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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

    Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this website.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very hard to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and visual appearance.

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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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Clement: Find big power in the flying elbow!

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Matt Wolff, Bubba Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and so many more have been criticized for their golf swings and the flying elbow has been a subject of those criticisms.

When you watch a baseball hitter, a baseball pitcher, a tennis player, a lumberjack and so many more sports and disciplines, you realize they were all good to go all along!

This video will hopefully nudge you to experience this power for yourself too!

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This video is chock full of fairway wood wisdom that will allow you to understand several things including why a low spinning 5-wood would go much farther and what to focus on feel wise and sound wise with the SOLE of the club through the turf and ground. At least four solid nuggets throughout this video that will be sure to sharpen your fairway woods and hybrids!

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The Wedge Guy: Chipping away strokes

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I’ve always admired golfers who can really chip the ball well. Through my years in golf, I have seen players of all handicaps who are excellent chippers, and all tour professionals are masters of chipping it close. But for such a simple little stroke and challenge, chipping seems to be a part of the game that eludes many of us.

A good short game just cannot be achieved without a commitment to both learning and practicing. In watching the best chippers, it seems that their technique or chipping “stroke” is very similar to their putting stroke in style, form and pace. I think that’s because both chipping and putting are primarily “feel” shots. Yes, technique is important, but I’ve seen good chippers with all kinds of form and fundamentals.

This brings to mind two of my golf buddies who are both good chippers of the ball while employing totally different styles, but each one closely resembles their individual putting style. One uses a more stiff-wristed technique and quicker pace and tempo — just like his putting. The other, who is a doctor with a delicate touch, uses a more rhythmical pace not dissimilar from his syrupy smooth putting stroke.

Now let’s talk about techniques.

I personally prefer to use two different chipping techniques, depending on the chip I am facing. If I simply have to carry a few feet of collar and then get the ball rolling, I’ll choose a mid-iron or short iron, depending on the balance of carry and roll, and grip down on the club so that I can essentially “putt” the ball with the club I’ve chosen.

In employing this technique, however, realize that the club you are “putting” with weighs much less than your putter, so you want to grip the club much lighter to make the club feel heavier. It takes just a little practice to see what different clubs will do with this putt/chip technique.

On chips where the ball has to be carried more than just a few feet, I prefer a chipping technique that is more like a short pitching swing. I position the ball back of center of my stance to ensure clean contact and set up more like a short pitch shot. I usually hit this kind of chip with one of my wedges, depending on the balance of carry and roll needed to get the ball to the hole.

On that note, I read the green and pick an exact spot where I want the ball to land, and from there until impact, I forget the hole location and focus my “aim” on that spot. Your eyes guide your swing speed on chips and short pitch shots, and if you return your eyes to the hole, you are “programming” your body to fly the ball to the hole.

So, while sizing up the shot, I find a very distinct spot on the green where I think the ball needs to land to roll out with the club/trajectory I envision. From that point on, my complete focus is on that spot, NOT the hole. That loads my brain with the input it needs to tap into my eye/hand coordination. I think many golfers chip long too often because they focus on the hole, rather than where the shot needs to land, so their “wiring” imparts too much power. Just my thinking there.

One of my favorite drills for practicing chipping like this is to take a bucket/bag of balls to the end of the range where no one is hitting, and practice chipping to different spots – divots, pieces of turf, etc. – at various ranges, from 2-3 feet out to 20-30. I do this with different wedges and practice achieving different trajectories, just to load my memory banks with the feel of hitting to a spot with different clubs. Then, when I face a chip on the course, I’m prepared.

I’m totally convinced the majority of recreational golfers can make the quickest and biggest improvement in our scoring if we will just dedicate the time to learn good chipping technique and to practicing that technique with a purpose.

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