The Art of Being Skillful

As many of you know I enjoy deciphering which elements contribute to being a great wedge player. Ever since I started with my 'Wedge Project' research in 2010 chipping and pitching have really piqued my interest.

My recent testing, and philosophy, has been aligned alongside golfers using one club and applying their skills to control the trajectory and outcome of their shots in close proximity to the green. For ease of illustration and testing I selected a 58º wedge and a 15 yard carry requirement. I then played three different trajectory shots - a high, mid and low shot. I recorded each version in slo-motion and at regular speed along with running TrackMan in the background to capture data on a handful of each type of shot.

As you can tell there is a dramatic difference in the pace required to execute each intended trajectory. The technical changes for each shot changed as follows:

High: ball positioned off front big toe, face square at address and a sense that the handle slows dramatically approaching impact as the clubhead passes the handle prior to impact. Freddie Couples is a good image here.

Mid: ball positioned centrally, face square at address, medium pace and a sense that the shaft will be vertical at impact.

Low: ball positioned off the back big toe, face square with hands forward as a result of the ball position and an upbeat pace that encourages the handle to 'beat' the clubhead to the ball at impact. Zach Johnson's brisk pace comes to mind with this type of shot

At Impact

At Impact

The TrackMan data provides some interesting differences:

Club Speed: Low 23mph; Mid 30mph; High 37mph

Ball Speed: Low 27.8mph; Mid 28.5mph; High 28.0mph

Smash Factor: Low 1.2; Mid 1.0; High 0.8

Launch Angle: Low 29.6º; Mid 40.6º; High 51.6º

Spin Rate: Low 2230rpm; Mid 1630rpm; High 1250rpm

One thing that struck me was that the average ball speed was the same for each type of shot, yet the club speed was very different. The attack angle was steepest with the lower shot primarily due to the ball position and the shaft lean. I also found it interesting that there was roughly 10º difference in the launch angle of each version.

The numbers might be important for coaches to understand, but what can you, the player looking to save strokes take away?

  • Stick with one club around the greens - you'll become a skilled artisan with it in your hands.
  • Alter the trajectory with subtle changes at address and less subtle changes in the pace.
  • The manner in which you release the clubhead through impact will make a big difference
  • Now get to work!

Thanks for reading and please share with a friend. Happy New Year and all the best for a fabulous 2018. #birdies

You Need More Power

Yes! Don't we all? As with all things in life some things are easier said than done and this is no different, but it IS possible. Have you heard about using the ground to generate more power? This is what I'll be addressing in this article - pushing off the ground in order to generate greater club speeds and longer shots. Take a look...

So here's what we're looking for just prior to starting the downswing:

  • The trail knee maintains its position as the golfer starts the downswing. Just for a little while...
  • The lead side separates as the player glides into their front side. This creates some leg separation.
  • There should be a definite lowering or unweighting in the early downswing.
  • The late downswing should be characterized by an upward thrust away from the ground.

Notice in the image below how in the early downswing my belt buckle is significantly lower than it is half way through the follow through...

Image 11.JPG

This is something that all long drivers take full advantage of - that ability to really thrust up from the ground and in most cases actually push both feet off the ground. It's that push that will help to really get the clubhead moving. 

Thanks for reading/watching and if you have a friend who would really benefit from this information please share it.

A Long Swing or a Short Swing?

The good news is that either one can get the job done, but we cannot view these two very different golf swings through the same lens. There are certain fundamental differences that we must keep in mind. Watch...

For the shorter backswing:

  • Get the wrists, arms and shaft organized early in the backswing
  • The club should favor being laid off at the top
  • The lead wrist should be flat or bowed at the top

For the longer backswing:

  • There is more freedom in the backswing as player has more time available to organize in transition and on the way down
  • The club should favor being across the line
  • The lead wrist can be either cupped or bowed

I do typically prefer slightly longer swings over shorter swings, but above all else I prefer swings that work. If you look at the greatest players of all time you'll see significantly more long swings than noticeably short swings. I have also found that longer swings will typically produce faster club speeds. Never a bad thing!

Keep in mind that these are generalized ideas that have been found to work on the students I have been fortunate to coach over the years. They have also been verified by other coaches and a scientist or two, but they are not set in stone. The objective is always improved performance.

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A Better Downswing to Reduce Blocks and Hooks

As we all know most golfers tend to struggle with fading and slicing the ball, but there is a large portion of the golf population, typically lower handicap players, that struggle with hooks and the occasional block. This article is for you!

There's a huge correlation between between a golfer's club speed and their handicap. The higher the speed, typically, the lower the handicap. The key is being able to manage the golf club while generating higher club speeds and that can only happen with a proper pivot and more specifically, a proper downswing pivot. Here's how...

As you begin your downswing you want to feel the following:

  • The weight remaining on the trail foot for longer
  • Cast your net! More rotational and less lateral
  • The legs separating slightly
  • The handle of the club working out or in front of you while the clubhead stays behind you

The objective here is to get the clubhead traveling less outward and along a more neutral path through impact. Getting your body to rotate on the way down in more of a 'merry-go-round' fashion and less of a 'ferris wheel' fashion will deter the clubhead from getting too far to the inside.  

