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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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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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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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Golf 101: What is a strong grip?

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What is a strong grip? Before we answer that, consider this: How you grip it might be the first thing you learn, and arguably the first foundation you adapt—and it can form the DNA for your whole golf swing.

The proper way to hold a golf club has many variables: hand size, finger size, sports you play, where you feel strength, etc. It’s not an exact science. However, when you begin, you will get introduced to the common terminology for describing a grip—strong, weak, and neutral.

Let’s focus on the strong grip as it is, in my opinion, the best way to hold a club when you are young as it puts the clubface in a stronger position at the top and instinctively encourages a fair bit of rotation to not only hit it solid but straight.

The list of players on tour with strong grips is long: Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Fred Couples, David Duval, and Bernhard Langer all play with a strong grip.

But what is a strong grip? Well like my first teacher Mike Montgomery (Director of Golf at Glendale CC in Seattle) used to say to me, “it looks like you are revving up a Harley with that grip”. Point is the knuckles on my left hand were pointing to the sky and my right palm was facing the same way.

Something like this:

Of course, there are variations to it, but that is your run of the mill, monkey wrench strong grip. Players typically will start there when they are young and tweak as they gain more experience. The right hand might make it’s way more on top, left-hand knuckles might show two instead of three, and the club may move its way out of the palms and further down into the fingers.

Good golf can be played from any position you find comfortable, especially when you find the body matchup to go with it.

Watch this great vid from @JakeHuttGolf

In very simple terms, here are 3 pros and 3 cons of a strong grip.

Pros

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and helps you hit further
  2. It’s an athletic position which encourages rotation
  3. Players with strong grips tend to strike it solidly

Cons

  1. Encourages a closed clubface which helps deloft the club at impact and can cause you to hit it low and left
  2. If you don’t learn to rotate you could be in for a long career of ducks and trees
  3. Players with strong grips tend to fight a hook and getting the ball in the air

 

Make Sense?

 

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