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Using Trackman has made me LESS technical as a teacher

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Early in my teaching career, I was told that in order to a successful instructor I had to have great communication skills and possess a talent to describe a highly complex motion in an understandable way to my students. In the 20 years that I’ve been teaching golf, the technologies that instructors now have available to them have only made that lesson more important.

My goal for the swing and its “repair” is to make it as simple as possible for the golfers to understand, whether it is in the articles I write or the lessons I give to my clients. The goal of every teacher is to bridge the gap between giving the student too much information and just the right amount.

With the advent of systems like Trackman and FlightScope, golf instructors are now armed with an enormous amount of data to help them understand what is happening to the Nth degree. While having this information at our fingertips is awesome, it can also cause problems for less experienced teachers. I know from experience that whenever I have more data on hand, it can be very easy to give golfers more information than what is necessary. However, I will tell you that when a teacher truly understands the correlations within the data, it can help instructors make their lessons less technical than ever.

With anything new, there is always a learning curve. But over time, anyone who studies can learn to dissect all the data and assimilate it into his or her teaching style. People tend to criticize what they don’t understand, and using the latest technology will test you in the beginning. But I promise, once you have the “aha” moment, you will be on your way to doing things on the lesson tee in a much more efficient way than ever before.

Years ago, when there was only video, teachers tended to become too position focused, and I think that has carried over to the current crop of young teachers using club and ball flight analyzers. They tend to focus only on pleasing the machine, and sometimes try to force their students into achieving the perfect numbers associated with tour players. While it’s nice to try and copy what better do, it is not the ONLY way a golfer can be successful. Using club and ball flight analyzers in this manner will easily boggle the minds of even the smartest of students.

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Above: Justin Rose uses video and Trackman to improve his swing with instructor Sean Foley. 

So how do you use club and ball flight analyzers in the best way possible?

In the past, I was overcritical of positions that I thought I saw on camera that might influence factors like the club’s swing direction or the club’s face angle at impact. Now that I can actually see the club’s true path and the face-to-path relationship, I have found myself less focused on what things look like and more focused on what the swing actually produces consistently from the stroke pattern side. No longer do I obsess over things like a student “picking up the club” on the backswing if the downstroke plane is within certain parameters at impact. Often, when I let golfers have some freedom to do what it is natural to them, they achieve a “fix” that is much easier to implement in both the short and long term. There are exceptions to the rules, but generally if I see a decent player whose path and face are under control to some consistent degree, I’m not overly concerned how they got there.

So what do I do if golfer’s angle of attack is a touch down with the driver? As long as the player produces ample distance for the desired level of play and has adequate ball control from side to side, then the player will be fine. What some teachers forget is that the numbers only support or refute what the player is feeling, and are there to give the teacher feedback while making a swing change. The more I understand the data, the better I will get at fixing the one thing that will affect the other seven categories that are a touch off. Find the cause and the effects will take care of themselves.

Over time, instructors will find that they are not so worried about idiosyncrasies shown on video, but more focused on the one simple piece of the “data pie” that will fix it all. From there, it is all about how the player can improve his path, angle of attack, dynamic loft or whatever you as the teacher decide is in the student’s own best way. The best teachers use Trackman or FlightScope in a way that helps players learn through self-discovery. They don’t try to fix every single data point individually, because that makes things way too complicated.

Teachers need video in order to audit positions. They also need club and ball flight analyzers in order to audit the things they cannot see with video. The secret is putting the two mediums together to offer a “fix” for each student regardless of ability level. Use technology to fix the causes, not the effects of a golfer’s swing, and I bet that your students will play better and look forward to more lessons.

