You think you know what causes what? Unless you've been scouring golf instruction blogs and Facebook groups, and reading what many Trackman aficionados have been saying on their respective websites, you probably don't know that there's a whole new set of rules as they pertain to how a ball flies and spins. Trackman data has helped instructors like me see the golf swing in a whole new light, especially as it relates to the part of the swing that's hardest to see: impact.
We now can see what the clubface is doing, how the clubpath and face angle relates, and how spin and distance are lost and gained. We can see precisely how the ball responds to various impact conditions, and more importantly, we now know how to diagnose swing problems faster and more effectively than ever in the history of golf instruction.
What are some of these new rules? There are several, but on the following pages, we take a quick look at a few revelations I've seen that have helped not only me become a better teacher, but my students become better golfers. Read on.
FOR MORE DISTANCE
ADD MORE DYNAMIC LOFT In order to hit the ball longer, you need more loft at impact. This is due in part to today's drivers producing less spin than in previous years. Now, what is dynamic loft? Well, loft as you probably know is the angle of the clubface at setup. But "dynamic loft" is the angle of the face at impact which, in case you didn't know, can sometimes be way different than the static clubhead loft at setup. Also, the loft of the face is different from top to bottom. Meaning, shots hit off the top half of the face tend to promote a higher dynamic loft angle at impact versus shots fired off the low side of the clubface. Additionally, where you hit on the face also affects spin. Shots spin more when struck lower on the face, and shots spin less when hit from the top part of the face. You need backspin for lift, but reducing it by increasing your dynamic loft at impact and hitting either in the center or above the center of the clubface will help you hit the ball at a higher initial launch angle with less spin, resulting in drives that fly further, higher and land with more forward roll. Loft up!
HIGHER IS BETTER Okay, so the best way to influence your launch is to have more dynamic loft at impact. That means you need to learn how to hit up on the golf ball. Hitting down with less loft can cause you to hit the ball below the center line of the face, causing a low-launch, high-spin ballflight that isn't desirable (the ball will shoot up too high and fall out of the sky with no roll upon landing). The quick fix? Add some shoulder tilt at setup with the right shoulder below the left. This will help you hit the golf ball on an ascending angle of attack, helping you add dynamic loft and hit a higher ball with less spin.
FOR MORE SHOT-MAKING CONTROL
THE FACE CONTROLS THE INITIAL DIRECTION Provided that the ball is struck in the center of the clubface, the clubface angle is what determines the initial direction the ball flies. By "center of the face," I mean if you deviate from the center, a phenomenon called "gear effect" comes into play, which can skew your ballflight to the left or right depending on what side you miss the sweet spot. Toe hits curve left, heel shots curve right. Centered hits do what you like.
So, what does that mean? It means if you want to hit a true draw that flies initially to the right of the target and then curves back to the left toward the target, then yes, you have to approach hitting a draw with an open face. And by "open," I mean open relative to the target line and not the path the clubhead travels on (more on that in the next column ).
To fade the ball, it's the opposite. The clubface needs to be closed relative to the target line at impact. This will cause the ball to start to the left then curve back to the right.
For long, we've assumed that the way to hit a draw was to have a closed face and a fade was executable with an open face. And truth be told, that still holds true. It just depends what the clubface angle is relative to. And no, it's not the target line...
THE BALL BENDS AWAY FROM THE SWINGPATH Shotshaping has everything to do with the relationship the path has to the clubface. To hit a draw, you want a clubface angle that's closed to the clubpath, but still slightly open relative to the target line. A fade? The same, but in reverse. The clubface needs to be open to the path, but still relatively closed to the target line.
The more open/closed the clubface is relative to the path, the more bend your shots will have. So if you want to hit a big sweeping hook, you need to have a face that's closed relative to a clubpath that's wide to the right. A big fade is similar, but on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Above and in the sequence to the right, I'm working on drawing the ball. I've set up a yellow rod that shows you my target line and two tees to the right of that line. The left tee is my clubface angle at impact. That's where I aim. But the right tee is the desired marker that I'm trying to swing toward. Meaning, I'm trying to start the ball over the left tee, but I'm swinging over the right tee. Both tees are helping me hit a draw and in no instance am I trying to hit a draw with a clubface slammed shut!
How you align your shots is critical, too. If you don't align your body, clubface and swing path properly, you can kiss any chance at consistency goodbye. In my case, as I work on hitting some draws, what I'm conscious of is making sure is that my toe line is parallel to the target line, not directly pointing at the target. I put a driver down along my toes to further illustrate what I mean.
