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Launch monitors have changed the way tour players hit their drives

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I keep track of the radar metrics on the PGA Tour each week, and so far this season I’ve started to see some noticeable differences in the radar data being produced by the field than I have in years past. So I decided to look at the Tour averages for each season since the Tour started to record the radar data back in 2007.

Here’s a chart showing those averages each season.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 10.18.06 AM

Click the chart to enlarge it.

To draw an even clearer picture, here’s a comparison between this season’s radar metrics and the inaugural season in 2007. 

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Click the chart to enlarge it.

While the club speed and ball speed have picked up, the larger differences are in the Max Height and Spin Rate metrics. The other two factors that have seen a marked change are Smash Factor and Carry Efficiency, which are calculated using the formulas below.

  • Smash Factor = Ball Speed / Club Head Speed
  • Carry Efficiency = Carry Distance / Club Speed

While the percentage difference between these two metrics is smaller than the other metrics, we have to remember that USGA rules have a certain allowable Smash Factor that is roughly 1.50. So there is a ceiling with regards to Smash Factor and the same goes for Carry Efficiency.

What this shows is the effect that launch monitors have had on PGA Tour swings, as well as the golf equipment industry, which has been producing metal woods that launch the ball slightly higher and with less spin in recent years. I can also conclude from the metrics that fewer players are hitting their driver with a severely downward attack angle (-4 degrees or steeper), because:

  • Their launch angles are up.
  • Their carry efficiency is up.
  • Their max height is significantly up.
  • Their spin rate is down.

According to Trackman, with all things being equal, the lower a golfer’s Spin Loft the higher the Smash Factor. Spin Loft is a measurement of a golfer’s dynamic loft, which is the amount of loft they deliver to the ball at the moment of maximum ball compression, minus a golfer’s angle of attack, as shown below.

  • Spin Loft = Dynamic Loft – Attack Angle

So if Tour players are less steep with their attack angle and their dynamic loft is roughly the same, the Spin Loft has now decreased and that allows for a higher Smash Factor.

What is probably most interesting is that higher club-head speed players have resorted to more of an upward hit on the ball. In the past, the high club-speed players almost exclusively kept their launch low so they could keep the max height low and better control their drives. They would generally have a launch angle between 9 to 10 degrees with about 2,800 rpm of spin. Now, we see some of the higher club-head speed players on Tour with very high launch angles and low spin rates.

Two prime examples of this are rookies Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers, both of whom are 22 years old. It should be noted that Rodgers and Thomas are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in Max Height, respectively.

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Currently, Thomas ranks 73rd (out of 203 golfers) in my Driving Effectiveness ranking, while Rodgers ranks 59th. There is not a lot of data with regards to higher-speed players who produce very high launch numbers over a significant period of time, but the long hitters who are generally more effective off the tee average lower launch numbers like Bubba Watson, who currently first in Driving Effectiveness.

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I suspect that eventually players like Thomas and Rodgers will bring down their attack angles a bit in order to create a lower launch, a lower max height and a higher spin rate so they can drive ball more accurately and precisely like Bubba does. But young guns like Thomas and Rodgers, as well as the Tour radar statistics as a whole, show the great influence that launch monitors are having on the best golfers in the world.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. spanishflypro.net

    Jun 9, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    I read this article fully regarding the comparison of latest and previous technologies, it’s amazing article.

  2. Stat Man

    Jun 6, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    AoA -1

  3. Oldplayer

    Jun 6, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Is the ball at all responsible for the higher launch and lower spin that pros are getting in recent times?

