September 28, 2021

How Launch Angle Affects a Golf Shot

Few variables affect a golf shot more than launch angle does.

Launch angle is the initial ascent of the ball immediately after impact. It’s measured in degrees relative to the ground. A 15-degree launch angle, for example, means that the ball is lifting upwards at a 15-degree angle.

The lower the launch angle, the closer the ball travels to the ground.

Overall, clubs that have a lower loft produce a lower launch angle while traveling a longer distance, while clubs that have a higher loft are meant to have a higher launch and not travel as far. The loft of a club is by far the most important factor in determining launch angle.

What Affects Launch Angle?

There are other factors that influence launch angle beyond which club a player uses.

In particular, higher clubhead speeds and ball speeds will produce a higher launch if all other variables are equal. This is the main reason why slower swing-speed players use a higher-lofted driver compared to those who are faster swing-speed players.

Launch angle is also greatly affected by angle of attack. This is the measurement of how steeply the clubface approaches the golf ball at impact. Some players swing with much more of a descending blow, meaning the club is delofted at impact, which produces a lower launch. Conversely, staying more behind the ball and keeping the club more perpendicular to the ground at impact will produce a higher launch.  

A clubface that is more closed will generally produce a lower launch than a clubface that is more open.

Equipment choices are also a significant factor. A club’s overall weight, design and center of gravity location in the clubhead can greatly influence launch.

What is the Proper Launch Angle?

The big question everyone wants to know is whether their launch is too high, too low or just right for any given club.

There is no one answer to that question given all the differences in the aforementioned variables, but we have a lot of clues. The average PGA Tour launch with a driver is 10.9 degrees. The launch actually goes down with fairway woods — usually around 9.3 degrees depending on the loft — and then goes progressively upwards as the loft increases with each club.

That includes hybrid (10.2), 3-iron (10.4), 4-iron (11.0), 5-iron (12.1), 6-iron (14.1), 7-iron (16.3), 8-iron (18.1), 9-iron (20.4) and pitching wedge (24.2).

However, for most golfers, aspiring towards women professional numbers is more appropriate because their swing speed comes closer to matching the average male player.

Women professionals launch the ball higher. For instance, their drivers are launched at 13.2 degrees. When a player has a slower swing speed, having a higher launch is typically desired so the ball will travel farther in the air.

Their other averages are important to note as well. That includes 3-wood (11.2), 5-wood (12.1), 7-wood (12.7), 4-iron (14.3), 5-iron (14.8), 6-iron (17.1), 7-iron (19.0), 8-iron (20.8), 9-iron (23.9) and pitching wedge (25.6).

The average male golfer hits a driver with 12.6 degrees of launch.

Interpreting Launch Angle

The most important thing to remember about launch angle is that the vast majority of golfers launch the ball too high. This is mainly because of not making clean contact.

Making poor contact generally increases launch because they do not hit down on the ball, exposing the clubface and adding more loft. Ball-first contact where a divot is taken after impact is when launch will decrease. This creates more consistency in results.

Launch angle is directly related to spin rate as well.

One of the cardinal rules is that gaining distance with a driver is the marriage of a relatively low spin rate combined with a higher launch. This is a delicate balance, of course. Hitting down on the ball increases spin and decreases launch, the opposite of optimal, which is why hitting up on the ball or creating an angle of attack that is just slightly downwards provides the best chance to reduce spin while maintaining the proper launch.

Advanced Launch Analytics

As a golfer becomes more skilled, they can monitor their launch on shots they intend to hit higher vs. lower. This is particularly important with wedge shots and short-iron shots.

Better players generally like to lower their launch with wedge shots so they can better control the distance.

As critical as launch angle is on longer shots, it’s arguably even more vital on shorter shots where precision is necessary. When you are looking for consistency on wedge shots, it’s not just about how far you are carrying a shot in the air — it’s about how consistent your launch is depending on the type of shot you are hoping to hit.

September 10, 2021

How Ball Speed and Clubhead Speed Affect Distance

Who would you guess led the PGA Tour in average ball speed this past season?

Both casual fans and experts would likely point to Bryson DeChambeau, a player who clocked in with an average clubhead speed of over 132 mph last season. That shattered the previous record of 128.18 held by Ryan Brehm in 2017.

