Last week, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee went on the offensive against radar launch monitors, claiming that they were “ruining golf.”

Chamblee said that radar systems (like Trackman and Flightscope) were promoting two different swings, one for the driver and one for the irons. He also said that they focused too much on optimizing distance at the expense of accuracy off the tee — according to Chamblee, all things that are bad for ball striking. Fortunately for golfers, there are recorded performance metrics that can determine the accuracy of Chamblee’s claims.

Golf radar systems hit the scene about a decade ago, but most PGA Tour players didn’t start using them for their practice and instruction sessions until about 2011. The golfers who used them prior to that time mainly used them as fitting tools to help them choose the right club head, shaft, etc.

From what I’ve been told by my contacts on Tour, Tiger Woods did not use a radar launch monitor for practice purposes until late 2010. Thus, I would establish a timeline of anything before 2010 as “pre-radar” and everything from 2010 on as “post-radar.”

Driving Effectiveness

Trackman-Mahanx_r640

I agree with Chamblee’s sentiments that golfers are becoming too focused on distance in place of accuracy, because my statistical research shows that the “bomb-and-gouge” strategy is not an optimal way to play golf — it tends to cost golfers some strokes.

With that said, a conservative strategy like the one Woods likes to use (choosing to hit 3 wood or 5 wood/2 iron off the tee whenever possible) is not an optimal strategy either. However, the data indicates that it is not a launch monitor issue.

When looking at how effectively a player on Tour drives the ball, I use an algorithm based on the historical data of the PGA Tour that factors in:

  • Distance
  • Fairway Percentage
  • Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway (on shots that miss the fairway)
  • Fairway Bunker Percentage
  • Missed Fairway – Other Percentage

The Tour has distance and fairway percentage measurements dating back to 1980. However, the others do not date back as far. Here are some charts of the Tour averages in these particular metrics.

Capture1
Capture2
Capture3

With these three metrics, I only made a chart that goes to 2009 (pre-radar), because it is very clear that Tour players were hitting it much farther and becoming more inaccurate off the tee well before radar launch monitors became popular to use for practice and instructional purposes.

I have excluded the Average Distance to the Edge of the Fairway metric because it only dates back to 2007 and the sample size is not large enough to make a valid “pre-radar” vs. “post-radar” comparison. However, we do see something very interesting when we look at the Tour average for Missed Fairway – Other Percentage. These are tee shots that do not find the fairway or the rough or the fairway bunker.

Capture4

As we can see, the Tour average dropped dramatically at the end of the “pre-radar” era. It has risen slightly since the “post-radar” era, but it is still well below previous years averages.

The data shows that Chamblee’s claims that golfers are too focused on distance and neglect accuracy and precision off the tee does have merit. However, it also suggests that radar launch monitors are not a problem.

The Tour has seen a dramatic increase in distance and a decrease in accuracy and precision off the tee well before radar launch monitors became popular for use. I believe that the decline in accuracy on Tour has more to do with the fallacy that the “bomb-and-gouge” strategy is superior.

There is other data that suggests that more Tour courses are being designed to favor distance over accuracy. This is also being shown in the charts I have presented where golfers are hitting less fairways, yet their Missed Fairway – Other percentage has mysteriously dramatically declined.

IRON PLAY

4

Chamblee’s claim about golf radar systems being detrimental because they promote two different golf swings has to do with the attack angles that golf radar systems promote. With the irons, golfers must have a downward attack angle so they can make contact with the ball first, then take a divot. But since the ball is teed up with the driver, golfers can have a downward, upward or a flat (0-degrees) angle of attack

An upward or positive angle of attack is usually rewarded with extra distance, however, as it tends to allow golfers to launch the ball higher with less spin — a key component of longer drives (see the chart above). Thus, if the golfer hits the driver with an upward attack angle and his irons with a downward attack angle, that is having “two different swings.”

An obvious flaw in Chamblee’s claim is that according to Trackman, the average attack angle with the driver on Tour is 1.3 degrees down, or negative 1.3 degrees. Thus, Tour players on average are still using “one swing” to hit their clubs. However, I wanted to see what the Tour averages were for shot proximity to the cup during the years.