  4. Jeez Utz

    Jun 6, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Stats are so padded and no one should really be interested in them

  5. Jeez Utz

    Jun 6, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    I don’t know why ppl put stock in stats
    Stats tell part of the story….
    3rd and 23, defense in full prevent..handoff up the middle rb gets 16 yds. That happens 3 or 4 times a game and he finishes with 103 yds total
    Outside that the rb will have 23 carries for 48 yds but if you look at the stats he’s shredding the defense
    Baseball would have you believe a save is a something that should be recorded as a stat
    One team is up 8-5 in the bottom of the 9th and a guy comes out and throw 8 pitches against another team that knows they’ve already lost and don’t care
    Basketball has the assist…I throw the ball to a wide open or covered guy and he shoots and makes it. Nothing to do with me but I get a + in a stat category…
    idk but I’m pretty sure the winner on tour week in and week out is 1 or 2 in prox. to the hole. He may be middle of the pack or closer to last in a few or most categories, but never that one. That’s the only “stat” that matters, but at the end of the day score matters and not much else and especially not scoring average because of course setup.

  6. Tom Stickney

    Jun 6, 2015 at 12:57 am

    Its amazing how high and flat the tour guys hit the ball when the spin rate is under control.

  7. Paul

    Jun 6, 2015 at 12:10 am

    Good stuff Richie.

    Great information – gives us food for thought. Whether it’s a deliberate change that the players have implemented or if the club design is the reason behind it, it is still an interesting subject.

  8. golfiend

    Jun 5, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    i guess these stats could be interesting, but the more important stat is how often these guys drive it accurately (even if they are 5-10y shorter) to the right location in the fairway to get an easier second shot into the green

  9. Steve

    Jun 5, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Wow this is news. Tech has change the way we look at a golf swing? is this 2005?

  10. ML

    Jun 5, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    If they limited the size of the driver head it would have no effect

    Many guys are playing smaller heads than retail to begin with

    They new mini drivers (essentially a 90’s driver ) are extremely accurate for most players and when flushed go nearly as far as the drivers do

    I’ve got to a point where I wonder why I even have a driver other than to make double on a couple par 5’s

    275 in the middle with those mini drivers is all you need

  11. Johnny

    Jun 5, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Interesting that launch angles are virtually unchanged from 2007 to 2015 while max height shows a pretty good change. So when we talk about high launch/low spin, I’m not sure about the high launch part. Yet spin has a pretty good drop as well.

    If tour players are hitting their drives different, I would have to say it’s due to the driver and not the launch monitor.

    • Jeez Utz

      Jun 6, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      my point exactly
      I would be slightly more to believe in launch monitors bringing down scoring average cuz players find “square” more easily

    • Rich Hunt

      Jun 8, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      The launch angles have gone up and much like smash factor and carry efficiency, there’s a ceiling as to how much you can go up with the launch of a driver and swing at a certain speed. So I think that like smash and carry efficiency, the launch angle going up by a small number is actually a bigger change than most people think.

      As I mentioned towards the end, the big difference I see is the numbers for the longer hitters. Guys like Rodgers and Thomas just used to never have those numbers. Used to be lower launch, higher spin. Now we are starting to see more long hitters change that.

  12. ca1879

    Jun 5, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Rich – hard to show significant change with just averages since all influences are aggregated. Since you clearly know this subject, can we assume that there isn’t enough information to tease out the performance deltas with respect to actual swing metric changes?

  13. Chris

    Jun 5, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Rich, while there are definitely some trends in regards to players increasing their launch and lowering their spin, I think this may have more to do with the improvement of equipment design over the last 8 years more-so than players changing their swings. Back in 2007 clubs were being marketed as having the deepest CG’s providing the most forgiveness. Nowadays the clubs are the complete opposite with low and forward CG’s.

  14. Jeez Utz

    Jun 5, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Launch monitors have changed how tour players hit their drivers????
    Where’s the proof

  15. ShutSteepStuck

    Jun 5, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Great article, Rich. Would love to know the AoA. Pretty sure Tomas is in the +4 range, but not sure about Rogers.

  16. Dennis Clark

    Jun 5, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Rich any attack angle data?

    • Rich Hunt

      Jun 5, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      Unfortunately, there is no AoA data on Tour.

      • Dennis Clark

        Jun 5, 2015 at 8:06 pm

        Yea it seems that all Tman gives is ball flight never individual impact/club readings. Wondering if they might be proprietary.

