A Launch Monitor’s Influence on Teaching: How You Can Improve a Player’s Number

High tech has certainly arrived when it comes to instruction and fitting. Just about every golfer – and instructor – on the planet has heard of swing analyzers and launch monitors. While today’s launch monitors, with Trackman being the most well known, are primarily designed as fitting tools, there is much that can be learned from them that can be applied to teaching as well. By combining what a launch monitor can tell us about ball flight with what an instructor can do to improve a player’s swing, a win-win scenario is created by applying a player’s launch characteristics to his swing characteristics. Ball speed, attack angle, club path and smash factor are some of the more important factors in hitting the ball long and straight. By considering these ball flight factors in your teaching, you will be able to help your students improve distance, trajectory and accuracy when it comes to hitting longer and straighter tee shots.

Ball Speed is the measure of how fast the golf ball leaves the club head immediately after impact. Typically the faster the ball speed, the longer the shot. Club head speed is the primary influence related to ball speed, but face impact position, dynamic loft and attack angle also play a role. As a general guideline, an “ideal” ball speed is 1 _ times a player’s club speed. That is, if a player swings the club at 100 miles per hour, his ball speed should be approximately 150 mph, provided solid contact is made.

As an instructor, you are able to help a player improve ball speed in a number of possible ways. The bigger a player’s body turn, the more potential there is for added club speed and thus increased ball speed. Ball speed can also be increased by encouraging a player to keep the club on path through the swing, allowing him the potential for more center contact. Encourage your student to do stretching exercises or perhaps suggest a weight training program to improve body strength and body turn. Flexibility is a key in any training program; the more flexible a player is, the more club and ball speed they may likely generate on center impacts.

Attack Angle is perhaps the “secret’ to distance for many players. While theoretically it is wise to suggest a training regimen to most of your students, the reality is that most will probably not do any more training than they ever did. Thus the chance of improving distance through conditioning is limited. But, nearly any player, regardless of ability, can improve their attack angle and increase distance – and sometimes ramatically. Tiger Woods has a negative attack angle; J.B. Holmes has a positive angle. Both have virtually the same swing speed (in the neighborhood of 125mph), yet J.B. drives the ball 20+ yards longer than Tiger – all because of attack angle.

OK, you ask, what is attack angle? Simply put, it is the angle at which the club approaches the ball just before impact. A negative angle occurs when the club is approaching the ball from above; a positive angle occurs when the club is moving upwards toward the ball. Negative attack angles are necessary when hitting iron, hybrid and fairway wood shots when the ball is on the ground, but positive angles increase distance when the ball is on a tee. The most effective drivers of the ball, according to Trackman data, show a 4-6 degree upswing (positive attack angle) on the ball, while less effective drivers hit 5 or more degrees down on the ball.

To help your students gain what I call “the 20-yard secret”, there are three variables to consider. Simply by teeing the ball higher, many players improve their attack angle. The higher tee encourages an upward strike at the ball, leading to added distance. Try moving the ball up in your students’ stance; this will also encourage a positive attack angle. (Do be aware that moving the ball too far up will negatively impact swing path, so there certainly is a point of diminishing returns on this one). A third key to improving attack angle is to perhaps recommend a more vertical swing plane. A more upright swing may help a player hit the ball more on the upswing than will a flatter swing plane. In any event, one of the fastest ways to more distance for most of your students is an improvement in their attack angle toward the positive.

Club Path is the path on which the club is travelling at impact. An inside-out path is considered to be a positive path, while an outside-in path is negative. A square path is neutral; for all practical purposes a path of from -1 to +1 is considered square or neutral. The typical high handicap player has a negative outside-in path while the majority of better players have a positive path. By working with your students to try to create a square or inside-out path, impact is generally more centered on the club face. Plus, as most outside-in swings yield a descending blow, this compromises attack angle and distance. The positive-path player will find it easier to hit drives with a positive attack angle and will drive the ball longer as a result.

Smash Factor is defined as the ability to transfer power to the ball. It is the relationship between club head speed and ball speed. The higher the smash factor (1.50 is ideal), the longer and straighter the resulting ball flight. Smash factor is computed by dividing ball speed by club head speed; remember the 100 mile per hour swinger will have a ball speed of 150 and a resulting smash factor of 1.50 on a “perfect” driver impact. The more average 80 mph swinger will have a target ball speed of 120 for his smash factor to approach 1.50. As an instructor, probably the best way to help your student improve his smash factor is to improve the impact position on the golf club. This is accomplished through a consistent swing path. Using impact labels on the club face provides immediate feedback as to impact position. The player will not be able to generate his longest and/or straightest drives with less than center impacts.

Before launch monitor technology existed, we as instructors knew how to help a student hit the ball longer and straighter. While the basic instructional elements have not changed over the years, launch monitor technology has certainly quantified what is happening to the ball as a result of the player’s swing. By taking these results and applying them to your teaching, you will be able to guide your students to longer and straighter drives – maybe you won’t be able to get them to hit it as long as J.B. Holmes or Tiger woods, but who can’t use an extra 20 yards?

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