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How PGA Tour players use the ground: Trends from BodiTrak

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Any time new technology makes its way onto the PGA Tour, it’s always interesting to take a step back and observe some of the general trends to see what we can learn from the new data it provides. One new piece of technology that is growing in popularity on professional tours is BodiTrak, which I co-developed. BodiTrak a pressure-sensing mat that helps athletes understand how they interact with the ground, which, of course, is great for the golf swing. As we continue to learn, the movement of a golfer’s center of pressure, or COP, is crucial to performance, and that’s exactly what BodiTrak measures.

The importance of pressure or weight shift isn’t a new concept at all, though. Hall of Fame instructor Jim McLean wrote an article for Golf Digest 25 years ago that discussed the importance of being able to load into your trail leg and explode onto your lead leg. McLean’s postulate from 1980 was resisted by some, but is now being confirmed — almost universally across the instruction community — with data from BodiTrak mats.

“Now with BodiTrak Pressure Mapping, even those most pessimistic doubters and anti-weight movement teachers have to concede that great ball strikers and all PGA Tour players load pressure into the trail foot in the backswing for a driver,” McLean says. “They then unload quickly back to the lead foot, and explode out of the ground through the impact interval.”

We’re only scratching the surface in terms of data collection on Tour, but I wanted to share a few of the most notable trends, as they might be relevant lessons for the average club golfer.

Tour players load and explode

The vast majority of Tour players load at least 80 percent of the pressure into their trail leg in their backswing and at least 80 percent into their lead leg at impact with their driver swing. Some golfers that BodiTrak has measured, like Jason Day, put as much as 95 percent of their pressure on their trail leg near the top of their backswing.

This move requires tremendous physical ability, but it’s foundational to Tour-level distance and consistency. Titleist Performance Institute co-founder Dave Phillips analyzed how Day’s elite hip mobility and stability make this move possible. Many amateurs (and some professionals) don’t have the requisite physical capabilities to do this, while others have inefficient technique. McLean refers to the transition to the lead leg as the key move in the golf. Golfers who fail to do so invite a number of potentially harmful swing tendencies. As PGA Tour instructor John Tillery says, “I’m convinced that the overwhelming difference between amateurs and Tour players is how and when they shift their pressure.”

Most Tour players have a linear trace with short irons

As a general rule, we’ve found the golf club wants to follow a golfer’s pressure trace during the swing. Many instructors advocate a linear trace because it encourages a neutral club path from which golfers can either fade or draw the ball. There are exceptions, but if you review BodiTrak’s library of PGA Tour data, you’ll see that linear traces are extremely common in precision swings. Linear iron traces are often drastically different from dynamic traces seen in many powerful driver swings. The explosive speed of a Bubba Watson or J.B. Holmes results from tremendous ground reaction forces, evidenced by a center of pressure trace we often refer to as a “Z Trace.”

You may know PGA Tour instructor Scott Hamilton from the instruction videos he makes for GolfWRX. He does an excellent job of explaining the relationship between club path and ground mechanics in the video below.

Sometimes poor technique is to blame for a center of pressure that traces excessively to the ball of the lead foot, but it’s also often an indication of limited physical capacity, specifically in the posterior chain. PGA Tour instructor Mark Blackburn notes that this is especially common among junior golfers who lack stability in their lower body.

Ground interaction is important in the short game

One of the most fascinating studies of ground mechanics has come from how PGA Tour players shift their pressure around the green. PGA Tour instructor Jake Thurm uses BodiTrak to assess how two-time champion Kevin Steelman distributes his pressure to ensure that the loft of the club is maximized. It’s a really interesting look into how data from BodiTrak can reflect corrections in posture throughout a swing. As Thurm says, “If your pressure is incorrect at setup, it will be corrected for throughout your motion.”

Popular online instructor Mark Crossfield, who also contributes to GolfWRX, compared pressure shift trends on different pitch shots, demonstrating how his center of pressure went into the toe of his trail foot and heel of his lead foot on a lob shot versus a lower, spinning chip that was hit with a more linear trace and more pressure into the lead foot at impact.

European Tour member Oliver Wilson also noted the importance in the timing and magnitude of his pressure shift in the bunker.

Following on from yesterday I used @boditrak in the bunker to show how my COP (Center of pressure) was working. It shows the COP moving to the right too soon & then into my heel. Ideally I need to stay more centered with the pressure in the initial takeaway. This will allow me to coil better & enable the right arm to bend easier. These in turn help me to keep the loft on the club face. For me, that will take care of any shaft lean at impact therefore using the bounce! Very similar to my golf swing! Love @boditrak as a measuring device for when things are good but it’s great to sometimes show why we aren’t able to obtain certain positions on video. #bunker #instagolf #golf #Callaway #oriongroup #hugoboss #practice #bounce A video posted by Oliver Wilson (@oliver_wilson) on

Pressure shift isn’t a new concept in golf. Instructors have been teaching pressure shift for years, but now, thanks to technologies like BodiTrak, we’re able to validate the concept with data and provide valuable biofeedback on the range for golfers.