Second, because I have my target in sight (thanks to the yellow alignment rod), I can practice how it feels to swing to the right of my target and get used to not feeling as though I need to pull the club to the inside at any point during the swing. And get this, even though I'm "swinging out to the right", and I'm more or less telling you to do that too, I'm only swinging to the right as far as my low point will allow. Once my swing arc hits its low point, the club is going to swing back toward my body anyway, so there's no need to feel that urge or sensation that you'll hit the ball too far to the right by swinging to the right. You won't, trust me!
Again, for this to be a successful draw, that clubface angle has to be a little closed relative to my path, and the path needs to be to the right of my target. That's key for hitting a draw. As for hitting a fade? The same physics apply to the opposite side of the target line. Swing further to the left with the clubface a little open to the path. Have I beaten that relationship to a pulp yet? Good!
FOR MORE GREENSIDE SPINPhoto location: The Promontory Club in Park City, Utah
HITTING DOESN'T GENERATE SPIN Hitting down on the golf ball doesn't create more spin! In fact, it can do just the opposite as many amatuers also lean the shaft forward as they hit down, thus reducing spin. Huh? Hear me out. Spin on the golf ball comes through the many different factors, but Trackman has found the easiest way for us to understand how to control it. This is deemed by what we now refer to as "spinloft". Spinloft is measured through the difference between your angle of attack and the loft you deliver at impact. Trackman shows that the greater the spinloft the more the ball will spin, but only up to a certain point, which coincidentally is where I see mistakes being made. Golfers assume the trick for more spin is in a steeper angle of attack and a high loft angle. In spinloft theory, that may seem like it would work. But it doesn't. The reason is simple. You need more friction between the ball and the clubface. If you have too much spinloft you actually lose friction, and the ball rolls off the face with minimal spin. But if you dial in less loft and a shallower angle of attack, you actually can increase the friction between the ball and clubface and increase your spin.
I know, it seems counterintuitive to actually reduce your spinloft for more spin, but the added friction you get from a lower spinloft makes up for it and creates more spin. And by the way, divots are still okay (I'm making one here) when hitting wedges. It's just that you don't have to make a huge divot to create big spin!
How much is too much? I wish I had the magic formula for all players, but since we all swing at different speeds, with different angles of attack, spinlofts and so on, it's difficult to try and quantify the ideal loft/path angle for everyone. This means the best way to practice fine-tuning your spinloft is to go back to trial and error, and experiment with different amounts of shaft lean at impact. Ideally, a shallower path is better than a steep one, and moderate forward shaft lean is better than too little. The image left? I'm leaning too the shaft to much. FOR MORE CONFIDENCE
RELY ON FEELS, NOT TRACKMAN DATA Whether you use Trackman or any other sort of swing or launch monitoring device, remember at the end of the day it's how you use your "feels" to produce consistent swings that matters. It's what you do with the information you get from the machine and from your coach, and how you put it to work. Is Trackman going to help you make a better swing? Will it hit any shots for you? Can a 3-D swing analysis provide club or shot selection when you're coming down the stretch and desperately need a birdie to save your match? No way. Today's high-tech wizardry can only tell you what your current swing produces, and it's then up to your coach to help explain what you need to change in efforts to produce a new shot pattern.
I've seen students become so fixated on developing a perfect swing that they forget that the game is more about managing your mistakes than it is hitting every shot dead- solid perfect. Folks, you're going to make bad swings. You're going to have bad days. The key, especially as it relates to using Trackman or any other computer-assisted tool, is to find what shot pattern is your most repeatable one. Think of it this way: You may be better at repeating a 245-yard fade than you are at sometimes pulling off a 270-yard draw. Which in that case, why bother trying to change your swing and hit that 270-yard draw when it's significantly easier to replicate the 245-yard fade? This is the hidden danger in using tools like Trackman. If you go down the road where you're constantly trying to fix your swing and hit shots you can only sometimes pull off, you run the risk of actually becoming a worse player than you were at the start. You're always going to be better off fine-tuning and making the most of what shots you can repeat and not trying to dial in a perfect swing and shot pattern every single time. Your best shot isn't always the best shot you can hit!
Tom Stickney, PGA, teaches at Bighorn CC in California and Promontory Club in Utah. He's a leading expert in Trackman science. For more information, visit www.tomstickneygolf.com