Read More Tom Stickney II : What Flightscope and Trackman can tell you (and me)

 

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. dman

    Jan 14, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    thanks for posting this! i have been thinking this for some time now. i recently got a lot better, because i finally understood what impact was supposed to feel like. for years i had been seeing instructors that were helping me get in the ‘right positions’, and while this undoubtedly has a purpose, it left me very frustrated as to why i wasn’t getting better with a good looking swinging. at the end of the day, it’s the position of the club at impact that matters! i think lessons should begin with and always refer to what is happening at the bottom of the swing and how that effects the ball. i never understood it until recently, and i was a scratch golfer!

  2. Pebo

    Dec 4, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    I call my Trackman “The Truth” starting there makes learning simple. Geometry and Physics. Love this article. Video is two dimensions of a three dimension motion. I am old enough to remember when teachers using video were nut cases….. Progress is sometimes slow.

  3. Martin

    Dec 4, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Great article! I did a fitting of a new 5wood and I really got good numbers according to the fitter on the trackman. My swingpath (I believe it was) was around 2-3 (he said that was a sign of me coming from the inside) and my face angle was 4-6 (I might be mixing the two datas here, sorry for the confusion) and it produced a nice draw. He said that the launch angle was a little low, I think it was 10-11, but I noticed that the smash factor was really close to 1.50(on the last shot it actually was 1.50). After reading your article I wonder how my low launch still “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”. Would be really interesting to hear your opinion on this thing. Really like your articles!

  4. Damon

    Dec 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Great article! I find with my students on Trackman that using visual markers like alignment sticks to help get a player focused on start lines and using more feel-oriented thoughts helps tremendously with self correcting numbers. It’s such a misconception that Trackman is overly-technical and promotes chasing zeros and perfect numbers. Really refreshing to see an instructor on the same page!

  5. Scott Anderson

    Dec 4, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Makes perfect sense…having been self taught I know the relative importance of positions in my swing but I also know that I’ve worked thru a dozen positions during my transition to being a better player and more than one set of positions allowed me to strike the ball properly. Never have totally erased my Furyk. At the top” but I don’t obsess about it anymore because I consistently strike the ball.

  6. Graeme

    Dec 3, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Fantastic article.
    Being position focused and not paying much attention to ball flight is a bad combination.

  7. Ian Pont

    Dec 2, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Interesting article that impacts on many sports where coaches use technical feedback to fuel outcome improvements.

    What struck me about reading this was that it is HOW you feed the information to a student rather than WHAT information you feed that student, that becomes the most important factor. It isn’t the sheer amount of data analysis that’s vital. Instead, it is a complicit understanding by the coach to interpret the information suitable for the student – and this can only be done with training drills that help the student to actually make impactful changes.

    Technique, and thereby the processes of the movement, drive improved skill levels through greater acquisition. However, it is the drills that create the outcome the student seeks.

    It is clearly a mistake for any coach to overload a student with information. The information should only ever be enough for the student to ‘buy in’ to the changes needed and how they are achieved.

    Paralysis by analysis, is a common fault of coaches who are unable to differentiate what a student needs versus what they want to share. Technology often skews a coach towards unnecessary inputs.

    Simply put, develop a process that is robust and teach that. Within that framework, flexibility of student can be applied through benchmarking, rather than by a definitive solution. However, any anomaly doesn’t disprove a framework. It merely underscores the fact that there is sometimes more than one way to get to a great outcome.

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Instruction

Golf 101: How to chip (AKA “bump and run”)

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Although golf for a beginner can be an intimidating endeavor, and learning how to chip is part of that intimidation, this is one part of the game that if you can nail down the fundamentals, not only can you add some confidence to your experience but also you lay down a basic foundation you can build on.

How to chip

The chip shot, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-golf swing. To the beginner, it may seem like a nothing burger but if you look closely, it’s your first real way to understand contact, launch, spin, compression, and most importantly the fundamentals of impact.

What is a chip shot? A pitch shot?

Chip: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a 3-iron to a lob wedge that launches low, gets on the ground quickly, and rolls along the surface (like a putt) to the desired location.

