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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

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

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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