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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 [email protected] 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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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros

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I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.

The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.

There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.

Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.

What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).

Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.

If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?

It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.

Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.

So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.

Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.

We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.

There’s a lesson for all of us in that.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win

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Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.

Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.

It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.

McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.

When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.

If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!

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Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!

Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.

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