Try this feel slowly and with soft shots before working up to full swings. You'll be amazed at how challenging it is to actually stay back and rotate versus driving forward. Stick with it and realize that in order to improve the quality of your shots you're going to have to improve how the clubhead communicates with your golf ball.

Thanks for reading and if you have a friend who you feel might benefit from this information please share! 

No More Weak Iron Shots

We've all heard the sound. And we've all felt it too. That sense when you literally melt a ball off the clubface and you know instantaneously that you've hit the shot you've been waiting for all day. That feeling is compression! To learn more watch this....

Here is an example lesson where I felt it appropriate to use this drill with a student who was struggling with the quality of his strike and high, weak ball flight in particular. Here is his initial TrackMan data for a typical 7 iron shot...

It's important to be aware that the height of this particular shot was 103 feet! This player's club speed is only a few mph short of PGATour average, yet he is only carrying a 7 iron 145 yards. After working on his compression (spin loft) via the drill illustrated in the video this is what a typical shot looked like in drill mode (note the slower club speed)...

The exact same ball speed with more than 7 mph less club speed! The spin loft, which is not an easy change to make, has gone from 31.1º to a slightly low 24.8º and the height has come down to a more manageable 76 feet. I anticipate that as this golfer works to get comfortable with their new feel they would increase their compression to a more appropriate 26º or 27º.

Before on the left and while doing the Compression Drill on the right

Before on the left and while doing the Compression Drill on the right

Thanks for reading and for greater understanding on what compression really is please read:

 Compress the Golf Ball — Andrew Rice Golf

A Drill for Skill

As anyone who follows me here or on social media is aware I am a huge fan of skill development for my students. I believe the ability to precisely control the clubhead, clubface and strike point though impact is what makes the difference between a great golfer and someone who is merely, a golfer.

I recorded the following TrackMan screencast following a lesson I recently did with a strong collegiate golfer named Seth Gandy. My objective was to not only give Seth the feel necessary to be able to hit draws, but also to improve his ability at controlling the amount of draw. Watch...

I created what I called the Clubpath Ladder Drill for any golfer to become skillful at controlling the shape of their golf shots. I am a big proponent of what I call practicing "outside the lines" and this drill forces the golfer to hit a sequence of shots where not two are alike. Keep in mind I wanted Seth to be able to hit his go to baby fade, but by making him practice shots that are outside his comfort zone he is improving his skill at making the club communicate his intent to the ball - a necessity for great golf.

If you are a coach who uses radar technology or even a golfer looking to improve your skills I would encourage to add this type of practice into your improvement plan. You can apply this ladder type drill to a variety of elements including club speed, dynamic loft and even face angle.

Have some fun with this and if you can fit more than ten shots into the clubpath ladder drill please let me know. That's very good!

Remember this - technique will get you into the arena, but it's skill that gets you onto the podium!.

Which Driver Shaft Length?

testshaft
testshaft

When I tested my old college driver a few weeks ago my interest was piqued by how close my swing speed with the 43.5 inch club was to my current 45 inch driver. I have heard that altering the shaft length of your driver by an inch can/should alter the club speed by up to 4 mph. This called for a test.....

Using TrackMan my idea was to test the same golfer, clubhead and golf ball, but change the shaft length. I took my current driver, which is the Titleist D3 8.5 degree (B1) with a 45" Motore F3 70 gram stiff shaft and tested it alongside the same head (B1) with a 43" Project X 82 gram stiff shaft. Essentially a driver shaft versus a 3 wood shaft. I had recently came across a 42.5" well kept old Wilson Staff JP persimmon driver with a steel shaft and decided to include that in the testing.

persimmon
persimmon

I hit 11 shots with each club and eliminated the data for the poorest shot with each club. I was using fresh Titleist NXT Tour golf balls and it was a perfect 80 degree day with little wind. The results were astounding!

With all three clubs my tendency was to hit up on the ball with a slight in to out club path. My swing plane was very consistent from shot to shot (which surprised me a little actually) and the clubface was almost always slightly open at impact. This path and face relationship led to an average shot shape of a slight draw. Here are the numbers:

45" Driver Shaft

  • Club Speed 101.3 mph
  • Ball Speed 151.6 mph
  • Spin Rate 2697 rpm
  • Launch Angle 11.3 degrees
  • Carry 245 yards
  • Total 272.2 yards
  • Height 76 feet

43" Three Wood Shaft

  • Club Speed 101.1 mph
  • Ball Speed 150.0 mph
  • Spin Rate 2100 rpm
  • Launch Angle 14.0 degrees
  • Carry 249 yards
  • Total 278.7 yards
  • Height 84.3 feet

42.5" Persimmon Driver with Steel Shaft

  • Club Speed 93.4 mph
  • Ball Speed 141.2 mph
  • Spin Rate 2115 rpm
  • Launch Angle 10.3 degrees
  • Carry 206.4 yards
  • Total 246.4 yards
  • Height 48 feet
shafttestavg
shafttestavg

