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TrackMan: Zeroed Out and No Place To Go

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I was looking forward to hearing Brandel Chamblee speak at the Golf Magazine Annual Summit for “Top 100” Teachers and their guests, which was held in 2016. He had made a second career for himself on the Golf Channel criticizing other PGA Tour players, and in the process, making himself a polarizing figure. I found myself agreeing with him some of the time, and then other times, not so much.

What I had observed was that he was not one to back down, and he seemed to enjoy a “healthy discussion,” which often would turn heated. He was in these discussions a formidable opponent, being both intelligent and quick witted — a deadly combination when debating any issue. Brandel was at that time on the verge of launching his new book, “The Anatomy of Greatness.” He planned on sharing some of the conclusions that he had reached with the group that evening. What he must have known going in was that he was entering the lion’s den. And for that reason alone, Chamblee deserves a good deal of credit for accepting the invitation knowing that he’d be under fire for some of the remarks he had made in the past.

On my end, I did some research prior to his presentation, wanting to be prepared in the event that I had an opportunity to ask him a question. As a teacher, I was especially interested in what he might have said up to that point about the role of technology in learning and performance — and more specifically, his view on the use of TrackMan.

***

Golf Channel, May 12, 2015

I found a clip on the internet dated May 12, 2015. Chamblee was at the Golf Channel desk during the Players Championship sitting with Frank Nobilo and David Duval. The topic was TrackMan: the pros and cons of gathering information. The other two announcers, at least for the 2 minutes and six seconds of the clip, had given the floor to Chamblee. Brandel, an outspoken critic of technology, began by criticizing the inaccuracies found in TrackMan’s numbers, citing a series of reports that he had consulted:

  • That the machine is incapable of finding the center of mass but rather locates the geometric center of the club, which is more toward the heel.
  • The machine under-reports clubhead speed because the club is swinging on an arc, and as a consequence, over-reports smash factor.
  • The machine will often register a smash factor above 1.50 when measuring a tour player, which is impossible because the highest achievable number is 1.49.
  • The machine doesn’t accurately measure where the ball is impacted on the face of the club because of various spin factors.

He found these facts disturbing. The one issue that concerned him the most, however, was that early adopters could not transfer their TrackMan numbers from the range to the golf course. In other words, they had one swing on the driving range and another swing on the golf course. To Chamblee, that made the use of TrackMan to improve player performance “counter-productive.”

He had a final point to make. It was that teachers ultimately had to transfer the cost of this new and expensive technology on to their students in a time when the game was getting more and more expensive to play. This was of concern to him as well.                                                                        

***

That evening in 2016, Chamblee addressed some of the problems that in his opinion were associated with how TrackMan was being used. In this debate, there are two central issues:

  1. How TrackMan is being utilized by teachers.
  2. How Trackman is being utilized by players.

I listened closely to what he had to say, and on some of the issues we agreed. That said, I have my own concerns with regards to this debate. What I see happening is what I saw occur with the use of video many years ago, but on a smaller scale because of Trackman’s $20,000 price tag.

In the past, as the cost of cameras with slow-motion capability continued to drop from thousands of dollars to hundreds, they became more affordable. This made it possible for anyone to potentially become an expert. What evolved was that many run-of-the-mill teachers, using a video camera, would simply compare a student’s swing to a model and then point out the differences. This was without concern for the player’s individual biomechanics or if they were even physically capable of swinging in the prescribed manner.

For this reason, many top teachers have now either abandoned the use of video-analysis as part of their instruction or use it very little. They would prefer to spend their time connecting with their students on a more intimate one-on-one basis. This is the way that I now approach teaching after having worked with thousands of students over the past 45 years.

The nature of technology is that it will never take the place of human interaction between the teacher and his student. A central problem that is occurring in some quarters is that the machine is giving the lesson while the teacher simply reads off the numbers. This approach serves to undermine the establishment of a human connection between teacher and student.

