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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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World Long Drive competitor Eddie Fernandes has added speed and consistency by improving these transition moves. You can do it, too!

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Why you must practice under pressure if you want to play better golf

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Practice, as most of us employ it, is borderline worthless. This is because most of the practices, if you will, typically employed during practice sessions have little chance of improving our performance under pressure.

The type of practice that improves performance is, for the most part, rarely engaged in because practicing under typical “practice” conditions does very little to simulate the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we deal with once our performance actually means something. If we want to really improve our performance when it matters, we need to put ourselves in situations, often and repeatedly, that simulate the pressure we experience during competition. And nowhere is this statement more true than on the putting green.

The art and skill of putting is a funny thing. No element of the game requires less inherent hand-eye coordination or athletic talent. Putting’s simplicity makes it golf’s great equalizer. You roll a ball along the ground with a flat-faced stick in the general direction of a hole nearly three times its size. Sure, green speeds vary wildly, and there are those diabolical breaks to deal with, but despite that, putting is truly golf’s most level playing field; it’s the one element of the game where even the highest handicappers can potentially compete straight up with the game’s most skilled. At the same time, there are few other situations (other than maybe the first tee) when we feel as much pressure as we do on the putting green.

Ben Hogan, during the latter part of his career — years that were marred by poor putting — claimed that putting shouldn’t even be a part of the game because, in his words, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air, and the other on the ground.”

Now, Hogan suffered a serious case of the yips later in his career, and while this statement was likely uttered following a frustrating round of missed three-footers, it serves to highlight not only the differences between putting and the rest of the game, but how taxing on the nerves it can be for even the game’s greats.

Its inherent simplicity, the slow pace of the stroke, and how much time we are given to contemplate it, are in truth what sets us up. It’s golf’s free throw. We very often know exactly what to do, and how to do it, like when we’re faced with one of those straight three-footers, but with more time to think, it opens the door wide for the type of second-guessing that arises during those moments we feel a bit of pressure. And that’s the biggest part of the problem.

The self-sabotage that leads to missing relatively short easy putts, the reasons behind it, and practices to overcome it is something for a different article. What I really want to get into at the moment is a practice that I think can help ensure you never end up in that desperate place to begin with.

Most of us rarely practice our putting, and when we do, it’s in about the most useless way we can. We’ve all done it. You grab a sleeve of balls just prior to the round, head to the practice green, and begin rolling them from hole to hole around the typical nine-hole route. Now I could go into a whole host of reasons why this isn’t very helpful, but the No. 1 reason it’s such a pitifully poor practice is this: there is no pressure.

Early in my career, I worked at a club where there was at least one money game on the putting green every day, and many nights too. The members (and staff) putted aces, 5 for $5, rabbits, and many other games for hours on end, and when the sun went down they often switched on the clubhouse roof-mounted floodlights and continued into the wee hours. Many days (and nights) I witnessed hundreds of dollars change hands on that putting green, occasionally from my own, but in my younger days, that was fortunately an infrequent occurrence.

Those money games were a cherished part of the culture of that club and an incredibly good arena in which to learn to practice under pressure. To this day, I’ve never seen as many really good pressure putters (many of very average handicaps) as I did during that period, and when I think back, it’s no small wonder either.

The problem with practicing golf, or just about any other sport for that matter, is that it’s difficult to practice under the types of pressure we compete in. In 4 or 5 hours on the golf course we might only have a half dozen putts that really mean something, and maybe only 2 or 3 of those knee-knocking 3 footers with the match on the line or the chance to win a bet.

When I was younger and playing in those money games on the putting green, I had a meaningful putt every minute or two, for hours on end, and you either learned to handle that pressure pretty quickly or your hard-earned paycheck was being signed over to someone else. Now I’m not bringing this up to encourage gambling, as I know for some people that can become a serious issue, but rather to point out how the opportunity to practice repeatedly under pressure helped me learn to deal with those situations. And with how infrequently we even get the opportunity to face that same pressure when we actually play, it’s important to try do our best to simulate it as often as we can during practice.

So when it comes to my own students these days, I don’t necessarily encourage gambling (I don’t discourage a little bit of it either), but I do encourage putting and practicing for something. I’ll get three of my students together on the putting green and say “look, you guys putt for 30 minutes and the loser has to do 100 push-ups” or something similar. I’ll tell students to putt against a parent for who has to mow the lawn, do the dishes, or some other mundane household chore neither of them really wants to do. The point is to have something on the line, something that will make it really hurt to lose.

You can even do it by yourself. Wait to practice putting right before lunch or dinner and make a pact with yourself that you can’t eat until you make 15 three-footers in a row. Until you find a way to practice under pressure all that practice is really just that: practice. You shouldn’t be surprised if, when the chips are down, mindless practice doesn’t translate to improved performance. Hopefully, by learning to simulate pressure during practice, you’ll play better when the heat is really on.

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WATCH: How to execute the “y-style” chipping technique

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney of Punta Mita Golf Academy shows an easier way of chipping around the greens to get the ball rolling faster and ensure ball-first contact. Enjoy the video below, and hope this helps!

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