I couldn't believe it! I hit my driver with a 3 wood shaft further, higher, with less spin and above all else - straighter. Take a look at how much straighter: (yellow - driver shaft/purple - 3 wood shaft/ white - persimmon)

dispersion
dispersion

I also totaled the distance (after roll) the ten shots with each club finished from the center line:

  • Persimmon - 182 feet (average 18" off line)
  • Three wood shaft - 234 feet (average 23" feet off line)
  • Driver shaft - 315 feet (average 31" off line)

On my Andrew Rice Golf Facebook page I asked readers if they had any experience with shortening the shaft of their driver and here are a few of their responses:

"I just went to a 44" and am loving it! Longer then my 45.5" and straighter too!" GT

"Went to 44" and more consistent with no loss in distance" AvS

"44" Callaway...more fairways AND more distance!!!" CL

"Went to 44" and I hit it more solid further and straighter" PW

"44" this year. I agree it is far better. Middle of the face more often." SF

"I found it made me less steep through attack so I have lowered my spin rate and launched it about a degree higher" AB

By the way - most of the above quotes are from full-time professional golf instructors. So what can we learn from this research?

Having tested a few golfers with shorter shafts it seems to me that each golfer has a 'threshold' length - an ideal length that gives them the optimal combination of speed and accuracy. For some that threshold could be 46"  while for others they perform best with a 42" driver. The only way to find out is to get yourself with a teacher or fitter that has access to Trackman and various shafts.

Another point to note is that while the 3 wood shaft had a slightly slower club and ball speed the shots were longer...why? Notice how the launch angle was higher while the spin rate was lower. A perfect illustration of the term 'high launch low spin'. Launch the ball higher to get more out of your tee shots.

persimmon1
persimmon1

What can we learn from the 'persimmon' data? While that shaft was even shorter than the 3 wood shaft it was substantially heavier. I believe the 3 wood graphite shaft was almost 50 grams lighter than it's steel counterpart which would explain the almost 7 mph difference in club speed. The size, or lack there of, of the head was intimidating in the beginning, but as I went through the shots I became more comfortable. I believe that practicing with a smaller clubhead like this can only be beneficial in the long term for any serious golfer.

My feeling standing over the shorter club was better and almost every golfer I tested reported the same sense. The club feels easier to control and many golfers have reported a feel that they can 'get through' the shot better. I really felt like I could smash it without it going off line - a nice feeling!

Physics says that longer shaft + lighter shaft = faster club speed = more distance. On paper that might be true, but when the human element is involved everything changes. The next time I tee it up it will be with a substantially shorter shaft in my driver...but that's just me!

Titleist's New 915's vs the Old 913 Driver

We recently received the 915 stock for our fitting cart here at Berkeley Hall and I thought it would be a good opportunity to test both the new 915 series drivers - the D2 and D3 against the older 913 series D3 driver I've used for the past few years. I was excited to see if there are any positive changes with the new line. 

The test I conducted involved the same shaft in each club (44.5' Motore Speeder VC 6.0 S) along with the same setting (B1) and the same loft (9.5). I hit seven shots (kept all shots) with each club on TrackMan. Here is the data:

Old Titleist 913 D3 9.5 with 44.5' Motore Speeder VC 6.0 S (B1)

Speed 99.8 - Smash Factor 1.48 - Launch 11.9 - Spin 2523 - Carry 226.7 - Total 248.6

New Titleist 915 D3 9.5 with 44.5' Motore Speeder VC 6.0 S (B1)

Speed 98.9 - Smash Factor 1.48 - Launch 13.1 - Spin 2341 - Carry 226.8 - Total 247.5

New Titleist 915 D2 9.5 44.5' Motore Speeder VC 6.0 S (B1)

Speed 100.5 - Smash Factor 1.47 - Launch 12.8 - Spin 2478 - Carry 232.9 - Total 254.3

My thoughts and observations:

  • The first thing I noticed was the appearance of the newer club - from the golfer's perspective the clubhead has quite a different look than Titleist drivers of the past. The toe seems a little more pronounced and the head didn't seem quite as sleek as previous models. It didn't look bad, just different.
  • The next thing that caught my attention was the sound. Definitely louder than the 913 model, but not to the point where it was offensive. 
  • As you can tell the spin rates fell right where I anticipated them to fall. Word on the street is that the 915's spin the ball less and the results illustrated that.
  • I did notice that mishits with the 915's seemed to do marginally better than commensurate mishits with the 913 model and there were a few mishits in each set.
  • I was surprised to see the difference in launch angle as I had anticipated that the 915's would launch the ball lower - not so in this case! 
  • Ball speed and smash were very similar for the three clubs.

As I looked over these numbers I noticed a few factors that are vital for longer tee shots - higher launch, lower spin and better performance on mishits. I liked the new club and also liked the fact that Titleist did not change the sleeve on the new model so older shafts can easily cross over into the 915 clubheads.

It does appear that Titleist has finally stepped up to the plate and joined Callaway, Ping and TaylorMade in the driver game.

Spin Rate and the Driver

I was recently teaching an accomplished senior golf professional and he happened to hit three very interesting consecutive shots. They are illustrated in the image above starting from the orange circle and working up to the blue circle.