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Terry is the founder of Jazz Golf in Canada, co-developer of the BodiTrak Golf Pressure Map, and inventor of the world's first inertial measuring unit for golf and other major golf products. full information available at : https://www.linkedin.com/pub/terry-hashimoto/25/541/46a Terry is currently involved in developing golf pressure mats to develop bio feedback and immediate response information systems for the future of online sport metrics. He is a University of Miami golf team graduate and former PGA professional from Winnipeg, Manitoba now living in Atlantic Canada / Charlottetown PEI. He's looking forward to sharing as much information as possible with all golfers interested in center of pressure studies and research. www.boditraksports.com

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Kill

    May 19, 2016 at 3:27 pm

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  2. JC

    May 13, 2016 at 10:04 am

    this “article” is nothing but an ad.

  3. Desmond

    May 13, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Appreciate the video, expecially Hamilton’s. We are given the preferred outcome – linear tracing – but like most instruction, there is no explanation of the body movement needed to produce that consistent outcome — that’s where lessons help. But does traditional instruction give you those movements, or is it more, if the feedback says you’re doing it right, without an explanation of the movement you must make through the swing. It’s more than feel 50-50 at the back — it’s what do you do to get 50-50 between toe and heel in the back with most of your pressure in the back foot? What is the feedback says you’re getting pressure, but you have a lousy swing, because that movement throws off other body movements? That’s my issue with instruction — it’s about the outcome with little as to the detail in getting there.

  4. RG

    May 12, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Top golfers transfer weight from hind foot to lead foot. Good weight transfer leads to more power and consistency in the golf swing. Got it. Glad we figured that out.

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Instruction

3 keys for getting out of bunkers with soft sand

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One of the most infuriating things in golf is to land in a bunker that has too much sand, or sand with the consistency of a truckload of talcum power. Now, I am not picking on the Superintendents; they do have to add new sand from time-to-time, so no hate mail please! It’s my fault for hitting it in the bunker in the first place, and bunkers are supposed to be hazards; I know that.

The one thing we will assume for this article is that even though we are in soft sand, we will have a good lie, not a plugged or semi-plugged one. We are in a bunker that just has a bunch of sand, or it’s soft and fluffy sand. Everyone asks me what the secret is to handling these types of conditions and I’m here to help you get better.

1) Get a wedge with the correct bounce

Let’s consider that you play the same golf course every weekend, or that you mostly play on courses that have the same type of playing conditions mostly. When you have this luxury, you should have wedges that fit the conditions you tend to play. So, if you have a low bounce wedge with a sharp flange and you’re playing from bunkers with lots of sand, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Why alter your swing if the wedge you have can help you? Use a high bounce wedge (9-12 degrees of bounce) for soft sand, and a low bounce wedge (6-8 degrees) for firm sand.

2) Control your Angle of Attack 

As with most things in golf, there are always things that you must pay attention to in order for you to have the odds in your favor. Simple things such as paying attention to the lie you have can help you save shots in the rough. In bunkers, you cannot test the surface, however, you can use your feet to feel the density of the sand. Pay attention to what you feel in the balls of your feet. If you feel a ton of sand below you, then you know you will have to alter your angle of attack if you want any chance to get out of the bunker successfully.

So what do I mean by this?

The setting of your wrists has a very dynamic effect on how much the wedge digs in or skids through the sand (assuming you have an open face). When there is a surplus of sand, you will find that a steeper attack caused by the maximum cocking of your wrists makes it much easier for the wedge to work too vertical and dig too deep. When you dig too deep, you will lose control of the ball as there is too much sand between the blade and the ball — it will not spin as much and won’t have the distance control you normally have.

The secret to playing from softer sand is a longer and wider bunker swing with much less wrist-set than you would use on your stock bunker shot. This action stops the club from digging too deep and makes it easier for you to keep moving through the ball and achieving the distance you need.

3) Keep your pivot moving

It’s nearly impossible to keep the rotation of your shoulders going when you take too much sand at impact, and the ball comes up short in that situation every time. When you take less sand, you will have a much easier time keeping your pivot moving. This is the final key to good soft-sand bunker play.

You have made your longer and more shallow backswing and are returning to the ball not quite as steeply as you normally do which is good… now the only thing left to do is keep your rear shoulder rotating through impact and beyond. This action helps you to make a fuller finish, and one that does not lose too much speed when the club impacts the sand. If you dig too deep, you cannot keep the rear shoulder moving and your shots will consistently come up short.

So if you are in a bunker with new sand, or an abundance of sand, remember to change your bounce, adjust your angle of attack, and keep your pivot moving to have a fighting chance.

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Instruction

WATCH: How to stop “flipping” through impact

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Are you flipping through impact? In this video, I share a great drill that will help you put better pressure on the golf ball at impact. By delivering the sweet spot correctly, you’ll create a better flight and get more distance from your shots immediately.

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Instruction

The Wagon Wheel Drill

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For many golfers, the ability to hit shots golf ball to the target is a difficult task, especially when you take into account the rough, trees or hazards lining the hole. In this video, I share “The Wagon Wheel Drill,” a simple idea of how to practice intentionally hitting the ball left, right and on target.

Practice this and you will soon be hitting the target more often.

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