I examine this by breaking down approach shots into three different zones.

  • Birdie Zone (75-125 yards)
  • Safe Zone (125-175 yards)
  • Danger Zone (175-225 yards)

Capture5
Capture6
Capture8

As we can see, the Tour average has hardly changed on approach shots the past few years. For the most part, the averages have been within one foot from year to year. Thus, there is no evidence to Chamblee’s claim that golf radar’s recommendation for having two different swings is causing golfers on Tour to hit their irons worse.

Lastly, I very much doubt that radar launch monitors are “ruining golf.” While I do not have hard data with regards to this matter, I would estimate that less than 1 percent of the golfing population has ever utilized a radar launch monitor for practice and/or lessons.

We could hypothesize many other factors that are causing golfers to hit the ball farther, but with less accurately and with less precision. Perhaps it is the altering of course design? Perhaps it is a change into more of a “bomb-and-gouge” philosophy? Maybe the Tour players are getting bigger and more athletic (allowing them to generate more clubhead speed), but they are having difficulty learning how to harness that power?

Whatever the problem may be, I find Chamblee’s most recent criticism toward this piece of technology to be without merit.

Your Reaction?
  • 1
  • LEGIT0
  • WOW0
  • LOL0
  • IDHT0
  • FLOP0
  • OB0
  • SHANK0

121 COMMENTS

  1. My two cents is that all this technology has helped minimally. Why? Average handicap is still staying the same is why. Doesn’t matter how well the club fits you, or how good the ball is, or anything else like that, if you can’t hit the damn ball well to begin with. If your swing sucks, your swing sucks whether you have a good fitting club or an ill fitting club. Meaning if you can’t hit the ball consistently but 10% of the time you still won’t be able to hit it any more consistently with a radar fitted club. At the Professional level, it would make much more difference given their skill and talent level but at the amateur level not so much.

  2. As a golf instructor I suggest one swing with different ball positions. But to use the info gained from the ball flight machine as to the distance each club is hit is beneficial [IMO] to every golfer, as it gives you an informed idea as to which club is necessary to carry the obstacles presented by the golf course.[Petie3]I suggest have the loft and lie of your clubs adjusted as opposed to obtaining new or different clubs. there are several benefits to this, 1 It is cheaper to have your club bent. 2 You get more confident and comfortable with clubs you have experience hitting. Just use the mute button for Chamblee, he does say some strange and entertaining things though.

  3. That is a stupid think to say, especialy considering he should know what he is talking about. A swing moves down and out and up and in so you change your address position and not realy your swing to hit your driver on the upswing.
    Also why should knowing exactly what your club and ball are doing be bad for golf!

  4. brandel is an idiot. It does not promote 2 different swings. If you dont adjust at address for the 2 different AoA then you will have to make 2 different swings.. look at Hogans setup/ball position example at the end of the 5 lessons book, his setup adjustments throughout the bag promotes one single swing.. this is what radar golf instructors teach.. chamblee just didnt do it like that so it must be wrong, since he is soo good.

  5. I think everything added up it is the ball that is the biggest difference. I know I saw John Daly when he was in his prime using a ball that would stay round off his driver but would also be 25, 30 feet past the pins before they would stop, where the shorter hitters used the pure balata ball that would stop on a dime. Now we have balls you can hit as hard as possible it still stays round and stops on a dime.

  6. If I have a bagfull of irons and I hit the 6-iron 15 feet to the right I get a new 6-iron. This gets critical with the wedges but it’s the same swing. If my sandwedge can’t hit down the line with a good swing I’ll use another one (I’ve gone through a lot of sandwedges).

  7. Chamblee is full of himself-period. I think we can all agree he harbors complete hatred for everything TW because after the 2000 season this one PGA tour event winner discovered his golf career was over.

    I’m a 15 handicap golfer and I’ve used FlightScope with my golf coach for a two simple reasons, efficiency and distance control. I don’t depend completely on the hardware to judge my swing, but it does help understand the subtle differences in making changes and how they effect the ball flight and distance through knowing the launch angle, angle of attack, ball spin, etc.

  8. Seems like cross-purposes here. Chamblee’s argument seems to be that chasing optimal launch and spin numbers leads to a deterioration in driving ability.