I thought there was some valuable information to learn from each of these three shots. Here is some TrackMan data to ponder:

Orange Strike

Spin Rate - 3252 Launch Angle - 7.5 Total Distance - 256.5 Club Speed - 103.6

Green Strike

Spin Rate - 2623 Launch Angle - 9.6 Total Distance - 269.5 Club Speed - 102.9

Blue Strike

Spin Rate - 1928 Launch Angle - 10.9 Total Distance - 274.6 Club Speed - 103.1

My experience has shown that golfers tend to be fairly consistent when it comes to club speed and this illustration shows us just that - there was a change of less than 1 mph between the golfers slowest and fastest swings. Nothing new there...

What is interesting is that where the ball was struck on the face, influenced the spin, launch and ultimately the distance that the shot traveled. You may have heard that with a driver you want to launch the ball high and spin it low. The purpose of this article is to get you to start believing it! 

Stay tuned as this is the stuff that can make a tangible difference in your game...

Launch Angle

The clubface is curved from top to bottom and this is called roll. If you have a 9.5 degree driver that means (assuming the manufacturer is correct) that your club has 9.5 degrees of loft in the center (picture the "equator") of the clubface. If you strike the ball lower on the face your club effectively has less loft and vice versa for a higher strike point. well hitting the ball higher on the clubface introduces more loft to the ball and it will thus launch higher - bingo! We've got the higher launch taken care of. As you can see the ball launched more than 3 degrees higher by elevating the strike point.

Spin Rate

But what about the spin rate? How do you get that down and what is ideal? I have great news, as this is a two for one deal. When you strike the ball higher on the face the "off-center" hit causes the clubhead to twist slightly during impact and this leads to vertical gear effect and a strike above the equator will have less spin than a strike below it. I prefer to see a spin rate somewhere between 1900 and 2400 rpm's if you're looking to really make the ball go. It's amazing what a strike point that's about 1/2" above the equator will do towards getting you into that optimal spin rate range.

If you're wondering where to strike the ball on the face the above photo is just about perfect - a touch above center for higher launch and less spin and a touch towards the toe for a hint of gear effect draw. Who wouldn't want to hit high launching, low spinning, baby draws that go 20 yards longer with the exact same club speed?

Hitting Draws and Smash Factor

Bobby Locke There has been a fair amount of banter online recently regarding various topics and I thought it would help both of us if I jotted down a few thoughts:

Hitting Draws

A functional draw is one that finishes at the target - something many of us strive for. In order to hit functional draws you need a clubpath that is traveling outward (in to out) and a clubface that is angled slightly closed relative to the clubpath, yet open to the target (assuming center contact). 

It is possible to hit both functional draws, ones that finish at the target, and bad draws, ones that move away from the target, with a clubface that is open, square and closed to the target at impact. You can even hit good and bad draws with the appropriate clubpath, but I believe an outward moving clubpath is integral to hitting functional draws. And here's why...

I am yet to teach a golfer who fades the ball that consistently swings from in to out!

Clubpath is king and clubface is queen - I might get the desired shot shape with clubface, but I cannot get the desired result without clubpath. It is simply not possible to hit a functional draw with a clubpath that travels from out to in (assuming center contact). It is clearly not the only thing, but in my opinion it is the most important thing.

I am well aware there are many different ways to achieve this and whether as a coach or golfer you upgrade the clubface first or the clubpath first is entirely up to you. After all it's all about results no?

Smash Factor

Many golfers and TrackMan users are under the impression that smash factor indicates how well a ball was hit, or how centered the strike was - this is not necessarily the case. A high smash factor purely indicates high ball speed relative to club speed. Here is the simplified formula:

Smash Factor (Simple)

It is quite possible to have  a smash factor with irons that is too high. Golfers who play from a closed face position and who tend to flight the ball low will often have a higher smash factor than golfers who flight the ball appropriately. This does not mean the low ball hitters are striking it better, it just means they are generating too much linear ball speed off of a particular club.

It is important for golfers to understand that ball type and condition, dynamic loft, clubhead mass, attack angle, CoR and of course quality of strike go into determining the smash factor for any given shot.

The objective with the driver should be 1.50 or higher, but with the shorter clubs a higher smash just might not necessarily better. Go for solid hits and ball flight over smash factor any day!

A Note to Golf Coaches: 

I have made more than my fair share of mistakes in life. From these mistakes I have learned and improved as a coach and a person. One of the many valuable lessons I have learned from making mistakes is to never deride, belittle or insult another golf coach. It does nothing to enhance your image or reputation and you will never look better while attempting to make someone else look worse. Be wise when addressing other coaches and the methods they employ - you'll be better off for it.

Get Faster Off the Tee

Here is an exercise to help you gain a few miles per hour of clubhead speed over time and allow you to pick up that much needed yardage off the tee. The objective is to slowly introduce your body to the increased speed, efficiency and agility necessary to generate additional clubhead speed.

