I have worked with all the technologies that have come along in my 20 years as a golf instructor in an effort to make my job much easier.
In the beginning I only used my eyes. Then digital video came along, followed by 3D Motion analysis that showed me every nuance of the body during the swing. And now Doppler radar launch monitors like FlightScope and Trackman can show me the actions of the club and ball flight. I have always loved technology and the data it produced, and have thoroughly enjoyed my time using my Trackman. But I try not to teach in a numerical or technical way, because I get asked what this number means or what that number means. I love that many of the students I teach want to know everything, however, 99 percent of the time I will not explain the numbers during a lesson because I don’t want to confuse them. My job is to make things simpler, not more complex!
In this article, I thought it would be neat to explain to golfers what each of the numbers that Doppler radar launch monitors tell me about a golfer’s overall motion. I am going to explain MOST of the numbers, but not everything that systems like FlightScope and Trackman can show me. For more detailed and/or scientific definitions of the terms below, please see Trackman’s website.
Different instructors like to see things a different way, and thus they set their home screens up accordingly. With the help of Michael Pinkey, Trackman’s PGA Tour and LPGA Tour rep, I have set my data parameters up as shown below.
Angle of attack shows whether golfers are hitting up, level or down on the golf ball at impact. Amateur golfers usually have attack angles that are more up with drivers, and down with hybrids and irons for the most part. A golfer’s angle of attack is a big key because it can help golfers get more distance with their driver (most players hit too much down), and correlates with the swing’s direction. That shows a golfer his or her true path at impact. The more golfers hit down on a golf ball, the more it skews their path to the right. The more golfers hit up on a golf ball, the more their path will move to the left. This is one of the most important instructional discoveries in golf to date.
This is the general “direction of the swing,” and shows whether the club is moving from in-to-out, down-the-line or out-to-in through impact. However, it is NOT a golfer’s swing path! Swing direction correlated with a golfer’s angle of attack determines the “true swing path” during impact.
I use a golfer’s swing direction to see how much he or she tends to swing in or out, because most people have a tendency to swing one way or the other. It tells me how a golfer’s angle of attack must change, or how much a golfer’s aim must be adjusted in order for the golfer to zero out his or her path. It also helps me to understand why a golfer’s angle of attack is what it is. Usually, the more exaggeration a golfer has within his or her swing direction, the more that golfer must alter his or her angle of attack.
Club path is a golfer’s “true path” at impact. It takes into account a golfer’s angle of attack and his or her overall swing’s direction. The ONLY way to accurately gauge a golfer’s true swing path is to be able to see this correlation! Contrary to popular belief, divots do not show a golfer’s true swing path. In fact, divots are basically useless, as they also do not show golfers the starting direction, curvature or angle of attack. They are also not an accurate gauge of lie angle. I use a golfer’s club path coupled with his or her face angle to understand why the golfer has the curvature on the ball they do. Provided a centered hit, the ball will bend AWAY from the path. Remember, path does not determine a golf ball’s starting direction: face angle does.
A golfer’s face angle is where the face is pointing when he or she impacts the ball. Face angle determines roughly 75 to 80 percent of a golf ball’s starting direction, and it correlates with a golfer’s club path to curve the ball by tilting the ball’s spin axis right or left. The correlation of a golfer’s face-to-path ratio (as we will see below) is how the ball’s curvature is controlled. If golfer’s face angle is right of the path (provided center contact), the ball will curve to the right. And if a golfer’s face angle is left of the path, the ball will move to the left.
Now, here is where it can get tricky. If a golfer hits the ball off-center, gear effect will take over. If I see shots that that curve the opposite directions to the above rules, I know a golfer has hit the ball off-center.
Face to Path
The face-to-path relationship that on that all golfers want to master. Simply stated, the closer a golfer’s face and path are correlated to one another, the lower the spin axis will be with centered contact. Professionals strive to keep their face-to-path ratio very low so the ball does not curve too much either way, however, they understand how to change the relationship so that they can curve the ball more when they need to. When the face and the path diverge to any great degree, a golfer will generally hit shots that curve one way or another a great deal. Thus, I try and help my students understand this relationship so that they can control the curvature of the ball at all times.
Most amateurs tell me that their goal is to have the club path move from the inside to the outside slightly with the face OPEN to the target-line, but CLOSED to the path in order to create a slight “push draw.” The most common flaw is to have the face too closed relative to the path, thus creating a “pull draw:” a ball that starts at or left of the target and curves away from it.