In a Golf World article written by Matthew Rudy, dated April 19, 2017, he wrote that one of the common criticisms of modern instructors is that they’re helpless without information on a screen. I agree. I’m familiar with teachers who approach a lesson this way, caring only about the numbers without ever relating to the student.

Further, I have to agree with Hank Haney when he said in that same article “Information is great, and every teacher should be trying to get as much of it as possible. But that’s not the only piece.”

Randy Smith is of a similar opinion when talking about the use of TrackMan to coach a player: “Should a student want a sterile, perfect golf swing to work on in a room somewhere we can do that… but being efficient? Hitting different shots under different situations, different lies and pressure? That’s a different thing.”

Claude Harmon III who utilizes TrackMan on a limited basis was quoted in the same article with regards to younger players over dependence on the machine: “I have students come to me and quote their TrackMan combine numbers, and they can’t even tell me if they hit a fade or a draw. “

I’m not implying that TrackMan does not have a place in golf instruction or for use by players on a limited basis. As David Duval echoed at the very end of the Golf Channel clip, it should be used only “to check a few numbers.” As for teaching, what I am saying is that Trackman should be used only as a doctor would use an x-ray machine, which is to verify his diagnosis at times when he is unsure of the facts.

That said, is there a place for launch monitors?

Absolutely. They are invaluable, especially when it comes to driver fittings, where knowing the launch angle and the spin rate of the ball, is essential to maximizing distance through both carry and roll. And in terms of playing, knowing the carry distance of each club makes for more precise approach shots. But there are other launch monitors, aside from TrackMan, that can provide that same information at a much lesser cost.

The reality is that TrackMan is more than just a launch monitor, having the capability of providing detailed information about player performance—not just the ball. And for that reason, it’s easy for players to become obsessed with the numbers by seeking absolute perfection. They strive to, in TrackMan language, “zero-out” their swing. This is when the path and the face numbers are in perfect alignment with each other, both bracketed between the numbers +1 and -1. This state of being is considered by devotees to be the equivalent of finding the Holy Grail. The problem is that this type of perfectionism is not transferable to the course as noted earlier. And we know from our own experience as players that an attempt to be perfect can be a curse when it comes to this game, which at best is one of managed imperfection.

What can be concluded? I’m going to give Brandel the final word on this issue, as it was his name that ushered in the story. The opinion that he shared with Matthew Rudy, and I would like to share with you, was that he believed that modern players are both over analyzed and over coached.

“And as a consequence, they are not better for it, but they are worse,” Chamblee said.

My opinion? This time, I think Brandel got it right.

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Larry

    Feb 17, 2018 at 9:41 am

    This guy is a terrible teacher.

  2. Andrew Cooper

    Feb 17, 2018 at 9:02 am

    Excellent article Rod. Trackman is amazing technology, but I think it’s healthy to keep a sense of perspective with it. On the course, every shot is a unique one-off. The skilled players aren’t so much relying on a consistent swing with perfect numbers, rather they’re using a refined feel to make the small adjustments and tweaks required to fit each situation; varying trajectory and curvature, adjusting to uneven lies etc. They’re not playing by numbers. Then you add in coping with the mental challenges of the game, course management, putting, short game etc. and having good Trackman numbers is great but translating that into lower scores is what counts.

  3. OB

    Feb 16, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    TM has it’s scientific inadequacies but at least it is an empirical baseline from which to ‘track’ the progression of the student and tour pro. To regress back to a state of BLIND FEEL for changes to a golf swing is ludicrous…!

  4. Marcus Eglseer

    Feb 15, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    The author of this article could not be more wrong!!!
    It would take too long to explain all his mistakes/misunderstandings, so I will list only a few:
    First&most important, in what world is BC any top teacher/expert-because he is talking on the GC? That is flatout ridiculous!! He has never ever worked a teaching pro, not to speak of working with a tour pro of any success. Please do ask, if Peter Kostis is working with a TM when he is with Paul Casey..
    Second example, do you really think, it is coincidence that more than 90% of all tour pros have&practice with a TM?
    And last but not least, the author shows his incompetence with TM technology when he admits, it worth having the numbers for driver fitting. That shows, what an tec dinosaur the author is-it is like posssing an Iphone&just doing calls with it, never using it like a smartphone.