Here is what is required:

  • It is important to get loose prior to starting your speed sets
  • Using your driver you want to hit two sets of five golf balls with a recovery period in between each set
  • There should be little concern for accuracy or even quality of shot - the sole objective is speed
  • The first shot in each set should be at your normal driver speed
  • Each shot builds on the speed of the previous shot
  • The final shot in each set should be the absolute fastest you can possibly swing

If you can do two speed sets as mapped out above 3 times a week for a month I would be surprised if you had not gained 4 mph of clubhead speed when making a normal feeling golf swing. That's enough for 10 more yards off every tee box!

Additional resources for more distance off the tee:

Getting More Out of Your Driver | Andrew Rice Golf

Hitting Up or Down? Here's How to Set Up | Andrew Rice Golf

Hit Up On the Driver: Here's a Great Drill - YouTube

Swingbyte vs TrackMan

swingbytevstrackman I was recently contacted by Swingbyte and asked to test their device to see how the data it generated held up against data generated by TrackMan. Please remember this is not a contest and I am not saying that TrackMan is perfect (I'm not sure there is such a thing), but I do believe TrackMan is the benchmark when it comes to reporting club and ball data in golf and I was interested to see how a $150 swing aid held up.

Swingbyte is a swing analyzing device that attaches to your club just below the grip and sends data to a mobile phone or tablet via Bluetooth. With a price point of $150 it provides a tremendous amount of data and sifting through the information on the App might be a little confusing at first, but with patience you will eventually find what you're looking for.

Having used TrackMan for a long time one of the notable things I've found with passionate golfers is that the direction the clubhead is travelling through impact (attack angle and club path) is generally quite consistent. When testing/comparing other devices to TrackMan, whenever I see a dramatic change from one swing to the next in either attack angle or club path numbers a red flag goes up. With the Swingbyte I hit pitching wedges, 7 irons and drivers and I primarily keyed in on club speed, attack angle, club path and face angle. Here are my ratings out of a possible 5 stars:

swingbyte

Club Speed:

If you purchased the device to simply know your club speed you are ahead of the game. It is important to enter detailed specs from each club into the App, but once you've got that done the feedback is surprisingly accurate. All the numbers I saw were within 4 mph of where TrackMan reported. (4.5 out of 5)

Attack Angle:

It is important to know that TrackMan and Swingbyte report attack angle from slightly different portions of the swing and thus differences should be expected, however I thought the device did a fairly accurate job most of the time. With the irons I felt the numbers indicated were close enough to "actual" in order to be actionable. It did seem that attack angles with the driver were a little too ascending. Their were also a few crazy numbers reported, but as you use the device more you'll easily be able to recognize any outliers. (3.5 out of 5)

Club Path:

These numbers were a long way from what TrackMan was reporting and I would not put too much into this particular parameter.  For example with the driver TrackMan reported my average club path on multiple shots was 0.2 degrees out to in, while Swingbyte indicated that every swing I made was from in to out with a range of 1.7 degrees to 13.6 degrees from in to out. (1 out of 5)

Face Angle:

Even with TrackMan I seldom give much credence to the reported face angle as it is too easily influenced by off center hits and I most often use the reported number to determine where the ball was struck on the face. The original Swingbyte reports face angle at impact relative to where it was aligned at address. Assuming you have aligned the device on the club correctly, start with a square clubface and no twisting occurs, you might get an actionable reading - otherwise, I'd move on. (1 out of 5)

The problem Swingbyte has faced is that it could not latch onto a target - it only registered where the device was aligned at address. This means that any data regarding club path and face angle is based around where the device was aimed at address. The Swingbyte 2 addresses this issue. Founder and CEO, Alex Pedenko had the following to say:

You can now point your iPad and it will know what your target is and figure out all the numbers based on that. So now you have true, accurate numbers about what you did, not just in general but relative to the target line, relative to where you want it to go.

I am hoping that these upgrades will make this already useful device even better. While the device is not perfect (what is?) and should not replace quality coaching I feel that with a few practice sessions any golfer can start to gain a better understanding of what they need to do in order to make progress.

Ball Flight - What You Need to Know

The-Ball-Flight-Laws
The-Ball-Flight-Laws

There is so much complex information out there regarding the Ball Flight Laws - a ten second Google search yields enough confusion to get my head spinning for a month.  The "old" or "new" ball flight laws, Dr. Wiren, TrackMan.....who or what should you believe?

albert einstein
albert einstein

In light of Dr. Einstein's insightful quote I am going to give this touchy topic my best shot and try to keep it as simple as possible.  Please don't check out!  This is important information for any golfer to comprehend, so bear with me and you'll gain a far better understanding of why your golf ball reacts the way it does.

There are only four factors that influence ball flight when clean (not necessarily solid) contact is made between a golfball and a clubface.

They are:

Club Speed

The faster the clubhead travels the further and higher the ball will travel - generally with more spin. Compare a chip (slow speed) with a pitching wedge vs. a full swing (faster speed) with a pitching wedge...simple enough.

Clubface Orientation

Orientation is a fancy term that refers to where the clubface is angled.  Keep in mind that the face angles both left or right or up or down - left or right being an open or closed face and the up/down variable (although hopefully never down) referring to the loft imparted at impact (dynamic loft).  The face angle largely determines where the ball launches - left or right of the target and at what angle relative to the ground.  A good general point to remember is clubface (for the most part) = launch.