Every ball a golfer hits has some degree of backspin. The only way a ball can curve is to tilt its backspin on an axis that can be either “right” or “left.” The greater this “tilt” or spin axis, the more the ball will curve. This number tells me to what degree a golfer has tilted a golf ball’s “spin axis” and how much the ball should curve with everything else being equal.
At address, each club has a certain lie angle that fits a golfer’s swing and body type (if they have been correctly fit) at impact. Changing this lie angle can influence impact points and/or the fitting of a golfer’s clubs if not taken into account. If a golfer returns the club shaft to a much higher angle than it sat at address, he or she will tend to leave the face open and hit the ball off the toe. If a golfer’s swing plane returns into the ball on a much flatter angle than what was established at address, then he or she will tend to hit the ball with a closed face off the heel.
Changing the address swing plane to a great degree at impact tends to be more of a swing issue rather than one that can be fixed by a fitting. However, if you have not taken the time to get fit, I would suggest you do so ASAP! See Golf Digest’s 100 Best Clubfitters for more information.
A golfer’s spin loft is the difference between his or her angle of attack and the dynamic loft of the club delivered at impact. The greater the difference is between these numbers, the more the ball will spin (up to a certain point). The smaller the spin loft, the more exaggeratedly the D-plane will tilt, making a golf ball curve more. This is the reason why it’s easier for a golfer to curve a driver than a 6 iron. “Compression” can also measured by the spin loft of the club a golfer is using, as there are ranges that each club should fall into. The smaller the spin loft number, the greater the compression.
For those of you who desire more spin on your wedges, please instructor Andrew Rice’s story on how spin-loft affects your wedge play.
A golfer’s smash factor is the correlation between the club-head speed he or she delivers at impact and the subsequent speed imparted to the ball when the it leaves the club. This gives a rough estimate of how “efficient” a golfer is at impact. Every 1 mph of club-head speed would allow a golfer to gain 1.5 miles per hour of ball speed with a driver in a perfect world. However, the higher a golfer’s spin loft, the lower his or her smash factor will be. Thus, shorter clubs tend to have a lower smash factor than the 1-to-1.5 ratio that a driver can have. I check this number more often when someone hits with longer clubs, while I focus more on spin loft for the shorter clubs.
Club speed measures how fast the club moving at impact. I’d like to see a golfer use the most club-head speed he or she can handle while keeping the same sequencing within the swing as it pertains to the kinematic sequence. When the club reaches an in-line condition with a gofler’s forward arm, the club begins to slow down. So if a golfer “casts” the club, his or her fastest club-head speed usually occurs well BEFORE impact. Basically, the faster a golfer can swing the club the more likely he or she is going to create more ball speed.
Ball speed measures how fast the golf ball leaves the club. Factors that can influence a golfer’s ball speed can be simple things like impact point, swing direction and low-point control. Ball speed can help me to see how consistently a golfer delivers the club in efforts to maximize distance with a driver or control and distance with his or her irons. On a very rough scale with a driver, the average amateur has a ball speed of 115-to-125 mph, club pros have ball speeds of 155-to-160 mph, tour pros have ball speeds of 160-to-170 mph and long-hitting tour pros have ball speeds of 170 to 185 mph. The long drive guys can get into the 190-to-220 mph range, just to give you some perspective.
A golfer’s spin rate shows me how much backspin her or she is imparting on the golf ball when it leaves the club. It is greatly influenced by spin loft (described above). Golfers should aim to see lower backspin values with their long clubs relative their wedges because that allows them to get more distance with the long clubs and more stopping power with their wedges. Sometimes I want to see golfers create more spin, other times I want to see them create less.
Launch angle is a measure of the angle that a golf ball leave the club after impact. A good way to think about it is to relate it to the spraying of garden hose: you don’t want the water to come out flat, nor do you want it to come out too high. A golfer’s goal is for the water to leave the hose at an angle that allows it to carry the farthest distance possible. This is the same way the ball should leave the club for most shots.
My job is to ensure the ball is launching off the club correctly, i.e. correlating with the loft of the club, so golfers can maximize their distance output. One of the most forgotten aspects of launch angle is impact point and vertical gear effect. If golfers hit the ball too high on the face, vertical gear effect will increase launch angle and create less spin. Hitting the ball lower on the face will launch the ball lower with less spin.
While it is important to launch the ball with certain conditions, golfers must also have control of the club face as it pertains to the actual loft that they deliver to the ball itself. If golfers have a sand wedge with 56 degrees of loft and “lean the shaft back” 10 degrees at impact, they have now created a golf club with 66 degrees of dynamic loft. Distance is a problem for most average golfers, and these type of golfers tend to add loft to their irons through impact by “flipping” their hands. Yardage is reduced accordingly. Coupling launch angle and dynamic loft helps me to determine if golfers are getting what they need from their driver and irons in the way of trajectory and yardage control.
