Visit the practice tee at any PGA tour event and you’ll see these funny little orange squares positioned behind many, (if not all) of the games top players.
Rory McIlroy uses one. Dustin Johnson uses one. Tiger Woods uses one. So do hundreds, if not thousands, of other touring professionals, teaching professionals and amateur golfers all around the world.
So does that mean you should use one?
Let’s first unpack all that Trackman is, and what it can do for you, and then we can answer this question.
So what is TRACKMAN?
Consider this definition taken from the fine people at Trackman; (via www.trackman.com)
“Our technology is based on the Doppler Radar Principle. It’s basically microwaves reflecting from the movement of a golf club head and the resulting ball flight. The change in frequency of these receiving waves is what makes it possible for us to track what happens at the very moment of impact between club and ball.”
Sounds kinda 'sciency' right?
The company’s mission statement, or purpose is, “TO UNLEASH TALENT.”
If we accept that we all have inherent talent, that even though we may never shoot 59, we, as humans, have the ability to perform the motion of swinging a golf club and launching a little white ball into an endless sky, then we accept that we all have some untapped talent that Trackman may be able to unleash.
Sure, some do it better than others, but we all have the basic talent to complete this task.
Though seemingly simple in nature, (the ball isn’t moving, it’s just sitting there. I should be able to hit it!) golfers know better. The truth is, the act of sending our little white friend into the sky, on its intended target line, with only enough force so that it travels the precise distance is incredibly complex and, let’s be honest - difficult.
Some, (including myself, who has played just about every mainstream sport at one time or another) would argue that golf is one of the most difficult sports to play. In no other sport are you asked to master so many different movements, each requiring an incredible amount of finesse, strength and timing. Add in the fact that you primarily compete against yourself and the course - and that no matter how well you play, you always know you, "left one out there" - this game we love can be so maddening, and then a second later, so…euphoric.
So the million dollar question is, how can we make the incredibly difficult task of hitting a golf ball at our intended target, a little less...difficult. And more specifically, how can Trackman help us in our never ending pursuit of a repeatable golf swing?
First, let’s look at what Trackman measures.
(*Source note* -this information is taken directly from the Trackman site www.trackman.com)
What it means:
Smash Factor relates to the amount of energy transferred from the club head to the golf ball. The higher the smash factor the better the energy transfer. A golfer would hope to achieve a smash factor near 1.50 on driver shots. That means for a 100 mph club speed the ball speed would be 150 mph. The higher the loft of the club, the lower the smash factor is expected to be. A PW should have a smash factor near 1.25.
Golfer A has a club speed of 100 mph and a smash factor of 1.40. Golfer A’s ball speed is 140 mph. Golfer B has a club speed of 100 mph and a smash factor of 1.50. Golfer B’s ball speed is 150 mph.
The 10 mph difference in ball speed between Golfer A and Golfer B equates to approximately 20 yards in distance between the two golfers even though they have the same club speed.
What it means:
Spin rate has a major influence on the height and distance of a shot. Spin rate is one of the least appreciated numbers, especially in windy conditions. A high spin rate is the enemy, particularly when hitting in to the wind. One way to reduce spin is to hit a lower lofted club. Practice taking one or two clubs more (5 iron instead of 7 iron) and swing easier.
What it means:
Launch angle is highly correlated to dynamic loft. Launch angle will always be a little less than dynamic loft, but will have a similar value. Along with ball speed, launch angle is a primary component to determining the height and distance of a shot. Every golfer should be fitted to achieve the optimal balance of launch angle and spin rate based on their club speed and ball speed.
What it means:
An important thing to know about carry is that the value is given for a landing area that is the same height as where the ball is hit from. Then the golfer can adjust for uphill and downhill shots on the course. This reason is why carry is sometimes referred to as “carry flat”. Using the club speed definition, we would expect the average male amateur to hit their driver as far as the average LPGA Tour player.
However, the actual difference is more than 20 yards. Ball speed, launch angle, and spin rate must be optimized to reach a golfer’s potential distance. LPGA Tour players are some of the best in the world at optimizing these numbers and getting the most out of their club speed.
This will help you control your ball flight and distance. More loft generally increases spin rate. All things being equal, more club speed will also increase spin rate.
What it means:
Ball speed is created by club speed and impact. Bad impact such as shots hit on the toe or heel will reduce the potential ball speed. “Glancing blows” created by hooks, slices, and hitting too much down on the ball can also reduce the potential ball speed.
Although a golfer’s club speed is key to potential distance, the ball speed that is created at impact is the biggest factor in how far the ball actually carries. Gaining 1 mph of ball speed can increase your driver distance by up to 2 yards.
What it means:
Club Speed determines a golfer’s potential distance. More club speed equals more potential distance. In fact, adding 1 mph of club speed can increase your distance by up to 3 yards with the driver.
What it means:
The golfer’s attack angle, how the shaft bends, how the golfer releases the club head, whether the club face is open or closed to the club path, and where the ball makes contact on the club face can all impact the dynamic loft.
Creating the proper dynamic loft for the golfer’s club speed is important to creating the optimal trajectory and maximizing carry.Too much dynamic loft can send the ball too high into the air and reduce the golfer’s distance. Too little dynamic loft can send the ball too low making the ball roll out excessively causing it difficult to judge distance.
