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Better golf swing? Step on the mat

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Terry Hashimoto has the technology to rebuild your golf swing.

The former president of Jazz Golf has spent the last year helping develop BodiTrak, a sensor-filled mat that can provide immediate feedback on how you set up and hit any putt, chip or drive. Manufactured in Winnipeg, its smart fabric sensors can show you how much of your weight is on your left toe or right heel and the speed of your club when you strike the ball.

All the numbers pop up on a computer monitor before you've even finished your follow-through.

"We're doing for teaching golf what GPS did for maps. It's a game-changer," he said.

Perhaps even more importantly, the BodiTrak can also quantify feel. By putting a golfer on the mat in the correct position, letting them see the numbers and asking them to step off and get back on without looking at the monitor, they're getting bio-feedback so they can find the correct position again strictly from muscle memory.

"That's the holy grail of golf or any sport," Hashimoto said.

Because it's about the same size as a "welcome" mat, it can also be used to teach hitting shots from uneven or angled lies, he said.

Pro shops can use BodiTrak to help determine the ideal club shafts and footwear for golfers. For example, if you have a lot of lateral motion in your swing, you'll likely want shoes with stabilizer bars, but if your weight is on the front and back of your feet, you'll want strong arch supports, Hashimoto said.

The BodiTrak patent is owned by Vista Medical Ltd., which makes them at its Fort Garry plant. Andrew Frank, Vista's vice-president of marketing and sales, said golf is only the latest application to use its stretchable sensors.

For the last 20 years, the technology has been used in a number of different ways, including preventing bedsores for hospital patients whether they're lying down or sitting in a wheelchair.

More recently, Vista has developed a "smart" bed, which senses how you're lying down and adjusts its shape to help you sleep better.

After manning a booth at the PGA merchandising show in Orlando, Fla., a couple of weeks ago, Frank said Vista is looking to expand into bigger space, either next door or in St. Boniface. The company has 20 employees.

Frank said Hashimoto's experience has been invaluable in breaking into the golf market.

"We looked at him when he first came in and said, 'Are you serious?' A year later, it's serious," he said, noting the technology can also be used for teaching other sports such as tennis, baseball and snowboarding.

Hashimoto has a fan in Derek Ingram, head coach of Canada's national men's golf team and head teaching professional at Elmhurst Golf & Country Club in Winnipeg. He was considering spending $35,000 on a similar product called "force plates," which also measures the pressure exerted by a player's feet, but has to be built into the ground.

"It wasn't mobile. BodiTrak is but it's also relatively inexpensive at $2,000 and provides a lot of the same information. It's already being used by some of the best teachers and coaches in the world," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 B6

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