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Use launch monitors to rediscover the lost art of shot making

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I’m always amazed at what I learn about my own game every time I hit a few shots on my Trackman.

As a full-time golf teacher, I don’t get to practice like I used to in college, but I still enjoy hitting the ball and the feel of a solid golf shot. It’s fun to think back to what I did before in order to hit certain golf shots. These days, however, I can actually audit my feels and these shots using Trackman. What I’ve learned is what actually changes when I hit certain golf shots, as well as what changes occurred within the data that determine what the ball does when it hits the ground.

Armed with this information, I am now better able to predict what will happen when I hit the four different shots I was experimenting with below.

My Stock Shot

IMAGE 01

This is my “stock” 6-iron shot. I want you to note several things:

  • I normally fade the ball, so you will see my swing direction and my club path are moving left of the target line.
  • The face angle will be left of the target line, which will help my ball to start to the left of the target and fade back to the target.
  • The face is right of the path by 1.5 degrees, which will give it a slight left-to-right bias. This shot is maybe a touch of a heel hit since the spin axis is a little high at 7.1 degrees to the right.
  • The spin rate is close to the Tour average of 6,231 and the height is spot on the Tour average at 95.7 feet.
  • I carried the ball 168.9 yards with a landing angle of 47.8 degrees.
  • My 6-iron has a loft of 29 degrees, which is not quite as strong as some of the others on the market. I do this so I can have the proper gaps between my iron carry distances that suit my game.

Now that we have the stock shot, it’s now time to examine what happens when I practice my shot making with Trackman. I am a firm believer that you must understand how to move the ball up, down, left and right if you want to become a more complete player. I didn’t say you had to curve the ball differently than your normal shot pattern more often, but you need to understand how to do so when necessary.

A Big Fade

IMAGE 02

In this example, I tried to hit a big left-to-right cut shot and as you can tell by the curvature graph above that I did just that. Let’s examine the data.

  • The swing direction and club path shifted dramatically to the left, and this would account for the extreme leftward aim I had while hitting this shot.
  • My club face is still left of the target line, but right of the path by 6.8 degrees. That gave me a spin axis of 14.9 degrees, which caused the ball’s curvature. The wind was blowing about 12-to-15 mph from the left, and that also contributed to the rightward curve.
  • Ball speed was the same as my stock shot at 122 mph, but the spin rate went up by 1,016 rpm due to the bigger face-to-path discrepancy shown above.
  • Dynamic loft went up a few degrees, increasing this ball’s height to 105.6 feet from 95.7 feet.

So what did we learn? Basically, when I aim more left I tend to hit the ball higher. Also, with left-to-right wind patterns that aid the curvature of my golf ball, I tend to hit the ball a touch farther and higher than normal. This might be all I need to do to attack a close pin or hold the ball when landing on the back shelf of a green.

A Big Draw

IMAGE 03

In this example I tried to hit a hard-hooking shot into the pin. Understand that the wind was blowing about 12-to-15 mph from the left, and thus I hit a softer curve from right to left than you’d expect with the numbers above. So what do we see?

  • My swing direction and club path were right-biased, while my face was pointing 8.6 degrees left of the club’s path. With centered impact, whenever the face is pointing left of the path the ball will curve from right to left.
  • The ball’s spin axis was 9.2 degrees to the left, which usually indicates a big curve. Remember, however, that the wind was holding the ball and not allowing it to move as much.
  • Spin loft was down from 25.1 degrees to 19.4 degrees, adding to the compressed feeling I have when hitting the ball right to left. This is due to the dynamic loft dropping from 19.8 degrees in my stock shot to 13.4 degrees in the hooking example.
  • Whenever the dynamic loft lowers, the height of the ball usually follows suit and you can see that this ball is well below the stock shot I hit at 54.8 feet.
  • Whenever I hit hard hooks, I always tend to swing faster, increasing my ball speed. That, coupled with lower spin loft and a decrease my overall height, allowed this ball to “cut through the wind” and go even farther than before.

Normally, I would not advocate fighting the wind with your ball’s curvature unless you were a more accomplished player, but in this case the numbers support this as being a better way to “avoid” the wind’s effects. If I didn’t have the numbers to back it up, I’d never know what works best for my game or my students’ games.

The Low Shot

IMAGE 04

Next comes the low shot, which is one of the best shots any player can learn. We all play in windy conditions from time to time, and have played on days where we don’t have a clue where the ball is going to land. Low shots will help you to control your golf ball on these type of days.