    There is way more, but I am sure, nobody would read more than this.
    My hope is that these clueless tec dinosaurs will soon be gone&in less than 8-10 years, the best pros/coaches will be working with their knowledge, eyes&tec in sync!

    • Scarface

      Feb 17, 2018 at 9:15 am

      I own an iPhone and use it only to text. Is that wrong? Who uses an iPhone to make calls?

  5. JD

    Feb 15, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    Moore’s Law. These guys will be irrelevant in 5 years as this technology will be available at a 10th of the cost. Hopefully some company will catch on to this and realize its a better investment for families to have a golf simulator in their homes than joining a club or paying $150 green fees for a family 3-4sum to play golf together. Trackman is like IBM in the 70s… stubborn and catering to a 0.0001% market of pro’s and teachers looking to be “Zeroed Out”… Once the tech catches up… companies like FlightScope, SkyTrack, and OptiShot that are trying to get into HOMES and not CLUBS should be a serious concern for Trackman and Foresight.

  6. dat

    Feb 15, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    TM LMs are all snake oil. Just hit the ball and get good instructions. The GC quad at least sees where you hit it on the face.

    • Steve moody

      Feb 16, 2018 at 2:13 am

      As does trackman from March onwards.

    • Jay Wonders

      Feb 18, 2018 at 2:52 am

      LOL and that camera technology is still inferior where only 10% of tour pros are using it. I am surprised that 10% is still using ti. If you can see the impact why is data algorithm still wrong? Because it does track the ball and does not account for aerodynamic.

      • Jay Wonders

        Feb 18, 2018 at 2:54 am

        Misspelled: it does not track the ball.

  7. Sam

    Feb 15, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Like a wrench, Trackman can be a useful tool. – Useful when needed but be careful not to over-torque your nuts with it. Besides have you ever heard of a “Launch Monitor Golf Tournament” ? I haven’t. Maybe there is one. If there is, I don’t want to participate and I certainly don’t want to watch it.

  8. Dale Owens

    Feb 15, 2018 at 11:09 am

    Technology certainly has a place in development of the premier player. A player can marry feel and technology, to develop their own swing. Feedback provided by technology is very valuable.

  9. TwitterBlocker

    Feb 15, 2018 at 11:05 am

    “I was looking forward to hearing Brandel Chamblee speak at the Golf Magazine Annual Summit for “Top 100”…” probably the only person ever looking forward to hearing BC talk.

    • the dude

      Feb 15, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      why??…he is a bright guy with plenty of knowledge…..

  10. CW

    Feb 15, 2018 at 10:48 am

    Up until the past decade or so there were only a handful of guys that dominated the field. Now, it’s anybody’s game. I think the tech has helped, not hurt.

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Opinion & Analysis

Top 5 wedges of all time

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Wedges. They are the “trusted old friends” in our golf bags. They inspire confidence inside of 100 yards and help us get back on track when we hit a wayward approach.

There was a time not too long ago when a bunker was considered a true hazard, but over the last 80 years, as agronomy has evolved on the same trajectory as club an ball technology, wedges have changed a great deal along the way—from the first modern prototype wedge built by Gene Sarazen to clubs featuring various plating and coatings to increase spin and performance. There are a lot of wedge designs that have stood the test of time; their sole grinds, profiles from address, and performance bring back memories of great hole outs and recovery shots.

With so many variations of wedges in the history of golf (and so much parity), this is my top five list (in no particular order) of the most iconic wedges in golf history.