Clubhead Direction

Once again the direction the clubhead travels relative to the target line at impact - left or right (clubpath) and up or down (attack angle) - plays a role in determining ball flight.  A lesser role than the clubface, but a role nonetheless.  A good general point to remember is clubpath (for the most part) = curve.

Centerdness of Contact

This is a big one and something the vast majority of teachers and golfers tend to underestimate.  Most golfers strike the ball on the sweet spot far less frequently than they think .  I often see golfers that swing for a draw, yet strike for a fade - in other words they have a clubpath that is in to out, yet hit the ball slightly out the heel which leads to a fade.  An off center point of contact on the face leads to gear effect, which overrides or reduces the effect the face orientation and clubhead direction have on ball flight.  This factor plays a bigger role than most realize - watch out for it.  And the best way to do that - a  spray of Dr. Scholl's foot powder.

impact point
impact point

Read an earlier article on centerdness of contact and a great article on the TrackMan blog illustrating the importance of center contact.

Here are a few simple factors to understand and remember:

  • The ball launches primarily in the direction of the face - varying degrees of up and either left or right.
  • Given a centered hit, clubpath leads to curve.  With the curve being away from the clubpath.
  • Hitting down does not increase spin, and conversely, hitting up does not necessarily reduce spin.
  • Heel hits encourage fades or reduce hooks and toe hits encourage draws or reduce slices.
  • The more you hit down on the ball, the more you will swing in to out and the more you hit up on the ball the more you will swing out to in.

Now that you're finished reading shoot back up to the top and read again.  This is vital information to assist with your understanding of of how your golf club "communicates" to your golf ball.

If you'd like to try out your new understanding of the Ball Flight Laws in southwest Florida check out this Fort Myers Golf Guide for a great course to play.

Thanks for reading and feel free to fire away with any questions you may have.....

TrackMan vs Flightscope

My good friends Tim and Simon Cooke from GolfPrep on Hilton Head Island recently brought their new Flightscope X2 out to Berkeley Hall. Our objective was to learn more about the numbers that TrackMan and Flightscope are putting out and we wanted to get a sense of how well one machine performed relative to the other.

I have pondered the best way in which to convey my findings and have finally committed to just simply jotting down my thoughts. My intent is certainly not to create controversy or confrontation - these are simply my own honest impressions from the day. Please also keep in mind that I am a TrackMan owner and supporter and no matter how I attempt to remove my bias I doubt whether I am able to remove all of it...

  • Prior to the test I had been having trouble with my TM unit giving unusual spin numbers every 30-40 shots, something it had never done before. As a result I had contacted TM support and was informed that I more than likely had a bad USB cable. I was also informed that the classic indicator of a bad cable would be a "double" or "half" spin. Sure enough during the test TM gave out three spin numbers from the 60 shots we hit that were right around double what the FS reported. I have since replaced the cable and have yet to see a spin rate that seems odd.
  • As you peruse the following thoughts keep in mind that good players , which all three of the test subjects were,  are very good at controlling the direction the clubhead travels (angle of attack and club path) from shot to shot. The direction may not be ideal, but better players are consistent with clubhead direction. That means that dramatic changes in either of those categories, along with sizable changes from shot to shot in club speed, were going to draw my attention and raise a red flag.
  • Since running the tests I have spoken to many "in the biz" people about radar interference. It was mentioned that the machines, when set up side by side as we had them, will occasionally give corrupted data due to the influence of the outside radar. I have not run enough tests to ascertain if this is or is not the case, but during the testing the FS seemed to give a few numbers that were incorrect and this could be due to the TM being directly alongside the unit. The TM did not do anything different to what it normally does as it seemed to be unaffected by the additional radar.
  • If a shot off turf has a decent size divot TM will only provide ball data and no club data, whereas FS reported both ball and club data for just about every shot hit off the ground. On the occasions that FS reported club data and TM did not the numbers did not look correct - meaning the attack angle and/or club path seemed to be too far from what the subject would normally generate. We hit numerous 50 yard pitch shots and TM did not offer any club data while FS reported for most of these shots. The problem was that the club path was said to be almost 15 degrees from in to out along with a spin rate of 14,000 rpm - just not happening! I actually preferred that TM did not provide club data as I would rather have no information than have to explain away improper information. That being said I would love a radar that provided correct club data on all shots.
  • With both units unplugged and PC's powered down the TM (2:05) was aligned and ready to roll in about half the time of the FS (4:16). I was told that with an iPad the FS can be aligned and operational in far less time.
  • We noticed that both machines reported different Swing Plane numbers when they were moved (flipped positions) relative to the same golfer. I have tested this before and the changes in data are due to the hardware in the TM II. Each machine appeared to provide better data when the golfer is hitting shots aligned with the center of the unit - something that was not possible when running two machines.
  • We tested the ability of each unit to report gear effect, by logging the point of contact on certain drives and then comparing each units Face to Path and Spin Axis numbers. The TM reported gear effect as I would have anticipated and most of the time FS reported along similar lines. However the first shot we examined, a big heel hit, was actually reported by FS as being a slight toe side hit. TM reported a Face to Path of -9.3 and a Spin Axis of -5.4 while FS reported a Face to Path of -2.2 and a Spin Axis of -11.0
  • I was amazed at how closely aligned the Spin Rate numbers were for each machine. Unless there were dramatic differences the spin rates were almost always within 100 rpm's.
  • There seemed to be quite a few instances during the testing where the attack angles were not even in the same ball park. I had nothing to help me determine which machine was correct, other than the aforementioned fact that better players tend to be very consistent, and all too often it was FS reporting wide ranges of variation from the player.