Since 2010, there have been six seasons where the leader in clubhead speed didn’t reach 125 mph. Being over 132 mph is a stunning number.

However, clubhead speed and ball speed are two different variables. Clubhead speed is how fast the club is traveling when it reaches the ball, while ball speed is how fast the ball is traveling just after impact. While faster clubhead speeds generally result in faster ball speeds, there isn’t an exact correlation.

A more efficient golf swing with a lower clubhead speed can produce a faster ball speed than another player who swings faster but may not consistently catch the center of the face.

Despite DeChambeau enjoying such a massive advantage in club head speed — he finished ahead of second place by nearly 5 mph — it was actually Cameron Champ who produced a slightly higher ball speed than DeChambeau. We are talking fractions here. Champ reached an average of 190.94 mph and DeChambeau came in second at 190.72 mph, but that still shows how crisply Champ can hit the ball without swinging out of his shoes.

There’s an important note to remember from this example. The gap between these two variables may be small for the best players in the world, but it’s often a lot wider for the average player.

Here’s why. Even if, hypothetically, a normal golfer has the strength to get their clubhead speed up near DeChambeau or Champ, other imperfections in their swing would greatly reduce the energy they are actually transferring into the ball. Hitting a hook, a slice, hitting down on the ball too much or otherwise making poor contact will take away from ball speed regardless of clubhead speed.

Yes, clubhead speed is a great indication of potential distance. However, ball speed is the ultimate indicator of distance and comes based on how well you are making contact. Meanwhile, clubhead speed is not impacted by how well you actually hit the ball.

Ball Speed Benchmarks

For every 1 mph of ball speed you add to your swing, you are gaining about two yards of carry distance. That is something you can measure for long-term progress. It’s also something you can measure on a day-to-day basis.

Golfers don’t show up to the course with the exact same swing every day, so being able to assess where you are at during your warm up — whether that is in your backyard with the Graff ball or on the range prior to your round — then you can formulate a plan for how far the ball will fly that day. It may only be a few yards of difference, but that can still be crucial.

More than anything, your speed going up or down is usually an indication of better or worse compression of the ball at impact. Most of us don’t suddenly speed up our swings. Ball speed tells you how crisply you are hitting it.

If you are looking for some benchmarks for where you should be, here is a general idea of what you should be looking for. A PGA Tour player averages about 168 mph with their driver and a high-level male amateur is around 160 mph. A 5 handicap would be around 147 mph. A 10 handicap would be around 138 mph. A 15 handicap would be around 133 mph and a 20 handicap around 130 mph.

For female golfers, a 5 handicap is around 125 mph and an average player is around 111 mph.

The average PGA Tour player is around 127 mph when hitting a 6-iron and around 102 mph when hitting a pitching wedge. For most of us, it’s nearly impossible to reach these numbers while still being in control of the clubface. That’s why there are other benchmarks that explain an optimal relationship between the two variables. For instance, a 6-iron with a clubhead speed of 80 mph and a ball speed of 110 mph is an ideal combination for control. So is a pitching wedge with a clubhead speed of 72 mph and a ball speed of 86 mph.

What does this mean? It means that the transfer of power from your clubhead speed into the ball is efficient. You are hitting the center of the clubface and are essentially getting the most out of your power.

If you are hitting your 6-iron with a 100 mph club head speed and only seeing 120 mph of ball speed, check some of the other variables. Notably, what is your spin rate? Is your launch angle abnormally high or low?

In an ideal world, we would all swing as fast as we can and hit the middle of the clubface while we do it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason hockey players make better golfers than football players. Golf is less of a game of pure strength than it is of timing and coordination.  

Smash Factor

Ball speed is more a measure of solidness of contact. You can also think of it as a close relative of smash factor.

Smash factor is ball speed divided by clubhead speed. With a driver, an optimal shot would have a 1.5 smash factor. For instance, a 100 mph clubhead speed producing a 150 mph ball speed. That is the ideal ratio.

For clubs with more loft, a lower smash factor is optimal. Take a pitching wedge, for example. A smash factor of 1.25 is optimal. Think about why this is. If you swung a pitching wedge with 70 mph clubhead speed, it wouldn’t be possible to reach 105 mph of ball speed.