Pitch: A shot that is hit typically with anything from a PW to a lob wedge that launches low- to mid-trajectory that carries a good portion of the way to your desired location and relies on spin to regulate distance.

Now that we have separated the two, the question is: How do I chip?

Since we are trying to keep this as simple as possible, let’s just do this as a quick checklist and leave it at that. Dealing with different lies, grass types, etc? Not the purpose here. We’re just concerned with how to make the motion and chip a ball on your carpet or at the golf course.

Think “rock the triangle”

  1. Pick a spot you want the ball to land. This is for visualization, direction and like any game you play, billiards, Darts, pin the tail on the donkey, having a target is helpful
  2. For today, use an 8-iron. It’s got just enough loft and bounce to make this endeavor fun.
  3. Grip the club in your palms and into the lifelines of your hands. This will lift the heel of the club of the ground for better contact and will take your wrists out of the shot.
  4. Open your stance
  5. Put most of your weight into your lead leg. 80/20 is a good ratio
  6. Ball is positioned off your right heel
  7. Lean the shaft handle to your left thigh
  8. Rock the shoulders like a putt
  9. ENJOY!

Check out this vid from @jakehuttgolf to give you some visuals.

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Instruction

Clement: Best drill for weight shift and clearing hips (bonus on direction too)

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This is, by far, one of the most essential drills for your golf swing development. To throw the club well is a liberating experience! Here we catch Munashe up with how important the exercise is not only in the movement pattern but also in the realization that the side vision is viciously trying to get you to make sure you don’t throw the golf club in the wrong direction. Which, in essence, is the wrong direction to start with!

This drill is also a cure for your weight shift problems and clearing your body issues during the swing which makes this an awesome all-around golf swing drill beauty! Stay with us as we take you through, step by step, how this excellent drill of discovery will set you straight; pardon the pun!

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Instruction

Confessions of a hacker: Chipping yips and equipment fixes

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There’s a saying in golf that, paraphrasing here, it’s the person holding the weapon, not the weapon. Basically, if you hit a bad shot, it’s almost certain that it was your fault, not the fault of the golf club. It has a better design than your swing. And while that truism is often correct, it ain’t necessarily so.

For example, if I were to try to hit one of those long drive drivers, I’d probably mis-hit it so badly that the ball might not be findable. That stick is way too long, stiff, and heavy for me. Similarly, if I were to use one of those senior flex drivers, I’d probably hit it badly, because it would be too floppy for my swing. It’s clear that there are arrows that this Indian can’t shoot well. Maybe a pro could adapt to whatever club you put in his hand, but there’s no reason he would accept less than a perfect fit. And there’s little reason why any amateur ought to accept less than a good fit.

I was never a competitive athlete, although I’m a competitive person. My path led a different direction, and as my medical career reached its mature years, I was introduced to our wonderful and frustrating game.

Being one who hates playing poorly, I immediately sought instruction. After fifteen years, multiple instructors, a wallet full of videos, and a wall full of clubs, I am finally learning how to do one particularly vexing part of the game reasonable well. I can chip! But as you may have guessed, the largest part of this journey has to do with the arrow, not the Indian.

We may immediately dismiss the golf shaft as a significant issue since chipping generally involves a low-speed movement. And as long as the grip is a reasonable fit for the hands, it’s not a big deal either. The rubber meets the road at the clubhead.

Manufacturers have worked hard to get the best ball spin out of the grooves. Their shape is precisely milled, and then smaller grooves and roughness are added to the exact maximum allowed under the rules. Various weighting schemes have been tried, with some success in tailoring wedges to players. And some manufacturers market the “newest” designs to make it impossible to screw up wedge shots. And yet, nothing seemed to solve my yips.

So I went on a mission. I studied all sorts of chipping techniques. Some advocate placing the ball far back to strike a descending blow. Others place it near the center of the stance. The swing must have no wrist hinge. The swing must have a hinge that is held. It should be a short swing. It should be a long swing. The face should be square. The face should be open. There should be a “pop.” There should be no power added.