        • Rich Hunt

          Jun 8, 2015 at 2:47 pm

          I was told that there are too many mis-reads when they track them during an event, so they throw them out.

          It’s pretty easy to tell what guys are hitting up versus hitting down though with all of the other numbers.

  17. Greg V

    Jun 5, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Good article. Not taking anything away from the phenomenal ability of Tour players to generate club head speed in combination with precise ball striking – which is a gift.

    But we see that an average increase in club head speed of 0.8 mph over the past 8 years has yielded an additional carry distance of over 9 yards. Part of reason is that players are generating better launch angles – an improvement in technique. But a big part is also that manufacturers are making drivers with higher launch/lower spin characteristics.

    Long drivers will always be long drivers, no matter what equipment they are using. But, it is difficult to stretch golf courses. With the trampoline effect inherent in modern titanium driver heads, longer drivers get a proportionately higher rebound effect than more moderate drivers. This doesn’t bother me as I compare my performance versus a Tour pro; but it does bother me as I compare their performance against the course relative to players from as little as 25 years ago.

    The USGA/R&A has been in denial relative to the advance in driver club head technology. It is time to roll back the ball, and roll back the COR of driver faces. In fact, it would be a better test of skill if driver head sizes were rolled back to around 1/2 the size of today’s driver heads – 230 cc. Let’s put more skill into playing off the tee for our highly skilled players. Even though I can’t come close to their skill, I would also adopt the new driver head size – even for my puny ss of 92.

    • MHendon

      Jun 5, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Greg I’ve seen this argument made over and over again about rolling back the ball and the driver because players are just getting to long. I’ll point out that average driving distance has actually been coming down the last few years and it’s only 285 right now on tour. Also the longest driving avg for a season goes all the way back to 2004, thanks Hank Kuene for that one. So while it may be true that there is more focus on distance than ever the distance numbers for an entire season have not chance significantly since the early 2000’s.

      • Ball

        Jun 5, 2015 at 1:02 pm

        I’d also like to add that in general, the courses on the PGA Tour are not as difficult as it looks because the fairways are wide and there isn’t much rough, coupled with clean sight lines without many trees or obstacles that they would have to curve the ball – because of TV viewing angle requirements, and because nobody wants to see poor scoring at courses that have thick rough. The modern ball travels fast and straight, with not much curving, and cuts through the wind really well too. It’s a mythical perception that Bubba curves the ball a lot – he does curve it fairly well, but you see him struggle on courses with tight fairways being guarded by tall trees on both sides of the fairway. That’s why you never see him do well or even show up at places like Harbour Town – way too tight for him to be curving his bombers – he doesn’t like to plod through the course like a Jim Furyk.
        If the courses forced the long and wild hitters to be more accurate, these guys wouldn’t always be swinging away with their big sticks all over the map, you would see thoughtful, conservative swinging to put the ball in play – but then the public don’t want to see 9 or 10 drives with hybrids and fairway woods, do they?

        • Jeff Borders

          Jun 9, 2015 at 2:32 am

          You’ve never been to the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. There’s nothing easy about Muirfield Village. The short 14 is an easy layup, but a difficult wedge into a “fade” narrow green. The drive on 15, which many birdie, is a narrow shoot with a hog back fairway. You miss any of those greens and you get punished. on 18, I noticed many of those guys teeing off with fairway woods and long irons and leaving themselves 185-200 yards to an uphill green. Those shots are not in my bag. I also watched those guys hit pure shot after pure shot at the range with every club in the bag.

    • KK

      Jun 6, 2015 at 1:27 am

      Should we really focus on how golfers scored 25 years ago? Just about every sport has evolved to address inherent issues and to better provide participants and viewers with more enjoyment and entertainment. We’re losing tens of thousands of golfers every year in the US. Making golf more difficult is not the answer. If you can’t see that, you really don’t care about golf, only your ego.

      • gvogel

        Jun 6, 2015 at 10:00 am

        1. I am not calling for a roll back for the average golfer.

        2. Even with a roll back, the Tour professional will still amaze the viewer with length and accuracy that are hard to comprehend.