Everyone golfer needs to know how far the ball carries in the air, as well as their total distance output. It’s the most basic requirement of top-level golf. Amazingly, most golfers have no idea how far they carry the ball, and do not even come close to understanding what their limitations are. That’s why they tend to come up short on the golf course so often.
Professionals know to the half yard how far their clubs go, and they learn to play within those yardages. If they did not, they would never be able to manage themselves around the course optimally. Accurate carry distances have helped players improve their wedge play, because if golfers cannot control their launch angles, dynamic lofts and spin rates they will never have consistent distance control.
Launch direction tells golfers if their ball began left, at, or right of their intended target. A golfer’s initial launch direction is controlled by the club face, NOT the club’s path. I like to use this number to understand what the face is doing relative to the path at impact. I also like to know just how far off target the ball begins so that I can correlated the aim, face and path of my student in efforts to create the shot shape and curvature amount the golfer desires.
Everyone has a shot they like to “see.” Some golfers want more curvature, while others want less. By monitoring the ball’s initial starting direction, I am better able golfers create the shot golfers are confident playing under pressure.
The “side” number alerts me to the exact amount in feet that the ball finished right or left of the intended target. Some people like to see total curvature, but I am only interested in where the ball finishes. That’s because every player has a different amount they like to see the ball move in the air. If I can help my students hit the ball a certain distance, as well as control their side-to-side movement of the ball, then I am confident I can lower their handicap. It’s always nice to see if better positions and numbers actually cause the ball to go straighter.
The angle at which the ball lands on the ground can make the ball stop dead or cascade forward. With the irons, most golfers desire more stopping power. With the driver, golfers mostly desire the ball to run after landing. The higher the descent angle, the less the ball will move forward after hitting the ground (with backspin being the same). Different course conditions require different set make ups, and a golfer’s landing angle is a huge part of how the ball reacts after landing that golfers need to know.
I hope by now you understand the true power of what FlightScope and Trackman tells me within one swing. As I have said previously, it’s not about “pleasing the machine,” but finding optimal parameters that golfers can use to play their best.
I love to say that the orange box is not watching you, it’s watching ME, making sure that I am doing the right thing in order to improve your swing. If I tell you the “right” thing, your numbers will improve, however, you will be the one that tells me if you can actually play from there. Thankfully we have some latitude as instructors to change your swing in different ways. The FlightScope and Trackman systems make sure I am always moving in the most efficient direction possible.
Read more about how launch monitors are changing the game, by Tom Stickney:
Clement: Short game consistency for chipping and pitching
There is simply no excuse left for poor chipping and pitching. The techniques, focus, and task implementation you will get out of this video will be simply fantastic and is the surest way to bring your scores down and your fun factor way up! This is the way Steve Stricker does it too! Enjoy!
Faults & Fixes: Losing height in your swing
In this week’s Fault and Fixes Series, we are going to examine the issues that come with losing your height during the swing and its effect on your low point as well as your extension through and beyond impact.
When a professional player swings, there is usually very little downward motion through the ball. Some is OK, but if you look at this amateur player you will see too much. When the head drops downward too much something, has to give and it’s usually the shortening of the swing arc. This will cause issues with the release of the club.
Dangers of overspeed training revealed: What to do and what not to do
Speed: a key factor to more money on tour. The key component sought after by many amateur golfers to lower their scores. The focus of many infographics on social media this past PGA Tour season. A lot of people say speed matters more than putting when it comes to keeping your tour card and making millions.
Overspeed Training: the focus on tons of training aids as a result of the buzz the pursuit of speed has created. The “holy grail” for the aging senior golfer to extend their years on the course. The “must do” training thousands of junior golfers think will bring them closer to playing college golf and beyond.
Unfortunately, overspeed training is the most misunderstood and improperly implemented training tool I see used for speed in the industry. Based on the over 50 phone calls I’ve fielded from golfers around the world who have injured themselves trying it, it is leading to more overuse injuries in a sport where we certainly don’t need any help creating more than we already have. Luckily, these injuries are 100 percent preventable if you follow the few steps outlined below.
Don’t let your rush to swing faster get you hurt. Take five minutes to read on and see what the industry has not been forthcoming with until now.
Understanding how to increase your speed safely and with as little work possible is the path to longevity without injury. If you could train 75 percent less (to the tune of about 8,000 fewer reps a year) and still see statistically comparable results, would you rather that?
Would it make sense to you that swinging 8,000 times fewer (low volume protocols versus high volume protocols) would probably decrease your risk of overuse injuries (the most common injury for golfers)?