If you are confused, join my club. So I went on a different mission. I started looking at sole construction. Ever since Gene Sarazen popularized a sole with bounce for use in the sand, manufacturers have been creating massive numbers of “different” sand wedges. They have one thing in common. They are generally all built to 55 or 56-degrees of loft.

The basic design feature of the sand wedge is that the sole extends down and aft from the leading edge at some angle. This generally ranges from 6 to 18-degrees. Its purpose is to allow the wedge to dig into the sand, but not too far. As the club goes down into the sand, the “bounce” pushes it back up.

 

One problem with having a lot of bounce on the wedge is that it can’t be opened up to allow certain specialty shots or have a higher effective loft. When the player does that, the leading edge lifts, resulting in thin shots. So manufacturers do various things to make the wedge more versatile, typically by removing bounce in the heel area.

At my last count, I have eight 56-degree wedges in my collection. Each one was thought to be a solution to my yips. Yet, until I listened to an interview with Dave Edel, I had almost no real understanding of why I was laying sod over a lot of my chips. Since gardening did not reduce my scores, I had to find another solution.

My first step was to look at the effective loft of a wedge in various ball positions. (Pictures were shot with the butt of the club at the left hip, in a recommended forward lean position. Since the protractor is not exactly lined up with the face, the angles are approximate.)

I had no idea that there was so much forward lean with a simple chip. If I were to use the most extreme rearward position, I would have to have 21-degrees of bounce just to keep the leading edge from digging in at impact. If there were the slightest error in my swing, I would be auditioning for greenskeeper.

My appreciation for the pros who can chip from this position suddenly became immense. For an amateur like me, the complete lack of forgiveness in this technique suddenly removed it from my alleged repertoire.

My next step was to look at bounce. As I commented before, bounce on sand wedges ranges between 6 and 18-degrees. As the drawing above shows, that’s a simple angle measurement. If I were to chip from the forward position, a 6-degree bounce sand wedge would have an effective bounce of 1-degree. That’s only fractionally better than the impossible chip behind my right foot. So I went to my local PGA Superstore to look at wedges with my Maltby Triangle Gauge in hand.

As you can see from the photos, there is a wide variation in wedges. What’s most curious, however, is that this variation is between two designs that are within one degree of the same nominal bounce. Could it be that “bounce is not bounce is not bounce?” Or should I say that “12-degrees is not 12-degrees is not 12-degrees?” If one looks below the name on the gauge, a curious bit of text appears. “Measuring effective bounce on wedges.” Hmmm… What is “effective bounce?”

The Maltby Triangle Gauge allows you to measure three things: leading-edge height, sole tangent point, and leading-edge sharpness. The last is the most obvious. If I’m chipping at the hairy edge of an adequate bounce, a sharp leading edge will dig in more easily than a blunt one. So if I’m using that far back ball position, I’ll need the 1OutPlus for safety, since its leading edge is the bluntest of the blunt. Even in that position, its 11-degree bounce keeps the leading edge an eighth of an inch up.

Wait a minute! How can that be? In the back position, the wedge is at 35-degrees effective loft, and 11-degrees of bounce ought to be 10-degrees less than we need. The difference here is found in combining all three parameters measured by the gauge, and not just the angle of the bounce.

The 1OutPlus is a very wide sole wedge. Its tangent point is a massive 1.7″ back. The leading edge rises .36″ off the ground and is very blunt. In other words, it has every possible design feature to create safety in case the chip from back in the stance isn’t as perfect as it might be. Since a golf ball is 1.68″ in diameter, that’s still less than halfway up to the center of the ball. But if you play the ball forward, this may not be the wedge for you.

Here are the measurements for the eight sand wedges that happen to be in my garage. All are either 56-degrees from the factory or bent to 56-degrees.