Keep in mind that my intent is merely to report what I observed and not to offend anybody or any entity.  I could tell that Tim and Simon were a little concerned with the results and they went home and performed additional tests. I am happy to report that the FS performed much better without the influence of additional radar and when shots are hit from the center of the unit. Tim's follow up comment to me was:

I believe that side by side testing, although seeming to be a good idea, does not work.  Clearly there was some radar interference at work as the inconsistent numbers were not reproduced in stand alone tests.  Maybe the only way you can really compare the units is with extreme high speed cameras with the units working independently of one another.

I would have to agree with Tim's sentiments and I have started to make plans to have each unit test the same golfer on the same day, but without the potential interference of outside radar.

You know I'll report back on that one....

When You Play: Watch or No Watch?

1watch
1watch

Can playing with a watch on help or hurt your game? Now, other than having quick access to the time to see how late you are getting home the results of this test are a no brainer - leave your watch in the bag!

2watch
2watch

Our fitness trainer at Berkeley Hall, Derek Lemire, was down hitting a few drivers and I thought he'd make for a good subject. Derek is dangerous off a 6 handicap and has improved dramatically the last few years.

For the test I asked Derek to hit shots without a watch, with a single three ounce watch and just for kicks with two three ounce watches. He hit three shots in each condition, I would delete data for the worst shot of the three and then we repeated. The Trackman results were very interesting:

No Watch

  • Club Speed 94.6mph
  • Ball Speed 143.3mph
  • Carry distance 227.6yds
  • Total distance259.8yds

One  Watch (3 oz.)

  • Club Speed 93.5mph
  • Ball Speed 142.8mph
  • Carry distance 222.5yds
  • Total distance 249.7yds

Two Watches (6 oz.)

  • Club Speed 92.6mph
  • Ball Speed 141.2mph
  • Carry distance 218.2yds
  • Total distance 244.5yds

As you can tell there was a noticeable difference between each example and while I understand no golfer would wear two watches a Rolex or watch with a heavy steel band can easily weigh up to 6 ounces. A 3oz watch or bracelet on your wrist can rob you of as much as tenyards per tee shot.

Moral of the story: unless you are hitting the ball too far at the moment leave your watch in the bag - it can only slow you down.

Rules question: If a golfer felt like they had too much club on a par three would they be able to put their watch on, hit the shot and then remove it again? I'd love to hear from the rules gurus out there on this one....

Driver Test: Old vs. New

My wife encouraged me to clean out the garage the other day and I happened upon an old driver I used in college. I still remember how cool this driver was - it was the latest and greatest and even had a titanium shaft! When was the last time you saw one of those? Just for kicks I placed it up alongside my current Titleist driver and was shocked at the massive difference between the two - the older club looked smaller than my current three wood! How could I have possibly played well with this mini club? This got me thinking about a TrackMan test.

For the record the smaller club was a TaylorMade Burner Plus 9.5 degree with a titanium X flex shaft and my current club is a Titleist D3 8.5 with a Motore F3 70 gram graphite S flex shaft. There is a fairly substantial 1.5 inch difference even though both clubs were standard length in their day. I am not sure about the weight or the true frequency/flex of each club as I did not have the appropriate equipment to check those measurements.

For the TrackMan test I hit 12 shots with each club and deleted the data for the two worst shots. I noted that the attack angle, club path, swing direction and plane were very similar from club to club.

The primary differences seemed to be:

  • Club speed 99.7mph vs 101.8mph - I believed that this difference would be greater due to the large difference in length of shafts.
  • Ball Speed 145.7mph vs 152.4mph - I put this down to the fact that the smaller head led to more off-center hits and thus a decreased average ball speed and smash factor.
  • Point of contact - there was a noticeable tendency for me to strike the bigger club in the heel. This led to more shots missed to the right due to gear effect and an increase in the spin rate 2455rpm vs 2895rpm.
  • Height - even though the smaller club launched the ball slightly higher the apex height was lower due to less spin and ball speed.
  • Carry and total distance - the smaller club carried the ball almost 17yards shorter, but with less spin and a flatter land angle rolled further to only finish just over 10 yards short of the bigger club.
  • Dispersion - the smaller club had more shots finish further from the center line due to a much smaller clubface and substantially lower MOI.

Here are the TrackMan generated dispersion charts (yellow is the smaller club) and averages:

(click to enlarge)

I was amazed at how small the difference between the two drivers, total distance wise, there was. Going in to the test I would have thought that there would be a 15 yard difference at least. I expected the smaller club to spin the ball less and lower the apex which it did, but I was truly amazed at how little distance I lost with it. I did notice a much greater tendency to hit the ball outside the sweet spot with the smaller club and that led to some fairly aggressive gear effect draws and fades.

