You can’t miss it.
If you’re interested in golf and search about it online (and if you’re not, how did you end up here?), then you’ll have heard about Golf Fuel.
Depending on when you clicked on the link, the presentation you’ll have heard will have varied a little…but not by much. The version I clicked on today has changed a little from the first time I heard it, but the overall effect is just the same.
It all feels…icky.
There’s something about the presentation which makes me uncomfortable.
And I’m not the only one.
I’ve asked my Twitter friends about it a few times, and each time a few people respond with the same concerns.
Very few have listened to the presentation all the way through, despite (or perhaps because of) the miraculous claims made about golf fuel.
Responses have ranged from “it’s probably BS” to “It got my scam radar tingling”.
But the video is full of claims of “scientific evidence” that Golf Fuel is “scientifically proven” to work; such claims intrigue me, as I’ve got a little experience of interpreting such evidence. I’ve decided to delve a little deeper into the evidence behind the hype before you part with your hard-earned cash.
So is Golf Fuel a scam?
I don’t think so.
Will I be buying it?
Again, the answer is no.
So what gives?
Firstly, their marketing leaves me cold. I suspect it plays a big part in the negative response to Golf Fuel. The first video I saw promised to “take less time than I might think” and exhorted the viewer to “watch to the end”. But there was no indication of how long it would take , no controls to pause it if, say, you wanted to go to the bathroom. If you want to see the end of that video, you have to sit and wait.
And, if you get past the initial “ick”, you might find yourself wanting to stay until the end. Not because you’re enjoying it, but because you’re constantly teased with information “you’ll find out in just a minute”. Try to navigate way from the page, and you’ll get an “Are you sure?” pop-up which just heaps on more disquiet.
But if you persist, you’ll notice something else. You’ll be told just how scarce the product is. You’ll be told “someone else will get your place”. It starts early on (almost from the beginning of the latest video), and is just ridiculous by the end.
I think it’s these tactics which have led to the suspicion I and others have experienced on viewing. These tactics will be forever associated with the seedy side of internet marketing, to the point where they’re beyond redemption.
They’re icky because they are so blatantly manipulative – sit to the end of the video, and you’ve already subconsciously made a commitment, making you more likely to buy. They tease you with information and promises to encourage you to watch, and then they pile on the scarcity tactics, crowding you into compliance. It’s unpleasant, and redolent of scams; I’m not surprised it’s turned a lot of people off.
But does this mean Golf Fuel is a scam?
I still don’t think so.
Sadly, these tactics are so prevalent online, and used by so many “respected” marketers, many honest businesses think this is the marketing way is done online . Many of the so-called “A-list” bloggers use them too, and encourage their readers to do the same. It’s not fair to call out a product as a scam, just because their marketing has been naive.
But I still won’t be buying Golf Fuel.
I’ve had the chance to look at the scientific evidence behind the claims.
And, while it’s substantially better than I thought it would be, I still have significant concerns about its quality.
I’m going to focus on Phosphatidylserine (PS), as that’s the first ingredient they mention, and the only one with study evidence directly related to golf.
(studies focusing on the other ingredients look at things like the brain’s ability to cope under stress, and there’s an assumption golfers would see a similar benefit)
The “good” bits:
Golf Fuel’s marketing had led me to believe the study would be published in an obscure journal with little quality control. I was delighted to find this wasn’t the case. Articles in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) are reviewed by 2 experts before they’re accepted, and the journal appears well regarded.
Journals are measure by their “impact factor” (the number of times articles from the previous year are quoted by other articles divided by the total number of articles published in that year. JISSN has a very respectable impact factor at 2.58; to put this in context, Age and Ageing (the principal journal of Medicine for the Elderly in the UK) has an impact factor of 2.71.
There are various ways to conduct a study, but the best way is to have a group taking placebo along with the group taking the relevant substance, with neither participants nor investigators aware of who’s taken what until afterwards (in technical terms, a double-blind controlled trial). And that’s exactly what this study was.
At the driving range, the participants were assessed, and put into groups. Handicaps varied from 15-40. After warming up, they were asked to hit a target 135 yards away, choosing their own club (but not a pitching wedge). They were asked to hit 20 balls in quick succession, with 15 seconds between each ball in order to simulate pressure.