What it means:
Shots hit off the ground should have a negative attack angle in order to create “ball first” contact. However, golfers with slower club speeds should be careful not to hit too much down (negative attack angle) with their irons.
This will affect the golfer’s potential distance. To maximize distance with your driver, hitting up on the ball (positive attack angle) is a must. The driver’s loft should be chosen so that it complements the golfer’s attack angle.
Having a positive attack angle does not guarantee maximum distance. The fit of the club is also an essential piece of the puzzle.
What it means:
Most golfers relate this number to hitting the ball “in-to-out” or “out-to-in”.
A positive value means the club is moving to the right of the target at impact (“in-to-out” for a right-handed golfer) and a negative value means it is moving to the left of the target (“out-to-in” for a right-handed golfer).
To hit a straight shot, the club path should be zero. The club path is part of what influences the curvature of the shot. It also is part of what determines the ball’s starting direction.
An “in-to-out” club path is necessary to hit a draw and an “out-to-in” club path is necessary to hit a fade. The optimal club path depends on the type of shot the golfer wants to play. A golfer may want to hit a 5 yard fade, straight shot, or 10 yard draw. Each of these shots has its own optimal club path.
What it means:
Most golfers refer to this as having an “open” or “closed” club face. A positive value means the club face is pointed to the right of the target at impact (“open” for a right-handed golfer) and a negative value means the club face is pointed to the left of the target (“closed” for a right-handed golfer).
Face angle is the most important number when determining the starting direction of the golf ball. The ball will launch very closely to the direction the club face (face angle) is pointed at impact.
To hit a straight shot, the face angle should be zero. The optimal face angle depends on the type of shot the golfer wants play. A golfer may want to hit a 5 yard fade, straight shot, or 10 yard draw. Each of these shots has its own optimal face angle.
Boy, that's a lot of numbers. What am I supposed to do with all of these?
Seek professional help.
I can't stress it enough. Using Trackman is only one piece of the puzzle. Understanding what your tendencies are (such as an open face, or an outside to inside path) is valuable information, but its true value in affecting your game is using that information to make changes to your swing. This is where working with a teaching professional who understands the data can really help maximize your potential.
Now that we know what Trackman can measure, how can this technology help us improve our golf game?
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am a number hog. I love to see the numbers. However, I do understand that for some people, this can be overwhelming and counter-productive. Some people may get bogged down by the sheer number of…well, numbers.
But what is beneficial, in my opinion, is to understand what you are doing, and how those tendencies affect the flight of your golf ball. If you understand that an inside swing path, with a club face that is closed to that path will result in a hook, you can learn to correct this before your next shot, and presumably, prevent yourself from making the same mistake.
LEARNING THE CHARACTERISTICS OF ‘YOUR’ SWING TO MAKE AUTHENTIC CHANGES.
In the movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” actor Will Smith plays a caddie who helps a once great amateur golfer, played by Matt Damon, recover his golf game. In the movie Bagger (Smith) says to Junah (Damon);
“Well, you lost your swing. We got to go find it. Now, it's somewhere in the harmony of all that is, all that was, all that will be... Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing. Somethin' we was born with. Somethin' that's ours and ours alone. Somethin' that can't be taught to ya or learned. Somethin' that got to be remembered. Over time the world can, rob us of that swing. It gets buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas... Some folk even forget what their swing was like.”
I love this quote and I think it rings true for most of us. My 5 years old makes a swing - with a lightsaber no less - with no thought of face angle, swing path, dynamic lofts or anything else. He just swings his authentic swing.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, using the data captured by Trackman, you (and your teacher if you so desire) can see your tendencies - the common things you do on each and every swing - and find ways to help you use those same movements that are ingrained in your DNA to improve.
Fundamentals are the basis of any good swing, and I doubt anyone would argue this point, but instead of a teacher saying, 'this is the 'right' position on the backswing, this is the right position at the top", a teacher can now use the data to find ways to help each learner feel the right feels and make authentic changes.
Mark Elliott, teaching professional at the Sunningdale Golf and Country Club in London, Ontario, uses Trackman with all of his players.
"Golf is a feel game. Trackman is the finest tool a golfer can use to recognize, practice, and master the various 'feels' that are required to play better golf. Just as a bathroom scale is to weight, or an MRI is to medical assessments, the data is used to accurately assess a swing and determine a better pathway to success."
"The golfer need not concern herself with the numbers, but use them as a conduit to changing their weak links."
Every player I have worked with has found that Trackman makes the game infinitely simpler, NOT more complicated.
I urge everyone to consider ignoring the century-old "all you need are fundamentals" rubbish. Everyone needs a set of fundamentals, but everyone's fundamentals are not identical - this is why very few improve long-term. Trackman allows the golfer or coach to establish personal fundamentals in a much shorter period of time."
A Final Thought...
Whether you are a scratch player looking for consistency, or a 25 handicap, just looking for the fairway, Trackman can help you improve. By learning your tendencies and understanding how those tendencies relate to the ball flight you experience, you can begin to make changes that will help improve your game.
Visit trackman.com for more information and to find a professional in your area. To contact Mark Elliott, send an email to MElliott@sunningdalegolf.com.
Stay tuned for my follow up post: "How Trackman has helped straighten out my driver."
Here's to chasing down the elusive 59,