  • Notice my angle of attack goes more downward due to the fact that the ball is farther back in my stance and I am working hard to “lean into” the shot to keep it down.
  • My stock AoA is around -5.3 degrees, which is a touch more down than the Tour average of -4.1 degrees. Whenever right-handed golfers swing more left (or left-handed golfers swing more right), they also tend to hit more down on the ball. That led to my steeper than normal AoA.
  • One thing to be careful of: Whenever the AoA goes more downward, the path will shift more to the right (for a right-handed golfer) and you must aim more to the left.
  • I hit this ball on the heel because I had a negative face-to-path relationship, which mandates a right-to-left bias; however, the ball fell to the right because of the heel hit and the touch of the left-to-right that affected the ball flight.
  • The heel hit came from an overly upright swing plane through the ball. Anytime my hands lift through impact (in this case from 65.9 degrees to 72.6 degrees), I tend to hit the ball on the heel.
  • Dynamic loft went way down to 11.2 degrees and the overall height fell to 40.4 feet.
  • Due to the heel hit, the smash factor was down slightly and the ball didn’t carry as far — 163.3 yards — but it was not far off from my stock distance of 168.9 yards.

As players, we all have tendencies that follow us when we hit certain shots and these are nuances that will always tend to arise under pressure. Mine is always standing the club shaft up whenever I try and hit the ball lower, thus causing heel hits. Any guess what my low shot miss is? If you said right of the target, you’re right! I always need to keep that in mind when hitting lower shots. When I forget, I miss the green every single time.

The High Shot

IMAGE 05

Finally, I hit a higher shot than normal. This is the last shot you’ll need of the four when playing and learning golf. There are some greens that will not hold a shot or shots from elevated tee boxes where you can gain extra distance from a higher-than-normal shot when it’s windy. High shots can be a savior when used at the right time.

  • When placing the ball more forward in the stance and staying “behind” it longer, I will tend to move my low point backward and this decreases the angle of attack I have normally. This more shallow AoA helps me to “throw” the club head a touch earlier, increasing the dynamic loft and launch angle in efforts to hit the ball higher.
  • Dynamic loft goes from 11.2 degrees on the low shot to 19.8 degrees on my stock shot to 26.7 degrees on my high shot.
  • The height on my low shot was 40.4 feet, my stock shot was 95.7 and my high shot was 121.2 feet high! That’s still lower than Jason Day’s stock height of 131 feet!
  • Whenever I hit the ball higher, I also tend to lay the club face back and open the face a touch more at impact than usual. This leads to a higher-than-normal spin axis at 12.7 degrees, so I need to aim more left to accommodate this. That’s why I had more leftward swing and path numbers.
  • The high shot produced the second highest ball speed at 124.4 mph. This is due to the fact that when the ball is more forward I have more “time” to create speed.

So what’s the takeaway from this article? If you have access to a Trackman or FlightScope Doppler launch monitor, you need to hit a ton of shots so you can understand what your stock numbers tend to be. From there, I would suggest doing what I did and practice your shot making to see what trends develop as you hit the four different shots I did. This will help you discover your tendencies, as well learn things that you need to look out for when hitting these different shot patterns.

We all can get bound up in the numbers if we are not careful, but remember that if you know your tendencies you will know how to control your golf ball. From there, you can get around the golf course in any conditions on any day!

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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

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Manny Martinez

    Apr 9, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Great article Tom. For your big fade shot you said the spin rate increased because of the larger face to path discrepancy. Face to path is horizontal which tends to sound like side spin. We know that side spin doesn’t happen. AOA to Dynamic Loft is vertical, which sounds more like backspin. Therefore your spin loft increased, which created a higher spin rate. Terminology can be tricky so please advise if I am overlooking something.

    • Tom Stickney

      Apr 9, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Correct. Was trying to point out that when I cut across the ball it causes a higher face to path number due to the face being well rt of the path and the ball will curve more to the right. What I neglected to point out was the increase in spinloft you discussed. Trying to make things easier to understand for most can also lead to confusion for others. Sorry for the issue. Thx for the note. 🙂

  2. Zra

    Apr 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Nice article as usual, Tom!

    IMO, the numbers can only explain the shot shape, and a player should learn how to hit each type of shots before he/she starts paying attention to the numbers.

    • tom stickney

      Apr 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Couldn’t agree more….shot-making is a lost art due to the ball not spinning as much for the professionals.

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Golf 101: How to play golf (with Jake Hutt)

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Yes, you read that right. We’re talking about how to play golf. We at GolfWRX pride ourselves in not only supplying info to the golf junkies out there but to also help along the new golfers that just want to get started.

No, we won’t be discussing “tour issue” head weights or “shallowing” the club in transition. This is a BASIC look into how to play golf—how a new golfer would walk to the first tee, for the first time, and have some fun. If you dig deep that is the spirit to GolfWRX.com as a whole. Enjoying the game.

