Wellness Tips

Luke Donald talks mocap, launch monitors, more

Courtesy of Luke Donald

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You can’t have a discussion about sports technology today without including athletes in that conversation. Their partnerships, investments and endorsements help fuel the space – they have emerged as major stakeholders in the sports tech ecosystem. The Athlete’s Voice series highlights the athletes leading the way and the projects and products they’re putting their influence behind.

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Luke Donald is a former world No. 1 golfer and the current European Ryder Cup Captain. He’s won 13 professional tournaments — five on the PGA Tour, eight internationally — after starring at Northwestern University, where he won the 1999 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship while breaking Tiger Woods’ scoring record.

Donald, 45, primarily competes on the PGA Tour while also regularly playing events on the DP World Tour, including this past weekend’s BMW International Open in Munich, at which he finished 47th. The English native recently partnered with sports instructional platform AirWayz, a subscription service founded by Dr. Michael Murphy, a former Army Ranger and ER physician. Among the other athletes to record training videos are Manchester City soccer player Jack Grealish, tennis player Emma Raducanu, White Sox hitter Gavin Sheets and Olympic gold medalist boxer Katie Taylor.

On getting started with AirWayz . . .

I’ve known Michael for a while through golf. He talked to me about the idea of what he had in mind, and it seemed like a great idea. Tracing back a few years ago when Covid hit, I used my platform on Instagram to do some online videos when people were stuck at home, and people really took to it. They love the insight. They love the fact that [I was] sharing some of that knowledge. I think AirWayz is just a way to do that, but in a much more in-depth way and create opportunities for fans to get to know you, to get to know how we practiced.

If someone really wants to know how to practice, how to approach potentially being a professional golfer and getting the most out of their practice, then this is a great opportunity for someone, for a minimal fee, I suppose, to figure out exactly how I do it, what got me to world No. 1. I think people like to have that knowledge and that insight, so it’s a great platform to be able to do that.


On the message he wants to communicate . . .

The lessons I do are mostly short game-based, putting, wedge work, a little bit of how I work out in the gym. It is catered to probably people who are looking to get really much a lot better at golf, but you can take some of those things even if you’re beginning — just how to have a structured practice when you might only have an hour to really work on the game. What’s the best way to do it and the most efficient way to get the most out of it? Some of that stuff is definitely covered. When you start out, you want to know the basics, the fundamentals, and I certainly address a lot of that stuff, too.

On his own development in the sport . . .

I probably did it just in a very traditional way of, obviously, spending a lot of time — and I had a real love and passion for the game so I was out there as much as I could. When you’re spending time on anything, you’re going to see improvements, but just having that structure of really knowing the best ways to improve and how to practice, I think, I never really had ability or access to something like that.

It’s amazing the technology we have now with all the phones and how you can just get whatever you want at the touch of your fingertips. When I was playing, we didn’t have cell phones, we didn’t have any of that stuff. We had camcorders — I have some old videos of me practicing on a camcorder, in a blurry video. What got me into golf was just my love of it, and I suppose if I had a little bit more of a structure to my practice, then I could have accelerated my learning.

On his use of motion capture for biomechanics . . .

Throughout my career, I’ve done 3D. I think that’s a great way to see your swing in 3D and what’s really happening. I would always check that once a year, once every couple of years, just to make sure I was in the right path to what I’ve been working on.

Then later in my career and getting older and having gone through 20-plus years of being a professional and swinging a lot, it’s the takes a toll on your body. So you’ve got to obviously figure out if you’re doing stuff that’s going to cause injury. And I’ve had some injuries, obviously, over the last five years. So you have to really go back to having some of that knowledge, and having that technology at your fingertips is pretty important to be able to know that if you keep doing this, that it’s not going to lead to something good. Then you have to make adjustments. So yeah, I mean, so much amazing talent technology we have in the game right now, and I think people are really using it.

On how his gym training has evolved . . .

At the end of ’17 and ’18, I had to take a leave from the game for a while. I had some low back issues. I’ve always struggled with some stuff in my right hip as well. What I learned from that is certain movements, certain mobility exercises, certainly strengthening exercises, was really pretty important and prevalent for me to be able to get back to playing and have the strength to compete and build around some of the difficulties that I had in my spine and my back and my hip.

It’s become a big focus of how to stay healthy, how to stay mobile, and do the correct things. I think a lot of people in golf have those very similar issues that I have — the low back issues — and if you don’t have the knowledge of what you can and cannot do, then I think it’s a long road because golf, even though it doesn’t seem that athletic, is pretty hard on the body.

On how he monitors his fitness and wellness . . .

I use the Oura ring at night just for sleep. I think it’s a great technology. It gives you a great insight to some of the tendencies and lifestyles that you need to follow to maximize your ability, to be in the right frame of mind and right [place] physically to compete at the highest level. So I know if I have a glass of wine, my sleep just isn’t as good that night. So when I’m competing, I really stay away from all that stuff. I’ve used glucose monitors just to see that I’m eating the right things on the golf course where my blood sugar is not spiking. Again, there’s so much technology out there, and the players are so good that you have to find little incremental improvements that will give you a slight edge over your competitors.

On his use of launch monitors . . .

I certainly use TrackMan. I use the Foresight as well. I have both of those, but I use them more at home. When I’m at home, I think it’s good to just kind of check that my numbers in where I want them to be. I don’t overly use them. I still think there’s an art and skill to golf that isn’t just solely based on numbers and statistics. There’s certainly a feel factor when it comes to that.

They’re great technology tools to use, but I certainly wouldn’t use them every time I’m playing or bring them out to the tournaments, week in and week out. Sometimes it’s good just to check how far the balls are flying. You have some altitude certain weeks, and certain weeks are cooler, certain weeks are hotter. So getting a baseline for how far the golf balls are traveling is important. It’s really more of a check for me that I have not gotten into some bad habits.

On serving as Ryder Cup Captain . . .

It’s been very energizing. It’s given me a great focus. In life, we always strive to be busy and have purpose of something that’s really important to us. And the Ryder Cup has given me so many great moments in my career and being part of a team that we don’t get to experience very much on the golf course. So I’ve enjoyed the process. I’ve enjoyed everything that’s been part of the job and getting to know the players a little bit more and trying to have this focus of how can I give my team the best opportunity to be successful. There’s a lot that goes into it.

On the proposed PGA Tour-Liv Golf merger . . .

I think we were all surprised like everyone. None of the players knew about this. I think certain people that have been involved from the start knew that there were potential talks going on but definitely didn’t know that something was going to happen so quickly. It took us all by surprise.

For me, it seems like this is a commercial merger more than anything. The PGA Tour has spent a lot of money in lawsuits. I think both sides were wary about disclosure, and so they got into a room and figured out, how can we make this work? And, yeah, it’s a bit of a 180, certainly. I think, from the US PGA Tour side, Jay is going to have to build some of that trust back with some of the players but hopefully, down the road, once this is all figured out — and we’re still a long way to figure out what this looks like — that it will ultimately be better for golf. And that’s the whole point of it.

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