Shorter clubs mean that the two variables are closer together. Longer clubs means that you should try to be getting as close to 1.5 as possible.

It doesn’t take a lot of clubhead speed to increase your smash factor. Even someone with a relatively slow swing can work on better contact. That will increase their ball speed and lead to a better smash factor.

The average on the PGA Tour with a driver is 1.49, while the average with a 6-iron is 1.38. These are of course slightly lower for the average player, but not dramatically. A typical 14 handicap has a smash factor of about 1.44 with their driver. That .05 difference is just in solidness of contact, not in carry yardage or clubhead speed.

The most important thing to remember is that increasing clubhead speed only helps if you are doing it within your swing. Just swinging harder doesn’t increase your ball speed, or add distance to your shot.

August 25, 2021

The Five Most Efficient Ways to Lower Your Score

When it comes to improvement in golf, everyone can agree that the ultimate benchmark is score and handicap. 

There is nowhere to hide in golf. A number is tied to your performance and, even if that number isn’t indicative of how well you feel you hit the ball overall, it’s still your score. There are only so many times you can blame luck or “one bad hole” on a score that is higher than you feel like it should be.  

As an instructor, one of the most common questions I get is about how to break through to the next barrier a golfer is facing. How do you break 100? Or 90? Or 80?

Of course, some of these answers are obvious. A better, more consistent swing will lead to lower scores. So will, generally speaking, practicing more and spending more time on the course. 

But we’re not here to talk about the obvious answers. Here are five efficient methods for lowering your score that go beyond the straightforward advice anyone can give. 

1. Take the High Percentage Shot

Golf is a math problem, and you need to learn how to use the equation to your benefit. 

The good news is that this means taking the high percentage shot more often, something that in theory would make golf a little less intimidating. The bad news is that it requires a lot of patience and discipline. 

A 2017 USGA study says that the average golfer drives the ball 208 yards. That may sound particularly short to people, but here’s the thing: if the average golfer is playing the correct set of tees, they should at least be having a chance to be around the green in regulation. But the stats also say that the average golfer misses a large percentage of their greens. 

Even PGA Tour players only average hitting 11.7 greens in regulation per round. Most golfers are happy being in the six to seven range. 

The lesson? Unless you are someone who just can’t make solid contact off the tee, scoring variability is concentrated in one central area. 

It’s not off the tee, it’s not in the approach and it’s not on the green. It’s around the green. 

The worse you are, the less risk you should take. Is the flag tucked just over a bunker but you have a free opening to putt the ball onto the green away from the hole? Do it. 

Every stat we have in golf suggests that getting the ball onto the green is far more valuable than taking on a great amount of risk to try to get the ball close to the hole. 

If you can’t break 100, don’t be overly concerned with where the hole is. You are likely shooting that high of a number because of train wrecks that happen around the green, so just get the ball on the surface. That almost always means taking a putter, a hybrid or some other club that keeps the ball on the ground for longer. 

This applies to better players, too. Just take your medicine instead of forcing a high-risk shot. 

2. Don't Follow a Bad Shot With a Stupid Shot

Everyone hits bad shots. It’s just a part of the game. 

The problem is, most people want to get away with their bad shots. Golf doesn’t take too kindly to those people. 

If you hit a ball into the trees, just get the ball back into the fairway. Hitting it into the trees is effectively like hitting into a hazard. It’s a one-shot penalty. 

You may have heard that trees are 90 percent air, but the penalty for trying to pull off a great shot while you stymied behind multiple trees is severe in most cases. 

And here is the kicker… it’s usually not even worth it. Even pulling off the shot will only get you around the green, in a slightly better position than if you were to punch out and have a full length shot into the green. 

Even pulling the shot off would only gain you a half of a shot or so on average. And if you don’t, you’ve often spent two or three shots more than you would compared to a punch out into the fairway. 

The stats say to get back in play. 

3. Play Golf Backwards

How many golfers do you know who just show up and play without having any concept of what they are trying to accomplish? 

If you are just having fun and don’t care about your score, that is one thing. But if you want to lower your score, you are going to need to identify some kind of plan. 

That means playing the course backwards. What clubs and distances are you most comfortable with on approach shots? If you like hitting your 8-iron 150 yards and you feel good about it, while at the same time you don’t like hitting short wedges, why are you hitting a driver on a 320-yard par-4? Hit your 6-iron that goes 170 and set up the shot that you want. 