I think so.
But I’ll let you draw your own conclusions after you finish reading.
Your biggest challenge is that the answer to more speed for you is not the same as it is for your friends. It differs depending on many factors, but there are four main ones that you can start with. Those four are
- Your equipment
- Your technical prowess
- Your joint mobility at your rotary centers (neck, shoulders, spine, and hips)
- Your ability to physically produce power
If you are not totally clear on these, I’d recommend checking out the earlier article I wrote for GolfWRX titled Swing speed: How do you compare? Go through the testing as outlined and you’ll know the answer to these four areas in five minutes.
Basically, you have the potential to pick up speed by optimizing your equipment (ie. find the right shaft, etc), optimizing the technical element of your swing for optimal performance (ie. launch angles, etc) or by optimizing your body for the golf swing. Understanding how to best gain speed without putting your body at risk both in the short and long term is what 95 percent of golfers have no idea about. It is the single biggest opportunity golfers have to make lasting improvements to not only their golf game but their overall health.
Are You a Ticking Time Bomb?
In my earlier article (link above), I described three main categories when it came to physical factors. Step one is to determine what category you are in.
The first option is that you might be swinging faster than your body is able to control. In this case, you are a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode in injury. We all know that friend who just has a year-round membership to the local physio or chiro because they are always hurt. If this is you, DO NOT try overspeed training, it will only make your visits to the physio or chiro more frequent. There are much better areas to spend your time on.
The second situation might be the rare, sought-after balanced golfer. You might have great mobility in the four main rotary centers (hips, spine, shoulders, and neck) and your swing speed matches your physical power output abilities. It should be noted that based on our mobility research of almost 1,000 golfers, 75 percent of golfers over the age of 40 don’t have full rotary mobility in at least one of the four centers. When you age past 50, that 75 percent now applies to at least two rotary centers. Hence why “the balanced golfer” category is elusive to most golfers.
The final option is the sexy, exciting one; the “more RPMs under the hood” golfer. This is the one where overspeed training is your fountain of youth and you can pick up 10, 15, even 20 yards in a matter of weeks. You might have more RPM’s under your hood right now. Being in this category means you physically are able to produce way more power athletically than you are doing in your golf swing currently.
The Good News
The “more RPMs under the hood” golfer describes over 50 percent of amateur golfers. Most of you sit at work and don’t train your body to move at maximal speeds outside of when you swing the golf club. The number of adults and senior golfers who train maximal speed at the gym, run sprints and train with plyometrics (correctly) is under five percent.
Why is this good news?
Because if you don’t move fast at any point in your life other than on the golf course right now, doing pretty much anything fast repetitively will make you faster. For instance, you can jump up and down three times before you hit a drive and your speed will increase by 2-3 mph (6-9 yards) just from that according to a research study.
This means that for the average amateur, adult golfer in this category, picking up 5-8 mph (12- 20-plus yards) almost immediately (it won’t stick unless you keep training in though) is incredibly simple.
The Bad News & The Fine Print
Remember earlier when I mentioned you needed to “also have full mobility in the four main rotary centers” and that “75 percent of adults over the age of 50 lack mobility in at least two rotary centers?”
That’s the bad news.
Most golfers will get faster by simply swinging as hard as they can. Unfortunately, most golfers also will get hurt swinging maximally repeatedly because they have to compensate for the lack of rotational mobility in those rotary centers.
This should be a big bold disclaimer, but is often not. This is the fine print no one tells you about. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sexiness of overspeed training crashes and burns into the traffic jam of joints that don’t move well for most amateur golfers.
The first step to your solution is to make sure you have full rotational mobility and figure out what category of golfer your body puts you in. As a thanks for being a WRX reader, here is a special link to the entire assessment tool for free.
After you determine if you have the mobility to do overspeed training safely and you know if you are even in the category that would make it worthwhile, the second and final step is to figure out how many swings you need to do.
How Many Swings are too Many?
Concisely, you don’t need more than 30 swings two times per week. Anything more than that is unnecessary based on the available research.
As you digest all of the research on overspeed training, it is clear that the fastest swing speeds tend to occur with the stronger and more powerful players. This means that first, you need to become strong and be able to generate power through intelligent workout plans to maximize performance, longevity and reduce injury likelihood. From here, overspeed training can become an amazing tool to layer on top of a strong foundation and implement at different times during the year.
To be clear, based on the two randomized overspeed studies that Par4Success completed and my experience of training thousands of golfers, it is my opinion that overspeed training works in both high volume (100s of swings per session) and low volume protocol (30 swings per session) formats exactly the same. With this being the case, why would you want to swing 8,000 more times if you don’t have to?