        Long is long; a Tour pro can hit a hickory driver longer than I can comprehend. A smaller club head would make driving a bit harder, which would be good for the game.

        One of the reasons that many players are leaving the game is that the game is hard. Modern courses are long, and difficult. IF the equipment is rolled back for elite players, courses can play shorter. Shorter courses take less time to play. The average player needs shorter courses, and shorter rounds.

        The game is hard, and it should remain that way. It requires patience, dedication, practice, and experience. But instead of making new courses longer and harder, we can make the equipment harder to use – for the elite player, and those who want to truly test themselves against that metric. That means playing exactly by the rules. But there should also be a class of golfer who plays for fun; drop a ball where it went out of bounds, etc. Those players could have the benefit of modern driver heads – and shorter golf courses.

  18. epyon

    Jun 5, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Shouldn’t smash factor = Ball Speed / Club head speed? I think its reversed in the article.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Jun 5, 2015 at 10:14 am

      Yes, and we have made that correction. Thanks for pointing out our mistake.

  19. patrick

    Jun 5, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Rich I’m a big fan.of your articles. And because you’re a statics guy it adds to your credibility. I wish I was 22 again and had access to a launch monitor.
    I saw the PGA tour video on Justin Thomas and his ability to consistently hit exactly the same spot on his driver plus his ability to replicate his swing faithfully , led to.his phenomenal smash factor. Like Bubba Watson , Justin Thomas has a gift. All you can do is sit back and admire.

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: How is the new PGA schedule looking? Gross golf bag cleaning story!

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The new PGA schedule is out and how will so much major golf look in the fall. What golf gear would you buy with your stimulus check if you could blow it all on golf? Knudson has a gross story about cleaning out a golf bag.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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19th Hole

Tiger at the Masters: The 3 that got away

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This time last year, Tiger Woods earned his fifth green jacket at the 2019 Masters, breaking a 14-year drought at Augusta National and completing a storybook career comeback (see Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters WITB here).

Between his 2005 and 2019 victories, Woods gave himself several chances to reclaim the green jacket, but for one reason or another, the championship continuously eluded the 15-time major winner.

Looking back on that drought, three years in particular stick out in my mind where Woods (being the ruthless closer that he is) could, and maybe should, have capitalized on massive opportunities.

2007 Masters

A unique tournament broke out at the 2007 Masters with chilly and windy conditions meaning we would see an over-par score winning the event for the first time in a generation.

Unusually however was the fact that Tiger Woods had got himself into a fantastic position heading into the final day’s play—one stroke back of the lead and in the final group.

By the first hole on Sunday, Woods had a share of the lead. A couple of holes later, and he was the sole leader. But instead of the game’s greatest ever closer doing what he does best, we saw the first small chink in Tiger’s major armor.

Unable to keep up with the improved scoring on Sunday, Woods finished the championship two strokes behind Zach Johnson. It was the first time Woods lost a major in which he held the lead at some point in the final round.

11th hole Sunday. Woods saved par.

Summing up after the round why things hadn’t turned out the way the entire golf world expected, Woods said

“Looking back over the week I basically blew this tournament with two rounds where I had bogey, bogey finishes. That’s 4-over in two holes. The last two holes, you just can’t afford to do that and win major championships.”

2011 Masters

In one of the most exciting final rounds in Masters history, an electric front-nine charge from Woods coupled with a Rory McIlroy collapse saw the then 35-year-old tied for the lead heading into the back nine.

After back-to-back pars on the challenging 10th and 11th holes, Woods found the green on the 12th before it all slipped away. A disastrous three-putt was followed by a deflating five on the par-5 13th and an agonizing near-miss for birdie on 14.

In typical defiant fashion, Woods then flushed a long iron on the par-5 15th to give him five feet for eagle and what would have been the outright lead. But he couldn’t find the cup.

Directly following his round, a visibly miffed Woods said

“I should have shot an easy 3- or 4-under on the back nine and I only posted even. But I’m right there in the thick of it and a bunch of guys have a chance. We’ll see what happens.”