Original Gene Sarazen Wedge

An early Gene Sarazen wedge. (Photo: USGA)

Gene is famous for a lot of things: the career grand slam, the longest endorsement deal in professional sports history (75 years as a Wilson ambassador), the “shot heard around the world”, and as mentioned earlier—the creation of the modern sand wedge. Although not credited with the invention of the original  “sand wedge” he 100 percent created the modern wedge with a steel shaft and higher bounce. A creation that developed from soldering mass to the sole and flange of what would be our modern-day pitching wedge. Born from the idea of a plane wing, thanks to a trip taken with Howard Hughes, we can all thank Mr. Sarazen for the help with the short shots around the green.

Wilson R90

The next evolution of the original Sarazen Design, the Wilson R90 was the very first mass-marketed sand wedge. Its design characteristics can still be seen in the profile of some modern wedges. Although many might not be as familiar with the R90, you would almost certainly recognize the shape, since it was very often copied by other manufacturers, in their wedge lines.

The R90 features a very rounded profile, high amount of offset, and a great deal of bounce in the middle of the sole, with very little camber. Although not as versatile as modern wedges because of the reduced curve from heel to toe, the R90 is still a force to be reckoned with in the sand.

Cleveland 588

You know a name and design are classic when a company chooses to use the original notation more than 30 years after its initial release. The 588 was introduced as Cleveland’s fifth wedge design and came to market in 1988—which is how it got its name. Wedges were never the same after.

The brainchild of Roger Cleveland, the 588 was made from 8620 carbon steel—which patinad over time. Not unlike the Wilson before it, the 588 had a very traditional rounded shape with a higher toe and round leading edge. The other part of the design that created such versatility was the V-Sole (No, not the same as the Current Srixon), that offers a lot more heel relief to lower the leading edge as the face was opened up—this was the birth of the modern wedge grind.

Titleist Vokey Spin Milled

The wedge that launched the Vokey brand into the stratosphere. Spin-milled faces changed the way golfers look at face technology in their scoring clubs. From a humble club builder to a wedge guru, Bob Vokey has been around golf and the short game for a long time. The crazy thing about the Bob Vokey story is that it all started with one question: “who wants to lead the wedge team?” That was all it took to get him from shaping Titleist woods to working with the world’s best players to create high-performance short game tools.

Honorable mentions for design goes to the first 200 and 400 series wedge, which caught golfers’ eyes with their teardrop shape—much like the Cleveland 588 before it.

Ping Eye 2 Plus

What can you say? The unique wedge design that other OEMs continue to draw inspiration from it 30 years after its original conception. The Eye 2+ wedge was spawned from what is undoubtedly the most popular iron design of all time, which went through many iterations during its 10 years on the market—a lifecycle that is completely unheard of in today’s world of modern equipment.

A pre-worn sole, huge amount of heel and toe radius, and a face that screams “you can’t miss,” the true beauty comes from the way the hosel transitions into the head, which makes the club one of the most versatile of all time.

Check out my video below for more on why this wedge was so great.

Honorable mention: The Alien wedge

To this day, the Alien wedge is the number-one-selling single golf club of all time! Although I’m sure there aren’t a lot of people willing to admit to owning one, it did help a lot of golfer by simplifying the short game, especially bunker shots.

Its huge profile looked unorthodox, but by golly did it ever work! Designed to be played straight face and essentially slammed into the sand to help elevate the ball, the club did what it set out to do: get you out of the sand on the first try. You could say that it was inspired by the original Hogan “Sure-Out,” but along the way it has also inspired others to take up the baton in helping the regular high-handicap golfer get out of the sand—I’m looking at you XE1.

That’s my list, WRXers. What would you add? Let me know in the comments!

 

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The 19th Hole: Meet the world’s most expensive putter and the man behind it

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Host Michael Williams talks with Steve Sacks of Sacks Parente Golf about the idea and implementation of their revolutionary Series 39 blade putter. Also features PGA Professional Brian Sleeman of Santa Lucia Preserve (CA).

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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A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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