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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 at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. 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 60 people in the world.

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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Trackman Tuesday (Episode 2): Driver Loft

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Welcome to Episode 2 of Trackman Tuesday. In this weekly series, I will be using Trackman data to help you understand the game of golf in a little more detail and help you hit better shots and play better golf.

In this week’s episode, I look at driver loft. What effect does driver loft have on your shots and how important is it, really?

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How Far Away from the Ball Should You Be at Address?

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How far away from the ball should you be at address? This video is in response to a question from Tom McCord on Facebook.

In this video, I look at the setup position. I offer a simple way to check your distance from the ball at address with your driver, irons and wedges.

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Tour Pros Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up

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You want to be better at golf, more consistent and longer off the tee. I am sure a lot of you would love to stop hurting. You would like these things with minimal work, if possible. You also want them yesterday. That about sum it up?

In the next 5 minutes, you’ll learn about the one thing that solves these problems for good. Before we dive in, though, I want to tee up three stats for you from my research.

  1. PGA Tour players can jump between 18-22 inches off the ground while LPGA Tour players can jump between 16-20 inches off the ground. Long drive competitors can often leap 30+ inches off the ground!
  2. Elite-level golfers who drive the ball 300+ yards can shot put a 6-pound ball more than 30 feet with less than a 5-percent difference in right-handed to left-handed throws.
  3. Elite golfers in the world can hurl a medicine ball with a seated chest pass just as far in feet as they can jump in inches (ie. a 20-inch vertical leap and a 20-foot seated chest pass).

What do these numbers have to do with you and your game? More importantly, what do these stats have to do with solving your problems? Let’s start by telling you what the solution is.   

Objective Assessment and Intelligent Exercise Prescription

Say that three times fast. It’s a mouth full… But seriously, read it two more times and think about what that means.

It means that before you act on anything to improve your health or your game, you need to objectively assess what the problem is and get to the root cause. You should use quality objective data to arrive at intelligent health and golf improvement decisions based on the long-term likelihood that they will be successful. We can’t just select exercises, swing changes or training aids based on what is hot in the market today or what the latest celebrity was paid big bucks to sell to us.

There is a reason why the infomercials you see today on Golf Channel will be different in 2 months. The same gimmicks run out of steam when enough people realize that is what they are… gimmicks. When looking to achieve your goals of playing better golf and/or having less pain, don’t just grab for the quick fix as so many golfers today do. 

We are in the information age. Information from quality data is power. Using this data intelligently, you can fix problems in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Hopefully, I am giving you the power to make a meaningful and lasting change in your game. I’m sorry to say that most amateurs will not be hitting 300+ yard drives despite what the latest marketing ploy will have you believe. But, if you know what tests you can do to measure the areas that affect your distance off the tee, you can at least gain insight into where your biggest return on your time investment will be. 

This is where working with a golf fitness expert can be so valuable to you. Not only can they help you interpret your results from the tests, but they will also be able to prescribe you the most effective means to move closer to 300 yards from where you are right now.  

If you have a problem with your car not accelerating as fast as you would like or not being able to reach top end speed on the highway, I hope you take it to the mechanic and don’t just look up quick fixes on YouTube to see what you can do on your own. The reason you pay the mechanic to fix your car is because that is what they do all day. They will get it done as quickly as possible. More importantly, they’ll get correctly so that the problem doesn’t pop up again in 2 weeks.

A golf fitness expert is no different. Use them for their expertise and knowledge. Once you have a diagnosis of what is holding you back and a plan to correct it, you are on your way and won’t have to waste any more time or money trying silly quick fixes that never stick.

The three statistics mentioned earlier represent numbers measured across the globe by industry leaders and at our facility 3-4 times per year on hundreds of golfers each time. Our facility has thousands of data points. With this much data comes the ability to draw conclusions from objective assessments. These conclusions drive the intelligent implementation of successful solutions directed at the root causes of problems for thousands of golfers around the globe.

The first three statistics have an R-value of over 0.85 in correlation to clubhead speed. Translation: if you perform well in the first three tests with high numbers, you are very likely to have a high club speed. Further, if you improve in any of those three tests relative to where you started, you are almost assured to have a higher club speed than when you began (assuming swing technique and equipment is relatively unchanged).  

Keep in mind that in statistics, correlation is not the same as cause and effect. But when the R-value is that close to 1 and anecdotally you have seen the results and changes we have, you put some weight behind these three tests. So:

  • See how high you can jump
  • See how far you can shot put a 6-pound medicine ball
  • See how far you can chest pass a 6-pound medicine ball from a seated position

Doing so will give you an idea of how much power you have in your lower body, total rotary system and upper body respectively. Train whichever one is the worst, or train them all if you want. Rest assured that if you improve one of them, you will more than likely increase your swing speed.  

By doing these assessments and addressing the one or two weak areas, you will improve with the least work possible. Sounds about what you were looking for, right? If you are able to identify where you need to improve BEFORE you buy whatever is claiming to fix your problems, you will save lots of money and time. You will actually start to improve with the least amount of work possible and in the least amount of time possible.  

What’s next? After completing the assessment tests, start working to improve them.

  • Coming Soon: Lower Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Upper Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Rotary Power for Golf
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