickly feel comfortable with it.

When the ZENIO is turned on it connects via Bluetooth with a PDA or smartphone and you’re away – the sensor measures key aspects of your putting and transmits the data to the PDA.

When I read the instructions I thought the set-up might prove tricky but it was a doddle and the confusion was minimal compared to the bemusement I was about to experience.

ZENIO sessions involve hitting seven putts (in my case I began with straight putts of eight feet, although you can hit longer putts as well as utilise right-to-left and left-to-right options).

Having done this (a little “beep” signals the successful transmission of data after every putt) I turned to the PDA and analysed the results.

Which is when my perplexity set in.

One of the key factors measured by ZENIO is impact – the sensor shows you exactly where on the putter face you hit the ball.

And it showed me that on every occasion I had hit the ball between the centre and the toe of the putter.

“Rubbish!” I squealed, utterly convinced that I had hit the ball purely in the sweet spot.

I was so sure of myself I hit another seven immediately – and the results were the same.

“Damn thing isn’t working,” I muttered and proceeded to fiddle with the sensor, whilst getting the growing impression that there really wasn’t much to go wrong.

So this time I tapped the centre of the putter with my finger and watched for the data to transmit. Which it did, proving I had hit the sensor bang in the centre with my finger and therefore nowhere near it with those putts. Hmm.

Requiring further proof of my inadequacies I hurried to find my camera and set it up to video my putting stroke.

This revealed that the ZENIO was quite correct – unwittingly (and to my total astonishment because I would have bet good money otherwise) I was lining up with the centre of the putter and hitting between centre and toe.

Even if I was to learn nothing more from ZENIO this in itself was extraordinary – the gap between my perception and reality was massive and it had to have implications for my putting success.

I’ll admit that I was a little panicked: my “good” stroke being proved anything but and my faith in my eyesight and co-ordination was being catastrophically dismantled.

Never one to shy away from absurd inspirations, however, I did think of Nick Faldo and Padraig Harrington – how would they react in this situation? The obvious answer is that they would see the positives – how could things not improve when I was about to learn some fundamental truths about my putting stroke? Be brave, I implored myself.

So I put my head down and considered ZENIO’s other data (albeit peeking through my fingers like a frightened child).

ZENIO says that “it measures the key parameters of your putting stroke” and the results enable you to benchmark your performance against the best Tour professionals.

In addition to showing you exactly where each ball was struck on the putter face you get these readings:

An impact score that takes into account the consistency of horizontal and vertical impact positions plus the consistency of impact around the sweet spot.

A rhythm score which is calculated as a ratio between the time of the backswing and the time of the downswing (I.e. set-up position to impact).

An angle score which is calculated as the difference of open-close face angle at address and impact.

You are also able to see a graphic reconstruction of the putter as it swings back and through the ball, observing the angle of the putter at every stage (perhaps most crucially, of course, at impact).

And it is safe to say that having observed this information – plus the weighted overall score – I was metaphorically sucking in air.

I already knew there were many variables involved but only one question sat in my befuddled head at this point: “How have I EVER holed a putt? Frankly, any good putt must have been a fluke.”

What was most humiliating was not the fact that I wasn’t using the sweet-spot or that my putter was often held at a horrible angle at the top of the follow-through.

No, what concerned me was the apparent random nature of my eight foot putts – surely there should have been more consistency than there was? In almost every set of seven there were so many variations it was mind-blowing.

The ZENIO compares your stats to those of a tour pro and it was a minor consolation to learn that my rhythm was not too bad – unfortunately all other aspects were a mess.

But, like a good cop/bad cop coaching team, having destroyed my self-confidence, ZENIO then helped me rebuild it which is, of course, the whole point.

Indeed, once I had stopped blushing, I found myself slightly addicted to striking sets of seven and looking for improvements.

And they came. Eventually I even began to locate the sweet spot and, as awareness of my backswing and follow through improved, the stroke began to feel more solid.

To complete a column of wildly mixed metaphors I felt a little like a horse that had been broken and was now being schooled in the fundamentals of riding.

It is one thing for the Guinea Pig to be impressed however, what about the experts? Well, plenty are as bowled over as I am.

Iain Clarke, the tour manager of Cleveland Golf/Srixon, says: “In the past fitting and building has been a trial and error process; using ZENIO it is easier to apply what I believe is a more logical and