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....

Testing Mudballs....

I recently decided to test a widely held philosophy that mudballs curve a certain direction - if the mud is on the left, it is believed that the ball will curve to the right. Essentially the ball will curve away from the mud....

As you might imagine it is quite difficult to purposely attach mud to a golf ball. In order to keep things fairly consistent I rolled a small strip of duct tape into a ball and then taped over it to keep it in place with additional duct tape. I primarily wanted to create a scenario where the ball carried additional weight along with increased friction on one side.

All shots were hit with a seven iron and I selected the three 'best' swings for each of the options (mud on the left or right). Here are the Trackman dispersion charts and average numbers for the shots that I measured: (yellow is mud/tape on the left and white is mud/tape on the right)

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The mud/tape on the left is the top line and vice versa:

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The averages for the shots actually showed that the ball could curve either right or left when mud is present - regardless of which side it is located. The results were inconclusive, but I can say this - the spin rate seemed to be decreased and there were a few shots that seemed to actually curve both ways.

The coolest thing about the test was how clearly you could see the ball rotating around a fairly horizontal spin axis. With the black tape contrasting the white of the ball it was amazing how you could see the black side remaining on the side it started for the entire flight of the shot. So much for side spin!

The next time you have a mudball all you can really do is aim for the center of the green and hope for the best.

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.

TrackMan Exposes Golf Myths

It has been an enlightening experience using TrackMan in almost every lesson for a year now.  There are so many widespread 'philosophies' (see: fallacies) that we, as golfers, have heard so many times we simply accept them to be truth. TrackMan says - hold on a minute!

Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • You've got to "Release the Club through Impact"
The collision between club and ball lasts less than 1/2000th of a second and it simply is not possible to "release" or consciously alter the face angle during that very narrow time frame.  The face is what it is by the time impact happens.  For example - in 2012, by the time Bubba Watson teed it up in the Masters, his ball had not been on his clubface in competition for even one second! The only element that can alter the face during impact is an off center hit and that's far from conscious.
  • "Draws Must be Hit with a Closed Clubface"
Or vice versa, fades are hit with an open face.  Draws are really good if they start to the right (for righties) - agreed?  TrackMan shows that the clubface is primarily responsible for the launch direction of the ball and thus for a good draw the face should be to the right of the target with the clubpath (which primarily causes curve) being further to the right. When that, along with a centered hit occur, voila - we have a lovely push draw!  This also dispels the myth that the ball launches in the direction of the swing/clubpath.  Clubface (primarily) = launch.
  • "That Drive Had Tons of Sidespin..."
The vast majority of balls that are hit in the air have backspin.  If a golfball has backspin it cannot possibly also have sidespin.  Think about it - two types of spin on one ball at the same time?  So what makes it curve?  TrackMan shows that all shots that curve do so due to backspin on an axis (spin axis) that is tilted either left or right.  Curve is purely caused by backspin that is tilted to one side or another.
  • "My Divots Point Left so I Must Be Over the Top"
Because divots ideally occur after the collision between face and ball, the clubpath has a window of opportunity to start arcing back inside the target line.  I have seen anything from push fades, to hooks, to push draws from leftward pointing divots.  Divots do not tell us as much as we think, because they do not (and should not) occur at the moment of impact.
  • "That Ball Faded - I Must Have Cut Across It"
A very important factor in determining shot shape is not only the clubface relative to the clubpath, but also where the ball is struck on the face relative to the sweetspot.   For regular golfers off center hits occur on the majority of shots hit.  Balls hit off the toe of a club will always have a tendency to draw or fade/slice less and balls hit off the heel will always fade or draw/hook less.  Even one dimple on either side of the sweetspot will make a difference.  This means it is possible to swing for a draw and hit/strike for a fade.
  • "My Instructor Showed Me My Club Path on Video"
Ehhh....no!   Trust me on this one - what you see on video is a  2D version of a 3D event and the only way you can accurately know what your real clubpath is to be aware of your attack angle, which with video this is not possible either.  On video you will see the direction you are swinging in relative to the target, but there is no way to know your clubpath (which is what creates a good portion of ball flight).
  • "Hitting Down Always Leads to More Backspin"
Spin is created by many factors, but a steeply descending blow on its own will not alter spin.  When a golfer hits down aggressively they often also reduce the loft on the clubface, and a lesser lofted face will do nothing to increase backspin.
  • "Draws Are Much Longer and Spin Less Than Fades"
This is a good one!  With everything else kept the same a ball that spins on a left leaning axis has no reason to go further than a ball with a right leaning spin axis.  Now, keep in mind it's very difficult to keep everything the same (thus draws tend to be longer), but in a controlled environment both shots go the same distance.   Just be aware that a properly struck fade will most often go just as far as its draw side counterpart.

And while it's not a myth, even though PGA Tour golfers average out with a downward attack angle on the driver, TrackMan has more than done it's share to prove how maximum efficiency and distance can be achieved by hitting up with the driver.