Driving is not my strong suit and I am always looking to keep the ball in play off the tee. Armed with this new knowledge I am going to try a shorter shaft in my current driver head and see what that does for my fairways hit statistic. I also plan on practicing with the older club - I think it is vital in improving ball striking to practice with smaller headed clubs.

I also think this test might also illustrate that the majority of the distance gains we see on the PGATour today are not equipment based, but primarily due to the ball.....your thoughts?

Optimal Driver Numbers on TrackMan

With so many questions after my two most recent posts I thought it would be enlightening to show you what we see when using TrackMan.  This particular driver was hit by Rick Hartmann - my boss and the Head Professional at Atlantic Golf Club.  Rick played on the European Tour for ten years and is a fantastic driver of the ball.  This is a good drive, but not anything unusual for Rick (it was into a very slight headwind).  These particular numbers are very close to optimal and should be something we should all be working towards regardless of what our club speed might be.  Of course that is if you happen to like high, long draws...

If you want to be efficient with your driver here is an explanation of what I look for:

  • The Attack Angle (0.9 degrees up) is positive - a good sign for maximum efficiency as an upward hit is better than a downward hit (if you want to hit it as far as possible).
  • Notice how (because the Swing Plane is very close to 45 degrees) that the Attack Angle + Club Path = Swing Direction.  Not unusual really, this is a helpful indicator in understanding what factors effect  the club path.
  • The Spin Loft is close to 11 degrees - a solid number that seems to work for most golfers.  Spin Loft = Dynamic Loft - Attack Angle. Think of spin loft as a measure of 'ball compression'.
  • In order to hit good draws the face must be open relative to the target at impact and here you see how the Face Angle is open (2.7 degrees) with the Club Path being further to the right (3.5 degrees). Couple that with a centered hit and you've got lovely push draws.
  • A centered hit is vital and that's why I like to keep Face to Path alongside Spin Axis.  If the hit is in the heel the face angle would be closed ( a negative number) and the spin axis would be tilted to the right (positive) and vice versa for a toe hit.  Here you see how with the face slightly closed to the path, you should get a baby draw, and that's exactly what we got - all from a centered hit.
  • Club Speed and Ball Speed are fairly self explanatory, but if you divide the club speed into the ball speed you will get 1.48 which equals the Smash Factor.  Smash factor is merely a measure of how efficiently you translated club speed into ball speed and is not purely a measure of how well you struck the ball. The maximum smash factor for a driver 1.53. (I have seen 1.54 twice!)
  • The Height of the shot, which is measured from flat and not necessarily the ground, is right where I'd like to see it for this particular club speed.  PGATour average swing speed is 112mph and they hit all their clubs 90 feet in the air. At around 108mph I think 88 feet high works very nicely.
  • Launch Angle and Launch Direction are largely influenced by the club face and I like both here.  I look for draws to launch to the right of the target (positive) and the launch angle to be somewhere between 10 and 16 degrees depending on the players club speed.
  • The Spin Rate for this shot is a touch high, but I would attribute that to a shaft that is softer than what the golfer should be using.  I'd like to see the spin rate at this club speed be somewhere between 2000 and 2200.
  • Side Total indicates that this ball is straight down the center and finished less than 4 feet right of the intended target line - just another ho-hum 280 yard drive down the pipe.

Somewhat advanced I know, but after the response to my last few posts I know there are thousands of golfers out there who are looking for a better understanding of what really happens at impact and what they should be working towards for maximum efficiency.  If you can duplicate these numbers you won't need me for much...at least not for the driver.

How to Hit it Longer Than Ever

Here are a few clues - do not swing harder or get a new driver or change your shafts!  Although all of those ideas might help, the best, and simplest, way to hit longer shots is to strike the ball better.  Plain and simple!

Here is the heads up from Trackman, the premier radar technology for swing and ball flight analysis:
Generally speaking, to maximize ball speed (which translates directly into distance) it is more important to improve centerdness of impact than to increase club speed.  An off-center impact is less efficient in transferring energy from the club to the ball, thus some of the power of the club speed is lost, resulting in a lower initial ball speed and consequently less carry distance.
While increasing the velocity of the clubhead would increase distance, I'm sure we are all well aware what happens when we swing harder - perhaps increased speed, but far less control and very often a less centered hit.  This is where smash factor comes in.  Smash factor is a measurement where the ball speed is divided by the clubhead speed and essentially is the efficiency of the hit - how well was the energy of the swing transferred into the golf ball to make it go.  The more centered, or solid, the hit, the further it will go.  And, being aware that most of us do not have the ability to measure the smash factor of our shots it is important to be aware that if you want to hit it longer (and I've only ever met one person who didn't!) the direction one should take should be in search of a better hit and not necessarily a faster clubhead.
A few good drills and articles to improve the quality of your ball striking:

Impact Drill: How to Stop Scooping | Andrew Rice Golf

Hip SlideGood or Bad? | Andrew Rice Golf

Hands Forward at Impact | Andrew Rice Golf

The moral of the story - focus on hitting it better and you'll hit it longer.  Now get to work.......