A part of the Golf Smart concept here at Graff is to evaluate who you are as a golfer and then make the best decision available to you. That means finding what you are comfortable with, trying to put yourself in that position as much as possible and masking your weaknesses as well as you can. 

For me, I love laying up to 105 yards. I’ve hit hundreds and hundreds of gap wedges on launch monitors, and I know that is my average. For some reason, I have more confidence with that number than if I have 90 yards into the hole. 

It’s hard to lay up to an exact yardage, but knowing that information really informs where I am aiming and how aggressive to play the next shot. 

Be honest with what you have. Are you a terrible chipper? Put away your wedge and just use a putter and an 8-iron around the greens. Are you uncomfortable with your driver? Hit a 3-wood or a 4-iron off the tee. 

Remember, while the data in pro golf says that players should try to get as close to the hole as possible off the tee, that applies far less to your average player. Find your sweet spots — the same way a basketball player tries to find spots on the court where he feels the best shooting — and strategize to get the ball into those positions. 

4. Know Multiple Carry Yardages

The most common mistake golfers make — and I would say over 90 percent do this — is that they laser the flagstick to find the distance and then try to hit a golf shot according to the one distance they think they hit a certain club. 

I introduce to you… the concept of multiple carry yardages. 

Everyone has an average for each club they hit. And then everyone has a max distance for every club they hit. 

For me, I know that my pitching wedge goes an average of 115 yards. If I hit 100 balls on the range, that would be close to the end result. 

I also know that if I really hit one well, it goes no more than 122 yards. Some of the particularly bad ones only travel about 108 yards. 

It’s critical to know these yardages. I advise all of my students to carry an index card with three different carry yardages for all of their clubs. 

Why do you need to know this? Let’s say I have a shot where the hole is 120 yards from me. It’s cut on the back of the green, a few paces from the back edge. A few yards beyond the green, there is a water hazard. There is no trouble short. 

This would be a great yardage. I could hit my pitching wedge knowing that my average would leave me with about a 20-30 foot putt, and a perfectly struck shot would not have enough distance to reach the water. A poorly struck shot will be safe. 

The goal is not always to get as close to the hole as possible. It’s to take on the least amount of risk while also playing the best shot available. 

5. Play Up to Trick Your Brain and Lower Your Score

When you are kid, you usually start your first golf course experiences from the 150-yard marker and not the forward tees. When your skill level develops, you slowly move back. 

There are no rules against playing a round of golf from the forward tees. Try to shoot the lowest score you possibly can. Go for every par-5 in two. Try to drive the green on par-4s.

If you can’t break 90 from the “regular” tees, go and do it another way. It takes the bite out of that barrier. It gives you confidence. 

And in a lot of cases, it will expose parts of your game that need work. For example, if you struggle within 100 yards of the hole, you may notice that your score from the forward tees isn’t all that different than playing further back. 

It can be a confidence booster and a weakness exposer. Both are productive. 

July 20, 2021

The Five Most Efficient Ways to Become a Better Putter

Being a great putter is an elusive goal. What looks simple can often be a frustrating endeavor. 

Putting is, in theory, the easiest part of golf. The ball is on the ground the entire time, and ensuring clean contact is rarely a problem. The average golfer may never be able to crank a 320-yard driver like a professional, but they can often make a putt that a professional could just as easily miss. 

Still, putting has a way of confusing and mystifying the best of us. There is always room for improvement when it comes to the flatstick.

Here are a few strategies for becoming a better putter:

1. Train to Hit the Center of the Putter Face

Golfers appreciate and know when they don’t hit the center of the clubface on a full shot, but it’s not talked about nearly as much when it comes to putting. 

The truth is, hitting putts solidly is the number one factor in being a good putter. Hitting a putt solid often masks other issues, like slight errors in alignment or distance control. 

There is a simple drill to learn how to accomplish this on a routine basis. Take two tees and place them on the outside edges of your putter head, creating a gate that is just large enough for the putter to swing through. You can start by leaving a decent amount of room for the putter head to get through, and then narrow the gate as you gain confidence. 

The narrower the gate, the more you are guaranteeing that you are contacting the ball on the center of the clubface. It’s a timeless drill that anyone can do at any time. 