Feel free to share your thoughts or questions.....

TrackMan: Definitive Answers at Impact and More

Here are a few very interesting facts that I have learned with the help of TrackMan. TrackMan is a radar unit that measures both club delivery and the full trajectory of any golf shot – essentially it measures almost everything pertaining to a golf club striking a ball. This might shed some light on, or dispel, a few of golf’s oldest myths:

For PGA Tour golfers (please note that these are averages):

  • All clubs, on average are struck with a descending blow from a PW (-5.0 degrees) to a driver (-1.3 degrees).
  • Every club in the bag hits the ball at the same height 30 yards.
  • The average clubhead speed with the Driver is 112 mph; ball speed is 165 mph and carry distance is 269 yards.
  • The average clubhead speed with an 8-iron is 87 mph; ball speed is 115 mph and carry distance is 160 yards.
  • Clubhead speed increased by 2 mph from club to club.
  • In conditions that eliminated any roll, an average PGA Tour player would hit a driver and a 5-wood 500 yards; a driver and a 7- iron 441 yards; and a driver and a PW 405 yards.
  • The Carry distance difference between each iron is 12 yards (8-iron 160 yards and 7-iron 172 yards).

For LPGA Tour golfers (please note these are averages):

 

  • All clubs are on average struck with a descending blow other than the driver which is 3.0 degrees upward.
  • Every club in the bag hits the ball the same height25 yards.
  • The average clubhead speed with the driver is 94 mph; ball speed is 139 mph and carry distance is 220 yards.
  • The average clubhead speed with an 8-iron is 74 mph; ball speed is 100 mph and carry distance is 130 yards.
  • Clubhead speed increased by 2 mph from club to club.
  • In conditions that eliminated any roll, an average LPGA Tour player would hit a driver and a 5-wood 405 yards; a driver and a 7- iron 361 yards; and a driver and a PW 327 yards.
  • The carry distance difference between each iron is 11 yards (8-iron 130 yards and 7-iron 141 yards).

General information:

 

  • Shot accuracy is primarily determined by a combination of face angle, club path and point of contact.
  • The ball launches PRIMARILY in the direction of the club face - approximately 75-85% on full shots.
  • For putting, shot accuracy is determined primarily by the face angle - the softer the hit (as in chipping and putting) the greater the effect of clubface. In putting the face accounts for 95+% of where the ball goes.
  • Face angle (largely) determines the launch direction while shot curvature/shape is mostly determined by the club path relative to the face angle – the opposite of what has been taught for years. Think of it this way: when a ball is struck with a descending blow, i.e. ball first, divot second, the attack angle is down, yet the ball goes up. The ball goes up due to the angle/loft of the face!
  • The initial ball direction falls between the club face angle and club path - remember that it greatly favors the face angle.
  • The further apart the club face and club path diverge from each other (basically - point in different directions) the more the ball's spin axis tilts and the more curvature exists on the shot.
  • By the way - THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SIDE SPIN - it is merely back spin on an axis and the more the axis tilts, the more the ball flight curves.
  • The only way to hit the outside of the ball is to have the face closed relative to the target line and to hit the inside of the ball the face must be open relative to the target line. Path plays very little role in what part of the ball we hit.
  • The highest recorded clubhead speed on the PGA Tour in 2009 was Bubba Watson at 128 mph while the World Long Drive Champion, Jamie Sadlowski used a clubhead speed of 145 mph (418 yards!) to win. The average male golfer swings a driver somewhere between 82 and 90 mph.

  • A carry distance of 100 yards for ladies is equivalent to a carry distance of 130 yards for men; 200 yards for ladies is equivalent to 250 yards for men.
  • A par four of 350 yards for ladies is equivalent to a par four of 430 yards for the men.
  • The most important factor in increasing carry distance is clubhead speed. For every 1 mph you can add to your swing speed you stand to gain almost 3 yards.
  • An increase of 1” in the length of a club can increase the clubhead speed by as much as 4 mph.
  • The quality of the hit is very important as it relays clubhead speed into ball speed. Smash factor is calculated by dividing the ball speed by the clubhead speed. The maximum smash factor is just above 1.5 (e.g. 100 mph clubhead speed divided into 152 mph ball speed) and indicates an ideal transfer of energy to the ball. A smash factor of 1.5 is most often only attainable with a driver.
  • The ball spends 1/2000th of a second on the clubface. That means it would take a scratch handicap golfer almost 28 rounds of even par golf to have the ball be on the clubface for one second!

Something to keep in mind is that no golfer should discard accuracy in search of distance as there should always be a balance between the two. It is, however, possible for just about any golfer to significantly increase their distance with only a marginal decrease in accuracy as a result of a sound, long-term plan coupled with commitment and discipline.

Interesting stuff - any thoughts or questions?

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