January 2012

January 2012: Tips from a Golf Pro - Launch Monitors: Do They Really Help Your Game?

Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Today’s technological world has brought us many wonderful things: the Internet, iPods, flat screen TVs, and more. Technology can benefit us in many ways, including, if used properly, our golf game.

One of the most recent and popular technological advancements in golf is the launch monitor. This device measures a number of different things, including ball speed, club head speed, ball spin, launch angle, ball flight path, etc. Some of the more advanced versions, by using Doppler radar, can tell you the descent angle of the ball and the amount of spin it has in flight. Quite a bit of information, isn’t it? Yet for all the information these devices give, are they giving the correct information, or is it information overload?

Launch monitors give us a lot of data about what the golf ball, and in some instances our swings, are doing. But they do nothing to tell us how a club should be built. This statement is contrary to what most of you have been told, so allow me to explain.

Every golfer has a unique “golf DNA.” Within this golf DNA is your swing speed, load factor (how much you load the shaft when transitioning from backswing to forward swing), amount of wrist lag into the ball and a number of other variables. These factors are not measured by the monitor, thus they are never factored into the recommendation given by the technician using the monitor. For example, golfers who have a late release of the club at impact require shafts with a firmer tip section. If these golfers use a shaft with a softer tip, the spin rate will be excessive. Yet most launch monitor technicians do not understand this. Their normal solution to reducing spin is to keep giving the golfer a heavier shaft until the spin rate falls within the levels recommended by the machine. Now the machine is satisfied, but the golfer has been “fit” to a shaft that is too heavy and therefore unfit to his swing type, all in an effort to bring ball spin within the machine’s recommended levels!

Further, due to the shaft’s excess weight, the golfer is forced to compensate his or her swing (over-swinging, slower swing speed due to the excess weight, faulty set-up, etc.). As a result of these compensations the golfer’s swing suffers and he or she goes back to the instructor for more lessons. But, because the numbers on the monitor fall within the recommended parameters, the golfer is told to keep working on the swing, and that the problem must lie with him or her (the golfer) and not the so called “properly machine-fitted club.” The golfer is now caught in a vicious cycle, and the results are limited or no improvement for some, eventual injury for others and, if the problem is not solved, abandonment of the game.

Another factor neglected by machine fitting is club head design. A large majority of today’s club heads have had the weight moved in excess: too low in the head, too much on the heel and/or toe, etc. This causes the club head to do various unwanted things throughout the swing due to excess weight where it should not be. If this poor design is not counterbalanced by the correct shaft, the golfer struggles. Because the launch monitor does not factor in head design, how can it recommend the correct shaft? Once again, the result is a shaft not matching the club head or the golfer’s swing. Even though the numbers come out correctly on the monitor, neither the golfers nor their swings reach their full potential.

Some of you may be saying, “Well I got fit with a launch monitor and my game improved. How can you say those devices do not work?” The answer is that your clubs were so poorly fit before visiting the launch monitor that anything would have helped your game. The health equivalent would be walking around the block twice vs. sitting on the couch. Something is better than nothing. But if you want to reach your full golf potential, consulting those who know the science of how clubs and shafts work and how these variables relate to your swing is more important and more lasting than consulting a machine. Why would you wear a size 10 shoe if you are supposed to wear a 10 1/2?

Other measuring devices that have become popular are putting measurement systems. As with launch monitors, these devices may tell you what is happening during the putting stroke, but they do not tell you why it is happening and how to fix it. These devices do not take into account eye positioning, putter fit, putter type or the golfer’s neurology, which all have a tremendous impact on the stroke. I recently had a student come to me after unsuccessfully using one of these systems. When asked what he was told by his now former instructor, he said, “I was told to take a slice backswing and hook the putt when coming through impact.” I don’t know about you, but there are more important factors to think about when putting: speed, amount of break, and most important…making the putt!

If you would like to know more about club fitting, join us at noon on January 21, 2012 for our seminar, “Club Fitting: What They Do Not Tell You.” This seminar is by reservation only and sells out quickly. To sign up, contact the Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head at (843) 338-6737, golfacademyhiltonhead.com, or on Facebook at Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head. Not only do we know the science behind how golf clubs work, we know how to apply that science to let your swing work properly.

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