A golf instructor says his technique was stolen.
The golf swing is a lot like the menu at Taco Bell: both have a finite number of familiar ingredients that can be combined in myriad ways to produce something “new”. Of course, calling a Cheesy Gordita Crunch “new” or seeing it as a crunchy beef taco protected by an outer skin of melted cheese and a soft tortilla is a matter open to interpretation.
So, too, is the assertion by a Colorado golf instructor that another teacher stole his proprietary technique – the Rotary Swing. In his April lawsuit, Chuck Quinton says Eric Kaplan joined the Rotary Swing program in 2015 and spent years scraping information on Quinton’s teachings before starting the Axys Golf website. What set Rotary Swing apart, Quinton says, is that he consulted with experts to devise a technique that’s easier on the body.
In his complaint, Quinton says Kaplan pirated the ideas from Rotary Swing and made virtually identical videos of his, and when Quinton complained, Kaplan moved them from a free part of the site to behind
Not so fast, says Kaplan, who disputes that Quinton invented the technique and terminology of a “rotary” swing and even throws in a celebrity testimonial video from PGA Tour Champions legend Bernhard Langer, who says he has been working on elements of “turning in a box” with Kaplan since 2014 – a year before Quinton claims Kaplan joined Rotary Swing.
In a scene straight out of a college-town Taco Bell 20 minutes after last call, Quinton and Kaplan have taken their court battle to social media, exchanging insults and putting up boutique websites to advance their causes. Quinton has gone so far as to call Kaplan a fraud and snake-oil salesman in a YouTube video, and Kaplan uses his Rotary Truth website to call Quinton a bully and liar. United States District Court Judge Christine Arguello’s ruling on the matter is exquisitely scoldy: she called both men’s conduct egregious and unprofessional and banished them to mediation to work it out.
But within the ruling is language both ominous – for Quinton – and interesting. Arguello points to golf instruction published by Alex Morrison in the 1930s – A New Way to Better Golf – as an example of “rotary style” swinging being taught long before Quinton could claim it to be proprietary.
Before we all wrap our arms around the idea that there literally is nothing new under the sun (at least since the Herbert Hoover administration), and thus no standing for modern pros to claim their ideas have been ripped off, let’s consider what that does to innovation in the world of golf instruction. Teaching language and access to the technology to measure and interpret athletic movement has certainly changed and evolved since 1932. Morrison probably couldn’t have imagined a radar device sitting on the ground behind a player, beaming swing analytics to a phone with more processing firepower in its hand-held innards than the supercomputer that sent the first astronauts to the moon.
You can’t copyright physics, but novel approaches, new language, improved technology and – most important – new ways to interact with students can and should be rewarded and protected from exploitation. Fredrik Tuxen didn’t invent radar tracking. He used it in his previous job to track bullets and missiles. But when Klaus and Morten Eldrup-Jorgensen asked him if it would be possible to do it with golf balls, TrackMan was born. Jim McLean wasn’t the first coach to see the relationship between the upper and lower body, but he did the work to grow it from a collection of anecdotes to an integrated teaching system called the X-Factor. Quinton’s Rotary Swing clearly stands on Morrison’s shoulders (and on Percy Boomer’s from the 1940s). He doesn’t have the right to put a fence around the physics, but he deserves space for his trade name and protection from having his stuff copied.
It might help to think about modern golf coaching concepts like the artwork of Andy Warhol. Warhol took photographs of people and commercial labels and through adaptation turned them into new works of art. The adaptations are different from straight-up copies, and they recognise the source material from which they came.
Sort of like a Nacho Cheese Doritos Taco. Familiar, but different.