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Launch monitors have changed the way tour players hit their drives



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. 


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.


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.


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, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10




    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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TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?



Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

For more info on the topics, check out the links below.

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Opinion & Analysis

Book Review: The Life and Times of Donald Ross



The Life and Times of Donald Ross is a successful golf history, in that it holds one’s attention, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or interest for the subject. It can hardly avoid doing so, as it traces the life of a man who lived through both world wars, emigrated from the old country to the new, and championed a sport that grew from infancy to maturity in the USA, during his earthly run. The loss of two wives to uncontrollable circumstances, the raising of a child essentially on his own, and the commitment to the growth of golf as an industry add to the complexity of the life of Donald J. Ross Jr. Within the cover of this tome, through words and images, the life and times of the man are communicated in fine fashion.

The book was published in 2016, by Chris Buie of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Buie is not a professional writer in the traditional sense. He does not solicit contracts for books, but instead, writes from a place of passion and enthusiasm. This is not to say that he is not a writer of professional quality. Instead, it isolates him among those who turn out high-level prose, scholarly research, with attention-holding results.

Before I opened the book, it was the cover that held my attention for much longer than a single, fleeting moment. The solitary figure, staring out across the ocean. Was he gazing toward the Americas, or toward his birthplace, in Scotland? And that blend of blue shades, like something out of Picasso’s 1901-1904 period of monochromatic azures, proved to be equal parts calming and evocative. Those years, by the way, correlate with the 29th to the 32nd years of Ross’ life. During that period, Ross lost a brother (John) to injuries suffered in the Boer War, and married his first wife, Janet. With care like that for the cover art, what marvelous research awaited within the binding?

After a number of readings, I’m uncertain as to the greater value of the words or the pictures. Perhaps it’s the codependency of one on the other that leads to the success of the effort. The book is the culmination of 5 months of exhaustive research, followed by 7 months of intense writing, on Buie’s part. The author made up his mind to match as many images as possible with his descriptors, so as to create both visual and lexical collections to stand time’s test. Maps, paintings, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, etchings and course routes were collected and reproduced within the covers. Throughout the process, so much of Ross’s life and craft, previously unrecognized in publication, were revealed to Buie. Ross’s ability to make the unnatural look natural when necessary, is hardly equaled in the annals of golf course architecture. According to Buie,

Growing up all I’d heard was natural. Certainly he incorporated as much of the existing terrain and environment as possible. But given how much other work went into the courses, it would be more accurate to say his courses were naturalistic.

Buie also scrapes away at the misplaced notion that Ross was a one-dimensional golf course architect. After all, what else did Shakespeare do besides write plays and sonnets? Well, Ross did so much more, in addition to building some of the world’s great member and tournament golf courses, shaping the Pinehurst Resort experience, and running an in-town hotel in the process. Again, Buie comments,

His greatest contribution was the role he played in the overall establishment of the game in the United States. He was involved in every aspect (caddymaster, greenkeeper, teacher, player, mentor, tournaments, clubmaking, management, etc). The theme that went through his efforts was that he was adamant all be done “the right way”. Given the breadth and enduring nature of his efforts I don’t think anyone else did more to establish the game in America. That makes him the “Grand Old Man of the American Game” – not just a prolific architect.

What was it about Ross, that separated him from the many compatriots who journeyed from Scotland to the USA? They were content to compete and run golf clubs, but Ross sought so much more. His early years involved much successful competition, including top-10 finishes in the US Open. He was also a competent instructor, manifested in the ability of his students to learn both the swing and its competitive execution. And yet, Pinehurst is so different from any other place in the Americas. And so much of what it is, is due to the influence of Donald Ross.

In a nod to the accepted round of golf across the planet, the book contains 18 chapters, including the appendices. At locomotive pace, the mode of transportation utilized by Ross to traverse the lower 48 of the USA and Canada, the reader gathers a proper awareness of the great man’s living arc. Beginning with the hike from the train station in Boston to the Oakley Country Club, the emigration of the Scotsman from the highlands of Caledonia to the next hemisphere was a fairly simple affair, with unexpected, poignant, and far-reaching consequences. Donald J. Ross, jr., would complete the shaping of american golf that was assisted (but never controlled) by architectural peers. Men like Walter Travis, Albert Tillinghast, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Tom Bendelow would build courses of eternal worth, but none would shape in the far-reaching manner of Ross.

It’s tempting to make a larger portion of this story about Buie, but he wouldn’t have it so. A Pinehurst native, Buie’s blend of reverence and understanding of his home region are evident and undeniable. One almost thinks that a similar history might have been written about any number of characters charged with the stewardship of the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Fortunately for aficionados of golf and its course architecture, Buie is a golfer, and so we have this tome.

Donald J. Ross, jr. was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man of belief. When those beliefs came into conflict with each other, which they seldom did, he had an instinct for elevating one over the other. No other place is this more evident that in his routing of the Sagamore course in Lake George, in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Faced with the conundrum of how to begin the course, his daughter remembers the sage words of the father. Despite contradicting his belief that a course should never begin in the direction of the rising sun, Ross commented I can’t start it anywhere but looking out at that lake and those mountains. Indeed, Sagamore would be a poorer place for an alternate opening, and this review would have less of a way to reach its end.

My recommendation: read the book.

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Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real



We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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19th Hole