Documentary filmmaker Erik Anders Lang is turning his attention to golf, and he’s working on one heck of a project.
Be The Ball, Lang’s in-progress film, explores the mental side of the game through interviews with luminary figures in golf and the aid of a device known as the Focus Band. Lang’s film will culminate with a grand experiment: a meditation retreat for both pro and amateur golfers to aid and evaluate their abilities to get in the zone.
Lang has made documentaries for Serato, Louis Vuitton, The Guggenheim, Honda, MTV and TED, in addition to the feature-length documentary The Story of Braeden Reed. He already has hundreds of hours of interviews with enthusiasts, professionals and industry figures from Bill Murray to Rory McIlroy to the author of Golf in the Kingdom.
He’s gathering footage at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge this week and has also set up an IndiGoGo to cover some of the production funding that you can check out here.
I had the chance to catch up with the filmmaker about his background in the game and the film.
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On his background in golf
“I grew up in an avid golf family, but I didn’t like it. I had complete contempt prior to investigation. I finally tried it like five years ago. I tried it and I fell in love immediately. It was a mix of everything that I really loved: inner challenge, group challenge, sport, nature.
Once I started playing, the next day I went and bought clubs…started reading every book, watching every movie. The movie idea came about pretty shortly after that.”
On the idea for the film
“The idea…A documentary that takes pro golfers on a meditation retreat to see how the process of focusing your mind can affect your golf score.
“I read a book early on called Zen Golf. I called the author. He said, ”Do you know how to meditate? You should come up, I’ll teach you. I had a kind of spiritual experience. Years went by and he became my kind of mentor. We would play golf together and meditate together. That was kind of the first brick.”
“Then I tried a thing called the Focus Band, which solidified how the movie will work. The Focus Band is a thing you wear on your head and it tells you whether or not you’re in the zone. I was totally skeptical. It worked. It knew when I was properly meditating.
“I couldn’t get it to say I was in the zone while I was there staring at a golf ball. Whenever I went back to the golf ball it would fall out. My relationship to the golf ball was anything but present. It was future and past.
“It made me say, ‘Wow.’
“On the PGA Tour, any player I go up to and say, ‘Hey is golf a spiritual game?’ They’ll pretty much all say, ‘Yes.’
“So, I saw there was this golden story lying under the veneer of every PGA Tour event. I thought: I’ve already got my theories about golf, and now I have a way to literally measure it.”
On his progress so far
“I started bringing my camera with me about four years ago. I interviewed a lot of the greats slowly but surely.
“I’ve done a lot of testing with the guys and the Focus Band to make sure the experiment is going to…work on camera. For each person, putting this Focus Band on is like seeing themselves in the mirror for the first time. I thought: This is awesome; we’ve got a golden brick here.
“We’ve attracted some great producers to the film [the producer of Rudy and Swingers, for example]. We have financing partners when this crowdfunding campaign is complete. We’ve done a lot, but there’s a lot further to go. A lot of what we’re waiting to shoot is this experiment with these great players…that’s the story.
“The campaign will be done January 12th. Then, we’ve got to wait just a little bit for the other funding sources to come in. The IndieGoGo campaign is a way for people to get involved now and learn about the story and get really cool rewards that are individual to the film.
“Pre-production: We’ll shoot over the summer, then we’re editing for about six months. We’ll have the theatrical release around the Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016.”
On what golf is
“All this brought me to this conclusion: Golf is an excuse to do anything you want. Maybe it’s stuff that you wouldn’t do otherwise…like meditate. If you think about the experience of going to play a round of golf, it’s so interesting and bizarre on so many levels.
“Pete Dye’s whole thing is: ‘You think you’re going to get better next Saturday. But next Saturday doesn’t come.
“You’re showing up every time and hoping that it’s going to be that magical round. It pretty much never is. Every round of golf is incredibly heartbreaking.”
On his hopes for the film
“This is an entertaining thing, but really it’s aimed toward change and helping people’s golf games and really helping people’s lives. I need to make this information as palatable and as interesting as possible to get people to watch it.
“I would like to see this film have an effect on so many things. I would like to see the non-golf audience look at golf and say, ‘That looks cool. I’d really like to try that.’