The research shows statistically no difference in speed gained by golfers between high-volume overspeed protocols compared to low volume ones. Because of this, in my opinion, high volume protocols are unnecessary and place golfers at unnecessary risk for overuse injury. This is especially true when they are carried out in the absence of a customized strength and conditioning program for golf.
In order to combat low-quality reps and maximize results with fewer swings, it is necessary to take rest breaks of 2-3 minutes after every 10 swings. Anything less is not enough to allow the energy systems to recover and diminishes your returns on your effort. If these rests are not adhered to, you will fatigue quickly, negatively impacting quality and increasing your risk of injury.
Rest time is another reason why low volume protocols are preferable to high volume ones. To take the necessary rests, a high volume protocol would take more than an hour to complete. With the lower volume protocols you can still keep the work time to 10 minutes.
The Low Volume Overspeed Protocol
You can see the full protocol in the full study reports here. It is critical you pass the first step first, however before implementing either protocol, and it is strongly recommended not to do the overspeed protocol without a solid golf performance plan in place as well in order to maximize results and reduce risk of injury.
This is just the first version of this protocol as we are currently looking at the possibility of eliminating kneeling as well as some other variables that are showing promising in our ongoing research. Be sure to check back often for updates!
Commonly asked questions about overspeed training…
Once initial adaptations have occurred, is there any merit to overspeed training long term?
None of the studies that I was able to find discussed longitudinal improvements or causation of those improvements. This is the hardest type of research to do which speaks to the lack of evidence. No one actually knows the answer to these questions. Anyone saying they do is guessing.
Do the initial gains of overspeed training outperform those of traditional strength and conditioning?
There appears to be a bigger jump with the addition of overspeed training than solely strength and conditioning, by almost threefold. In 6 and 8 weeks respectively, the average gain was just around 3 mph, which is three times the average gain for adult golfers over a 12 weeks period with just traditional strength and conditioning.
Can we use overspeed training as a substitute for traditional strength and conditioning?
No. Emphatically no. It would be irresponsible to use overspeed in isolation to train golfers for increased speed. First off, increasing how fast someone can swing without making sure they have the strength to control that speed is a means to set someone up for injury and failure. Secondly, if they are appropriate and you increase someone’s speed, you also need to increase their strength as well so that it keeps up with the demands the new speed is putting on their body.
Are long term results (1 year+) optimized if overspeed training is combined with traditional strength and conditioning vs in isolation or not at all?
It would appear, based off our longitudinal programs that using overspeed training periodized in conjunction with an athlete-specific strength and conditioning program and sport-specific training (ie. technical lessons, equipment, etc—not medicine ball throws or cable chops) in a periodized yearly plan maximizes results year to year.
In order to keep decreases in club speed to no more than three-to-five percent during the competitive season (as is the normal amount in our data), it is imperative to keep golfers engaged in an in-season strength and conditioning program focused on maximal force and power outputs. By minimizing this in-season loss, it assures that we see gains year over year.
It is unclear if overspeed training in conjunction with strength and conditioning during the season further decreases this standard loss due to nervous system fatigue, but this would be a great area for future research.
What sort of frequency, protocols or volume should one utilize for maximal benefit and minimal risk of injury?
Most of the studies that I was able to find specifically on swinging looked at about 100 swings three times per (baseball). The Superspeed protocols which are the most popular in the golf world, follow a similar volume recommendation after an initial ramp up period. It is a concern, especially with untrained individuals, that adding more than 11,000 maximal effort swings over the course of year might increase risk for injury due to the incredible increase in load. Especially for the amatuer golfer who only plays on the weekends and does not engage in a strength and conditioning program, this is a significant volume increase from their baseline.
The Par4Success studies in 2018-19 found no significant difference in swing speed gains between high volume protocols and a lower volume protocol which required only 30 swings, 2x/week but required a 2 minute rest between every 10 swings.
More studies beyond these two need to be done looking at this, but it would be my recommendation, specifically in golf, not to engage in the high volume protocols as it does not appear to increase speed gains while also increasing load on the athlete significantly.
Do any potential gains of overspeed training outperform the traditional methods that are proven to transfer to sport?
It does not appear that overspeed training is superior to any one training method, but rather a tool to use in conjunction with other proven methods. The key here is to assess yourself and look to implement this type of training when mobility is not an issue and the physical ability to produce power is higher than the ability to generate club speed. In the right scenario, overspeed training can be a game-changing tool. In the wrong scenario, it can be a nail in a golfer’s coffin.
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