What happened was eventual champion Charl Schwartzel did what Woods said he should have done—shooting 4 under on the back to win his first major.

2013 Masters

Luck, or lack of, is a contentious topic when it comes to sports fans, but at the 2013 Masters, Woods’ shocking fate played out as if those on Mount Olympus were orchestrating the tournament.

Woods entered the 2013 Masters as the World Number One, brimming with confidence having won three out of his first five tournaments to start the year.

By Friday afternoon, Woods had cruised into a share of the lead, before crisply striking a wedge on the par-5 15th as he hunted for another birdie.

In a cruel twist of fate, Woods’ ball struck the pin and ricocheted back into the water. “Royally cheated!” shouted on-course announcer David Feherty. Nobody could argue otherwise.

A subsequent “bad drop” turned a probable birdie into a triple-bogey placing Woods behind the proverbial 8-ball for the rest of the tournament. The game’s ultimate closer should have been in the lead with two rounds to play on a front-runner’s paradise of a course; instead, he was in chase-mode. (From 1991-2012, 19 of the 22 winners came from the final group).

Woods tried to rally over the weekend, but if he didn’t think the 2013 Masters was ill-fated for himself by Friday evening, then he would have been excused to do so on the eighth hole on Saturday.

 

Had Woods’ golf ball missed the pin at 15 on that hot and humid Spring afternoon in 2013, then he not only wins, but he likely wins going away.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Power Leak No. 1: Your grip

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One of the things I like the best is when a friend or stranger asks me to take a look at their swing to see if I can help them. I never get into the “lesson” business, because that is the domain of our golf staff at the club. But I have spent a lifetime in this game, and have studied the golf swing pretty relentlessly. I also have been blessed with a pretty good eye.

So, the other day, I was out hitting some balls in the afternoon, and a good friend from the club asked if I’d take a look at where he is losing power. Darrell is a big guy and a good player, but not nearly as long as you would think he’d be. He plays with the “big dog” money game, which has a few really big hitters that can be quite intimidating.

I’ve played with Darrell enough to know exactly where his power leaks were, so when he came out to the range, I watched him hit a few and dropped the first one on him.

“It’s your grip!”

He, like so many amateur golfers, was holding the club too far out on the end, and much too high in his palms — not low in the fingers like you should. I’ve always been of the opinion that the grip is the most important fundamental in the entire golf swing. Without a solid and fundamentally sound hold on the golf club, the rest of the swing cannot function at its best. Hogan thought it was so important, he dedicated a whole chapter of “Five Lessons” to the subject.

You’ll see the occasional pretty good scorer at the club with a funky grip, but you never see a bad grip on tour. The golfer who has mastered a great grip is the most teachable there is.

In my opinion, the grip is only ‘personal’ to a small degree. Whether you like to overlap, interlock or use the full finger grip (not baseball)…whether you like to rotate your hands a little stronger or weaker . . . the fundamentals are the same, and they aren’t negotiable.

The club has to be in your fingers to allow the “lag” that builds power, and to allow or even force the optimum release of the club through impact. The last three fingers of the left hand have to control the club so that it can be pulled through the impact zone. The right hand hold is limited to the curling of the two middle fingers around the grip, and neither set of forefingers and thumbs should be engaged much at all. One of the best drills for any golfer is to hit balls with the right forefinger and thumb totally disengaged from the grip. Google “Hogan grip photos” and study them!!!!!!

So, with the changes in the grip I had Darrell make, he immediately began ripping drivers 15-20 yards further downrange than he had. The ball flight and even sound of the ball off the driver was more impressive. So we went out to play a few holes to see what happened.

Historically, Darrell is only 5-10 yards longer than me at best, and sometimes I outdrive him. But not anymore!! On those five holes we played late that afternoon, he consistently flew it out there 20-25 yards past my best drives.

And that made us both really happy!

Next Tuesday, I’ll talk about the second in this series on Power Leaks.

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