    But the numbers quoted in the article are tour averages, and suggest (in that the tour average AoA with driver is still downward) that tour players, AS A WHOLE, are not making the mistake that Chamblee claims that Tiger and other Trackman users are making.

    It follows that TM usage hasn’t “ruined” golf yet – but I don’t see that Chamblee is proven wrong, either in terms of what TM has meant for Tiger’s driving, or the direction in which golf coaching may be headed.

    • I think Brandel’s comments were geared towards Tiger. But, he did say that Trackman was ‘killing golf.’ It is either ‘killing golf’ or it isn’t. There is no evidence that it is killing the game. So using the argument that it is not *yet* killing it is a weak argument in my opinion.

      As far as Tiger goes, part of the issue with that claim is that Tiger hits down with the driver according to Sean Foley. So he’s not actually employing ‘2 different swings.’

      The only way to really determine Trackman’s effect on golfers is to get a sample of Tour players that use Trackman regularly. Pinpoint when they started using it. Then look at before and after results.

      Still, Chamblee’s point was that it was ruining the game and that’s absolutely not true. As for Tiger, he may have a point…although we should factor in age and injury in there as well. But, he doesn’t have a point with users like Justin Rose and Jason Dufner, both of whom have greatly improved their ballstriking metrics since going to Trackman.

  9. “The people in the past we all consider great golfers, Neslon, Hogan, Trevino, Nicklaus, Palmer, Vardon, Ouimet, yada yada on and on did not need a device to teach them how to get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes.”

    Seriously, can we stop with dumb crap like this? Everyone knows none of them used trackman or anything like it. It’s not because they “didn’t need it” or didn’t want to, it’s because it wasn’t available to them. If they had trackman in their days, you can bet that the heavy majority would have used it too.

  10. Whew, lots of posts, didn’t have time to read tem all so I hope I don’t repeat something already said.
    I wish they would do something with the ball. It is the only sport that does not require everybody use the same ball. Yes, they are all the same size, but you can tailor your ball flight, spin rate, etc.
    make everybody play exactly the same ball.
    I miss seeing guys like Trevino, chi chi, that had some imagination. Not many guys out there like that anymore.

  11. This is so misleading. Radar isn’t the problem! It’s the philosophies of drivers, balls, and some of the teaching and work that has been done with this information! All the radar provides is information to the golfer/instructor. What they choose to do with that information is completely subjective and they will pay the consequences. HOW CAN MORE INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING RUIN GOLF! I am a PGA professional that teaches with a flightscope and my philosophy has made more golfers more accurate. Weather your golf is hitting up or down, you can figure it out! The 2 swing crap Chamblee is spouting is just uninformed and a rather shallow finding. The ‘optimal fitting’ numbers provided by radar manufacturers should be used as guide lines for optimal DISTANCE. If that’s all you are using, then you are mislead. Trackman and Flightscope are doing an outstanding job. It’s the hands that work with them that are struggling to find it. As for the drivers and balls the guys on tour are using, they are completely different from what 99% can get there hands on but if they are even remotely trending in the direction of ‘off the rack stuff’ it’s no wonder they are all spraying it. Stuff has gotten lighter and longer and that isn’t the greatest combination for accuracy.

  12. Trackman has helped us understand why the ball does what it does. Every coach should have a working knowledge of what Trackman has proved about ball flight. That said it’s important to remember it is only a tool and, like video analysis, that it has to be used sensibly, not obsessively. Golf, playing and teaching, will always be more art than science. Likewise, finding clubs will always be as much about looks and feel, as it is about raw numbers. All really good players will have a feel for what equipment they’ll be able to trust on the course in competitive situations, and it may not be the same as the clubs that they can smash furthest down a range or into a net.

      • Yes there were others pre- Trackman who realised the ball flight laws as taught by the PGA were wrong, but it was Trackman that really proved this conclusively.