I’ve brought in some help on this one: A coach who I think has whittled down the basics to their core. Jake Hutt., look him up on IG, it’s “golf for dummies” for basically every type of player out there. Jake, like George Gankas and some others, has what I would call the “voice of the new generation.” It’s the fun, laidback, non-traditional style that my kids will be learning from in years to come. So why not introduce him to the WRX community now?

More bio: Class A PGA Professional Jake Hutt teaches out of The Stanford University Golf Course and currently lives in San Carlos, California. He can be found on Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube under @Jakehuttgolf.

We are doing this breakdown of how to play golf in a very simple way. Yes, people will chime in about what we missed and explained incorrectly but hey, it wouldn’t be a real post without it.

We will do a checklist of the basics: Posture, grip, and an ABC of the motion for a full swing, chip, and a putt.

How to play golf

Posture

Stand straight up, put your arms on your legs, and tilt forward until your fingertips touch just above your knee caps. Let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders. This will feel similar to the posture when shooting a free throw in basketball.

Grip

How would you pick up a suitcase with your left hand? Now replace the suitcase with a golf club. That’s how your left hand goes on the club. To figure out where to put the right hand get in you golf posture and clap your hands together. Now without moving your left shoulder and letting your right arm bend move your hands so they’re just to the right of your right pant pocket. The left arm should be parallel to the ground. Now look at the position of your hand. The palm will either face the ground, the horizon, or the sky. Where the palm points here is where the palm should face when holding a golf club.

Swing

All a golf swing is is throwing the club around your body without letting go of it. If you hear it swoosh, it’s a swing. Once you learn to swoosh the club the next step is learning to hit the middle. To train this spray foot powder on the your clubface and observe where impact is after your attempt to hit the ball. If the ball mark shows up on the toe of the club try and hit the opposite part of the clubface (the heel) on the next shot—repeat the same process for the opposite miss (mark shows up on heel of club). Over time, you’ll need less exaggeration to hit the middle of the clubface. With enough training, this skill will become learned and will require no conscious thought.

Chipping

Stand with your feet close together, the ball off your trail foot, and the handle off the left leg. Lift the heel of the club slightly off the ground so the handle of the club is more vertical. Now make a longer, faster feeling putting stroke. The ball should pop in the air land on the green and roll. The less lofted the club the lower the ball will go and the more it will run. The more lofted the club the higher the ball will launch and less it will roll.

Putting

The most important part of putting is hitting the middle of the clubface. The faster you swing the putter the further the ball rolls. The slower you swing the putter the shorter the ball rolls.

how to play golf putting

How to play golf: Putting. Hitting the center of the putter face is the most most important thing.

The ball starts where the putter face is pointing whether it be straight right or left. To get a feel for speed imagine the effort it would take to roll a ball to the hole. Use that feel to create a putting stroke. Putting greens are not flat the ball will curve left or right. To help figure out which way a green rolls stand halfway between the ball and hole. Ask yourself which foot has more pressure on it. If you feel more pressure on your left foot the putt will break left and more pressure on the right foot means the putt will break right. If the putt breaks right the putter face should point left of the hole at impact. If the putt breaks left the putter face should point somewhere right of the hole at impact.

We’ll be back with more of this entry-level discussion of how to play golf. Let us know in the comments if there are any areas you’d like Jake to dive into!

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Clement: The best video for beginner golfers ever

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One of the deep expertise we have is knowing what side you need to be swinging from to enjoy your best golf. Sometimes it’s both sides like me! So many professionals on tour are including left-handed swings (for the right-handed player) in their warm-up routines and practice routines as a great way to create muscle confusion. Our fabulous kinesiologist, Munashe Masawi, confirms this through his studies and personal training for his grueling sport of football.

But there is always one side that fires better, feels smoother, and has the potential for a lot more than the other for many golfers. Which one are you?

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Clement: Important video on grip! (dare we say “historic!”)

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We so much love being historically correct! Back when I started teaching 35 years ago, when I looked at what the top 5 coaches were teaching, I knew I had to forge my own way. Not only did it not make sense anatomically, it did not make any sense neurologically either! Fast forward to today and we talk about ground forces and how to let the hips turn in the backswing and grip? WHOA, DID THEY MISS THE BOAT THERE!!

This video really takes the cake and REMOVES ALL QUESTIONS AND DOUBT ABOUT GRIP; where to hold it, grip pressure and IN OUR OPINION, THE FIRST TIME IT HAS BEEN REVEALED IN IT’S FULL ANATOMICAL FUNCTIONALITY.

This will end all debates about the “weak grip vs strong grip” argument!

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