Robert D. Grober
The sound of the golf swing
Bob Grober grew up in Westchester County, New York. At age thirteen he started caddying, first at Briar Hall, then at Sleepy Hollow, and finally at Mahopac Country Club. A Westchester Golf Association caddie scholarship helped pay for his undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University. There he majored in physics and mathematics and was a member of the golf team. He competed in amateur golf events while working towards his doctorate at the University of Maryland at College Park. Grober qualified for the USGA Public Links Championship in 1986 and won the University of Maryland Club Championship in 1988. Even as a standout varsity golfer at Vanderbilt, he knew enough math and physics to calculate the likelihood of making a living with his golf clubs — so he became a physicist! He was a postdoctoral fellow at AT&T Bell Laboratories before joining the Yale faculty in 1994, where he is now the Frederick Phineas Rose Professor of Applied Physics and Professor of Physics.
He is still obsessed with the game. Soon after coming to Yale he accidentally broke the shaft of a club, and it occurred to him that something useful might fit in the hollow space of the shaft. It took him ten years to figure out what that might be.
Grober began with the belief that the key to a successful golf swing is “reproducible tempo,” generating identical mechanics and speed on every swing, which few golfers except professionals achieve. The professional is a “walking, talking, breathing metronome.” Grober figured out how to convert the tempo of a club’s swing into an audio soundscape by translating the speed of the swing into varying tones — low pitch for slow, higher for faster. He developed a system of sensors, microprocessor, and a transmitter that fits in the shaft of a club and wirelessly broadcasts the “sound” of a swing tempo to a headset. The golfer and/or instructor can use Sonic Golf to break down and “listen” to the components of a swing or to look at graphic representations of its forces and speed at crucial moments.
Yale University patented Sonic Golf and licensed it to the company Bob Grober set up to manufacture and market the device. They are now offering the system with the sensor already inserted into a club shaft, or a golfer can buy the sensor and put it into his own clubs. Golf Pride is manufacturing grips, which will allow easy insertion and removal of the device. The company is getting attention from teaching professionals and from science and golf media. Vijay Singh began using the device midway through the 2008 PGA season. He ended as the leading money winner (sixteen million dollars) with four tournament victories and the Fed Ex Cup championship. So, two decades after Bob Grober gave up any hope of becoming a golf professional, he thinks his chances of making money from the game are improving. But whether a financial success or not, he knows his own swing has improved. Grober admits, “I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t about making me a better golfer!”