A couple of things jump out from this table. The Callaway PM Grind at 13-degrees has a lower leading edge (.26 inches) than the 11-degree Bazooka 1OutPlus (.36 inches). How can a lower bounce have a higher leading edge? Simple geometry suggests that if you want a higher leading edge, you will need a higher bounce angle. But it gets worse. The Wishon WS (wide sole) at 6-degrees (55-degree wedge bent to 56-degrees) has a leading-edge height of .28 inches, higher than the Callaway which has over twice the nominal bounce angle!

One thing is missing from this simple discussion of angles.

If I place one line at 34-degrees above the horizontal (loft is measured from the vertical), and then extend another at some angle below horizontal, the height above ground where the two join depends on how long the lower line is. This means that an 18-degree bounce with a narrow “C” grind will raise the leading edge a little bit. A 6-degree bounce on a wide sole may raise it more because the end of the bounce on the first wedge is so close to the leading edge.

 

Let’s look at this in the picture. If the red line of the bounce is very short, it doesn’t get far below the black ground line. But if it goes further, it gets lower. This is the difference between narrow and wide soles.

This diagram describes the mathematical description of these relationships.

Our first task is to realize that the angle 0 in this diagram is the complement of the 56-degree loft of the wedge, or 90 – 56 = 34-degrees since loft is measured from vertical, not horizontal. But the angle 0 in the bounce equation is just that, the bounce value. These two angles will now allow us to calculate the theoretical values of various parts of the wedge, and then compare them to our real-world examples.

My PM Grind Callaway wedge has its 3rd groove, the supposed “perfect” impact point, 0.54 inches above the leading edge. This should put it 0.8 inches back from the leading edge, roughly matching the measured 0.82 inches. So far, so good. (I’m using the gauge correctly!)

The 13-degree bounce at 1.14″ calculates out to 0.284″ of leading-edge rise. I measured 0.26″, so Callaway seems to be doing the numbers properly, until I realize that the leading edge is already .45″ back, given a real tangent of .69″. Something is out of whack. Re-doing the math suggests that the real bounce is 20-degrees, 40 min. Hmmm…

Maybe that bounce angle measurement isn’t such a good number to look at. Without digging through all the different wedges (which would make you cross-eyed), we should go back to basics. What is it that we really need?

Most instructors will suggest that striking the ball on about the third groove will give the best results. It will put the ball close to the center of mass (sweet spot) of the wedge and give the best spin action. If my wedge is at an effective 45-degree angle (about my right big toe), it will strike the ball about half-way up to its equator. It will also be close to the third groove. But to make that strike with minimal risk of gardening, I have to enough protection to keep the edge out of the turf if I mis-hit the ball by a little bit. That can be determined by the leading edge height! The higher the edge, the more forgiveness there is on a mis-hit.

Now this is an incomplete answer. If the bounce is short, with a sharp back side, it will tend to dig into the turf a bit. It may not do it a lot, but it will have more resistance than a wider, smoother bounce. In the extreme case, the 1OutPlus will simply glide over the ground on anything less than a ridiculous angle.

The amount of leading-edge height you need will depend on your style. If you play the ball forward, you may not need much. But as you move the ball back, you’ll need to increase it. And if you are still inconsistent, a wider sole with a smooth contour will help you avoid episodes of extreme gardening. A blunt leading edge will also help. It may slow your club in the sand, but it will protect your chips.

There is no substitute for practice, but if you’re practicing chips from behind your right foot using a wedge with a sharp, low leading edge, you’re asking for frustration. If you’re chipping from a forward position with a blunt, wide sole wedge, you’ll be blading a lot of balls. So look at your chipping style and find a leading-edge height and profile that match your technique. Forget about the “high bounce” and “low bounce” wedges. That language doesn’t answer the right question.

Get a wedge that presents the club to the ball with the leading edge far enough off the ground to provide you with some forgiveness. Then knock ’em stiff!

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