So far, so good. So why do I remain unconvinced?
The “not-so good” bits:
Although it’s very common for manufacturers (and drug companies) to fund research, this is usually clearly declared. So it’s not an issue that one of the authors holds the patent for the preparation of PS they used in the trial, or that the trial was funded by the company which makes the preparation.
But I did have to do a wee bit of hunting to confirm this – the declaration quotes the wording of the patent without making it’s clear that’s what they used in the study – and the company funding the trial is mentioned by name, rather than identified as the manufacturer. While this may be what the journal permits, I would’ve preferred to see this made explicit.
I also have a few issues with the study itself.
Firstly, it’s a very small study.
Each group had only 10 participants; it’s very difficult to get accurate results in a study this small, as it’s more prone to statistical abnormalities. Most studies work out how many participants they’d need to ensure their results are relevant; there’s no mention of that in this paper.
Although that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t do it (they might just have left it out of the final paper), I find its absence concerning. With groups this small, just one golfer hitting a rich vein of form could throw the results out of kilter.
There’s also no mention of a how the groups compared. While choosing which group each person is in at random helps to prevent bias, this only really works with large study groups; if in this case one group had a higher proportion of higher handicap players or younger golfers, this would be enough to invalidate the results. It’s impossible to interpret the results of this study without seeing how the groups compare on key points like age and handicap.
This is particularly relevant when you realise the study only just reached statistical significance; even then, there’s still a 1 in 20 possibility these findings are a result of chance occurrence.
This is very concerning in such a small study.
The study also focused on ball flight, with 9 different flights defined. There were only 3 “good” ball flights (straight, draw and fade). I think this is focusing on the wrong thing; surely repeatability and hitting the target are more relevant measures? The ball flights deemed acceptable by the investigators would exclude a number of well-known professional golfers (think of Kenny Perry’s high hook, or KJ Choi’s push fade).
I’m also unhappy with the how the ball flights were generated; hitting 20 balls to the same target with the same club hardly simulates golf. Even if it did, what It would be far more interesting to look at the 18-hole scores of the two groups over a period. If this study had found an improvement in 18 hole scores, this would have been a very different post, even with all of the above concerns.
My final concern? The study was published in 2007. Although it’s flawed, the results are interesting, and there’s clearly scope for further study. If the study results were consistent and true, I would’ve expected a slew of further studies citing this one. And yet, Google Scholar suggests it’s only been cited 12 times…and not many of these are studies examining PS use in golf.
Journals tend to report positive findings, so negative studies don’t see the light of day.
The silence is eloquent in this instance.
That’s not to say Golf Fuel is a scam.
Interpreting study data is difficult, and it’s easy to get it wrong – just look at how the media reports any study in medicine. So I’m not for a second suggesting the manufacturers of Golf Fuel have done anything unethical or illegal – I just have a different opinion on what the study data shows.
Golf Fuel also contains other ingredients, and it may be these have a greater effect. My goal here isn’t to denigrate the product – it’s to provide you with the information as I see it, so you can make an informed decision.
Might the company do more research themselves?
They might; I’ve got real concerns about this though, as the video I watched seemed to be offering the chance to buy the product and become part of the study group.
While this might seem to make sense at first, particularly given my concerns about study size, it raises a number of concerns – how could you have a control group? You can hardly send placebo to paying customers, after all. And wouldn’t having people buy the product themselves increase the chance of a positive result anyway? I think it would, and that’s without stopping to think about the effect the sales tactics might have.
Golf Fuel is over-hyped, over-priced and under-researched.
That’s not a winning combination – I suggest you stay away.
This article is a bit of a departure from my normal style; I usually focus on helping golfers lower their scores without changing their swings, improving performance through sport psychology and productive practice . If you’ve just arrived as a result of a Google search, why not subscribe to get a new article each week delivered to your inbox? Subscribers also get a free copy of my eBook “Why Almost All Of Your Golf Practice Is A Waste Of Time…And How To Fix It”.
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[image credit: "Difficul-tee" by Wendy Candela, "Research Bookworm" by viewoftheworld under Creative Commons License]