        • Thanks. I didn’t need a Trackman to conclusively prove anything and neither did any other “good player” who could see the ball “fly” out of wet grass or watch the ball “balloon upwards” because of too much spin. Same goes for “ball flight laws.” If the swing path and face angle in my brain didn’t coincide with the ball flight, then I just made the adjustment with my swing until they did. I reread your original post and it sums up what my personal (8 times) experience on trickman was like. All of the drivers that produced the optimal launch numbers didn’t work in competition. The only driver that worked was a driver that I used a controlled swing that kept the ball in play with decent distance and matched up to the rest of my clubs.

          • Agreed Bob. Golfers would be better going with what they like the look of, feels good, gives a flight they like, can shape, and something they’ve confidence with. Use the eyes, watch the ball-that’s the ultimate feedback. Trackman, can suck golfers into chasing an extra few yards, both in lessons and fitting. Those extra few yards are largely meaningless to how they’ll score.

  13. Likely not the launch monitor killing golf, rather it is the publicly traded manufacturers trying to put clubs that are commercially available to the recreational golfer in the hands of pros. Whether it is the 460cc driver head, latest replication of the circa 1970s Wilson Reflex iron and vibration dampening shafts/grips… the launch monitors are now crucial tool to give players the needed feedback in the absence of feel and the audible click of solid ball strikes on persimmon head woods and muscle back irons.

  14. When you post your figures/analysis, would you please include the number of data points that went into producing them? Would make it easier to realize what is a real trend and what is noise.

    Thanks,
    Alex

    • I’m not sure what exactly you mean by that. I stated that the ‘Zone’ data was based on the average proximity to the cup. As far as the size for each year, it varies on Tour. Usually about 185 to 190 players, but there were some years where the number of players that statistically qualified was as much as 202 players. With the latest rules and qualifiers, you’ll generally see this around 185-190 players per year.

  15. I think you guys are all overthinking this subject.
    Brandel’s point was simple, trackman and other devices are causing golfers to focus on the golfswing and not on playing golf. The people in the past we all consider great golfers, Neslon, Hogan, Trevino, Nicklaus, Palmer, Vardon, Ouimet, yada yada on and on did not need a device to teach them how to get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. The modern golfer focusing on his swing statistics is not betting better at getting the ball in the hole. He is getting better at his swing numbers. If the radar technology was making better golfers why are the accuracy statistics that Rich put together not showing better accuracy? Those accuracy statistics are basically static. So where is the improvement that these devices provide? The point of golf is least strokes to hole the ball. Shot distance, shot height, shot curvature are not the point of golf. The modern trackman golfer with all his advances in physical training, statistical analysis, psychologists, equipment is no better than Byron Nelson.

    • I think you have missed some of the key points here. If you look at the metrics, the scoring averages on Tour have gone down slightly over the years. However, I don’t think it’s useful to look at because there are too many other possible factors. Studies have shown that the modern greens and modern golf balls allow more putts to be made. The driver has changed to be much more forgiving, players are much better athletes, etc. So the steady improvement in Tour scoring average could be due to a various parts of the game.

      In short, the only real way to determine its effect is to get a sample of players that went to using launch monitors and determine when they started to use them and what the difference in their ballstriking performance was.

      • On the other hand, courses are much longer. With the scoring averages going down slightly even with longer courses, the level of shot-making is much higher. How much of that is due to equipment versus skill is debatable.

        Flightscope and Trackman give immediate, EXACT, feedback to a golfer. That allows him to work on an adjustment and know how he is doing on each swing. It tells him how the change should feel because he can see which swings are closer to the ideal swing for him. That is something no golf teacher can communicate. It lets the golfer make adjustments after each swing. I have seen a golfer go from an ingrained outside-in swing path to an inside-out swing path in less than a half hour using Flightscope. He was then shown how to square up the face by turning the right forearm over the left (right-handed). He then had a slight draw – the ideal. His reaction was usually something along the lines of, “I have never hit a shot like that before.” The improvement was immediate. All that was needed then was practice to make the change permanent. An ocassional checkup with Flightscope or Trackman is needed during the “making permanent” period to make sure he is still swing properly until it becomes ingrained.

    • Do you really think most pros are thinking about their Trackman results? If they were they would not be able to swing. The reality is they groove their mechanics on the practice ground and are using their swings on the course to hit the ball to the target as opposed to mechanical thoughts.