Interview – Dr. Robert Neal, advisor to the Barcelona Golf Academy, explains the progress of his Golf BioDynamics
February 27, 2022 – About two years had passed since Dr. Robert Neal, one of the world’s most recognized gurus in golf biodynamics, has come to Spain, blocked by the Covid pandemic. So, his visit to the Club de Golf Barcelona at the end of last year, to visit the Barcelona Golf Academy (BGA) and its Head Coach, Carlos Vivas, was quite an event.
A small but noticeable revolution arose amongst the staff, pupils, members, coaches and instructors, all eager to learn from his wisdom and absorb his valuable advice about each person’s swing. You could see it all reflected in his sophisticated Golf BioDynamics software, which improves every year with new applications.
At MyGolfWay we went to meet him, and after finding out from him that he has recently been working with some PGA Tour stars like Cameron Davis or Justin Thomas, we had the privilege of having a more in-depth chat with Robert. This is what he told us:
Por Miguel Angel Buil
MYGOLFWAY: What feelings do you get about the Barcelona Golf Academy?
Dr. ROBERT NEAL: It’s been about two years since I was last here with Carlos, and it’s been nice to see how the Club de Golf Barcelona’s academy has grown. Unlike his previous club, this one has focused on his project. It has great facilities with a teaching center called ‘The Box’ on the driving range, with all its technologies: 3D, Trackman, cameras, video system, a lot of teaching aids… which are wider and more accessible, with a nice short game area, the putting green next door…
Then, it has its office area in the clubhouse itself, where the coaching staff can come. And then downstairs there is a big gym specifically for golf, the academy’s locker room, and even an indoor hitting bay. Here he’s found a golf club that supports his project, and that is why it’s really grown. Now he has a dozen players in the elite program, who go to an international school very close by; and he also has about 75 children who come a couple of afternoons and then on the weekends. So, I think it looks great.
MGW: How would you consider the BGA at European level?
Dr. ROBERT NEAL: I think it is on the right trajectory to become one of the most important academies in Europe. It takes a lot of work to get all the cooperation: the club, the school, the staff… and Carlos Vivas is really getting it together. He already has a good group of coaches, and that was one of the primary purposes of my visit: to do some training with the coaches. So, we have decided to do a certification platform that they will complete online, mostly about biomechanics; and then when I come back in 2022, I will continue on that certification.
But I don’t think anyone in this area comes close to what Carlos has been doing. Because his attitude is very good, just going ‘step by step’, and just keeping going. He already has many local and increasingly international students… So, he has a good plan.
MGW: What has you been doing during this stay at the Club de Golf Barcelona?
Dr. ROBERT NEAL: The BGA has one of the 3D systems with my software, and since in 2021 I completed it to be able to analyze the movements of the wrist, elbow and shoulder motions, we have worked with the players of the academy, teaching Carlos and his team of instructors how to work with the new tool. You have to know the calibration method and understand the information, so that you can use it regularly at training with the players.
MGW: Indeed, looking at the swings of Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff or Jon Rahm on the Tour, for example, the position of the wrists and arms has been the subject of intense debate in golf lately. How has your Golf BioDynamics software advanced in this aspect?
Dr. ROBERT NEAL: Mostly we would say that we coach towards an optimal technique. When you look at wrist or shoulder motions, it’s not like you strictly have to do it one way. But there are certain characteristics about the movement that are characteristic of a good swing mechanics. And that’s what we’re teaching the juniors in the BGA program. Modifying their technique if it’s not optimal, but if they do it in a way that’s good, then we wouldn’t change it.
As for the Tour controversy, backswings can look very different, but downswings can’t. In my opinion, I would probably stick to the middle ground. My preference is a fairly flat left wrist – on right handed players –, but I’d like to see the left wrist go immediately towards flexion as the downswing start; so that this has the effect of taking loft off the club, making it a bit safer into the impact; while also helps you to get the clubhead behind you a little bit so you don’t get over the plane.
It’s much better to get the flexion earlier in the downswing, because you know that on impact you have to be starting to extend your wrist; which doesn’t mean that you are extended at impact, but you are moving it in that direction. That’s the primary requirement for hitting good golf hits: you need to be in good flexion, moving towards extension, but still flexed on impact.
If you don’t do it that way, it’s very complicated to react in such short period of time. Very few can do it, like Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh, but most people aren’t successful doing that. If that’s the technique you want to employ, you must be prepared to hit a lot of golf balls, so you can learn to control that ability. And if you have extreme flex at the top of the backswing, like Dustin Johnson, then you have to learn how to control the release of the wrist; whereas going first into flexion and then into extension is easier.
MGW: In what other features has your software improved this year?
Dr. ROBERT NEAL: I keep adding features to the software that make it easier to use and suitable for working on various forms of Windows. Some of the updates have added launch monitors, to measure the club and ball. The basics of the putting and short game areas are the same, but are now more feature rich, with information at a practical level. I’ve also added new graphs to help understand the swing better, and little things that make it easier for coaches to use. Finally, I spent a lot of time upgrading the software for the new hardware version, which is much faster, but you need a much more powerful computer to use it.
MGW: What have you discovered in the BGA junior players?
Dr. ROBERT NEAL: Most of them are developing pretty solid techniques, because Carlos and his coaches have been quite strict in certain aspects of body movements, arms, coordination and technical details, so I think they will continue find success, if they then want to continue and play college golf. Physical training is very important here, for example to develop speed, as this will help them become more stable, consistent and powerful in their golf swings. And if they have to make any changes, sometimes you go backwards a little bit first before you derive the benefits; but then the juniors will be happy to hit better shots.
MGW: Many people can improve by training with a software as sophisticated as Golf BioDynamics, but they are unaware… At what ages or handicaps can they benefit from it?
Dr. ROBERT NEAL: Yes, a lot of people think this is just for elite and professional players, but it’s not. It is for everyone who is keen on golf and wants to get better.
I don’t think it is handicap based, it is depended on your commitment on getting better at golf. You could be on a 25 handicap and decide you want to get really good at golf. Then, from my experience, this technology can really help you a lot, developing guided training. You could also be a 5 handicap who just wants to come and see how you are doing your swing, but in that case we aren’t interested, because this is not an entertainment.
To establish an age range, I would say no less than 13 years old, although I don’t often work with children that young. The normal thing is to work with juniors, adults and seniors. With the latter, sometimes there are older people who have limited mobility to play, and in that case we have to find a different solution for them.
That is our mission, to discover the optimal solution for each person who comes to you.
Thank you very much Dr. Robert Neal. See you on your next visit to Barcelona.