“I would like it to make it into the wide view of people watching movies. That’s why it’s called Be The Ball. It goes beyond just the golf ball.
“I would love golfers to say, ‘Wait a minute, have I been doing this all wrong? Is getting upset after every shot that doesn’t go in the hole the right way to do it?’
“And then I would like the Focus Band to make it into all facets of life…they’re talking about getting it into kid’s video games, and I would also like to see a large shift in how we think about thinking.
“It’s cool to see people so excited about this idea, because it’s so important to me.”
The Wedge Guy: The best golf club innovations?
Being in the golf equipment industry for nearly 40 years, I have paid close attention to the evolution of golf equipment over its modern history. While I’ve never gotten into the collecting side of golf equipment, I have accumulated a few dozen clubs that represent some of the evolution and revolution in various categories. As a club designer myself, I ponder developments and changes to the way clubs are designed to try to understand what the goals a designer might have had and how well he achieved those goals.
Thinking about this innovation or that got me pondering my own list of the most impactful innovations in equipment over my lifetime (the past 60 years or so). I want to offer this analysis up to all of you for review, critique, and argument.
Woods: I would have to say that the two that made the most impact on the way the game is played is the introduction of the modern metal wood by TaylorMade back in the 1980s, and the advent of the oversized wood with the Callaway Big Bertha in the 1990s. Since then, the category has been more about evolution than revolution, to me at least.
Irons: Here again, I think there are two major innovations that have improved the playability of irons for recreational golfers. The first is the introduction of the numbered and matched set, a concept pioneered by Bobby Jones and Spalding in the 1930s. This introduced the concept of buying a “set” of irons, rather than picking them up individually. The second would be the introduction of perimeter weighting, which made the lower lofted irons so much easier for less skilled golfers to get airborne. (But I do believe the steadfast adherence to the concept of a “matched” set has had a negative effect on all golfers’ proficiency with the higher-lofted irons)
Putters: This is probably the most design-intense and diverse category in the entire equipment industry. History has showed us thousands of designs and looks in the endless pursuit of that magic wand. But to me, the most impactful innovation has to be the Ping Anser putter, which has been…and still is…copied by nearly every company that even thought about being in the putter business. Moving the shaft toward the center of the head, at the same time green speeds were increasing and technique was moving toward a more arms-and-shoulders method, changed the face of putting forever. I actually cannot think of another innovation of that scale in any category.
Wedges: Very simply, I’ll “take the fifth” here. To me, this is a category still waiting for the revolutionary concept to bring better wedge play to the masses. The “wedges” on the racks today are strikingly similar to those in my collection dating back to a hickory-shafted Hillerich and Bradsby LoSkore model from the late 1930s, a Spalding Dynamiter from the 50s, a Wilson DynaPower from the 70s, and so on.
Shafts: Hands down, to me the most impactful innovation is the creation of the carbon fiber, or graphite, shaft. After fruitless ventures into aluminum and fiberglass, this direction has improved the performance of golf clubs across the board. You haven’t seen a steel-shafted driver in two decades or more, and irons are rapidly being converted. Personally, I don’t see me ever playing a steel shaft again in any club – even my putter! But beyond that, I’d have to say the concepts of frequency-matching and “spine-ing” shafts made it possible to achieve near perfection in building golf clubs for any golfer.
Wild card: This has to go to the invention of the hybrid. After decades of trying to find a way to make clubs of 18-24 degrees easier to master, Sonartec and Adams finally figured this out. And golfers of all skill levels are benefitting, as this is just a better way to get optimum performance out of clubs of that loft and length.
So, there’s my review from a lifetime of golf club engineering. What can you all add to this? What do you think I missed? I hope to see lots of conversation on this one…
*featured image via Ping
On Spec: Please don’t play blades (or maybe play them anyway)
Host Ryan talks about the different ways to enjoy the game and maximizing your equipment enjoyment which doesn’t always have to mean hitting it 15 yards farther. The great debate of blades vs cavity backs is as old of an argument you will find in golf but both sides can be right equaling right. Ryan explains why.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?
Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.
That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.
All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18
Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined
- 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
- 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
- 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent
Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018
- 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
- 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
- 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent
- 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
- 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
- 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
- 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent
One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.
Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.
So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!
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