No matter what putter you use, how you hold the putter or what your stroke looks like, everyone has to hit the center of the face. Make it a priority. 

2. Learn How to Control Your Distance

There are two components in putting that have to be matched up properly in order to hole more putts: speed and line. 

While both need to be good to make a putt, there is no debate that speed is the most important element of the two. Having great speed control eliminates most three-putts and gives the ball a greater opportunity to spend time around the hole. 

The goal in distance is that you generally want to hit a putt hard enough that it would come to rest 2-4 feet behind the hole. It may be less on shorter putts, but overall you are looking to make sure your putt gets to the hole and has a chance to go in while not being hit so hard that it travels well beyond the hole. 

Give yourself a chance to make the putt. Statistically, there is no reason to leave a putt several feet short compared to several feet past the hole. 

So how do you learn how to control distance? While every putting surface is a different speed, there are a couple of key ingredients to maintaining proper speed. 

One is to keep your stroke the same length on the backswing as it is on the follow-through. Going along with this, the putter should be moving the same speed the entire time, meaning that it shouldn’t accelerate or decelerate as it gets closer to hitting the ball. 

For some, putting is all about feel. But others like to take a more mathematical, analytical approach. If you visit the putting green and place tees at different distances, learning how to hit to each tee, you can easily step off how far your putts are on the course and transfer your practice to real gameplay. 

One best practice to follow is to take practice strokes looking at the hole to gauge how far you need to hit a putt. Our brains are incredible computers and every practice stroke while looking at the putt allows more information to be absorbed. 

3. Understand How to Read Greens

Reading greens is an artform. 

Golf courses are not flat pieces of property, partly because they need slopes to properly drain. That especially applies to greens where, if you were to drop a massive bucket of water on them, the water would funnel off in all different directions. 

Start there when you are reading a green. Where are the drains? What about the highest point? Where would the water go if a torrential rainstorm started? Because wherever the water would go, that is where your ball will be pulled towards. 

There are clues everywhere here. On courses with water hazards, greens tend to slope towards the hazard. On courses with mountains, greens tend to slope away from them. 

One important clue is to look at the hole itself. If one edge of the hole is more burned out or discolored, that is the low side where your ball will tend to move towards. 

Another element in reading a green is grain, which means that the grass is growing in a certain direction. This is a factor mainly in Bermuda greens, like found in the southeast U.S., and can have a huge influence on reading putts. The darker the grass, the more it is growing towards the golfer, meaning the putt will be slower. 

It takes time to understand all the nuances, but reading greens is a vital skill. 

4. Remember to Release Tension

Golf is an interesting game in that tension plays a significant role in success. 

It’s not a game of reacting naturally, like football or baseball. It’s a game of managing tension, allowing the club to swing freely. 

Sometimes that is easier to manage with full swings because there is more body movement involved, but putting requires nothing more than a simple rock of the shoulders while everything else remains quiet. 

With so much static, it can be easy to grip the putter too tightly. 

One of the simplest remedies for this is to take a deep breath while you are over the ball, allowing your arms and shoulders to relax. You can also flex your neck and shoulders tightly together for a brief moment before letting them go, feeling the tension flow away. 

Without releasing tension, the putter is not going to swing freely. It’s a forgotten step in the putting routine of many, but it plays a key role. 

5. If You Don’t Have Confidence As a Putter, Pretend You Do 

Don’t laugh at this one. 

Putting, unlike most other areas of golf, has a great deal to do with pure belief. 

Always, always start your practice sessions with a series of very short putts so you can hear the sound of the ball going into the hole. Build your confidence. 

What you tell yourself over the ball has as much to do with the result as anything. The difference between walking into a putt with a wishful attitude or a cocky attitude is a massive chasm. 

Even if your previous experience or stats don’t support you thinking of yourself as a good putter, you just have to believe you are for a couple of seconds while you are over the ball. 

A big part of your routine should be saying to yourself  “I feel good about this” or “This is going in” right before you take the putter back. 

It’s the magic piece that pulls everything else together. 

July 14, 2021

Golf Smart: How to Think Your Way Around a Golf Course

Improving your game with swing changes, equipment and range practice are often thought of as the only avenues for lowering your score on the golf course, but there is another path that may be the most influential of them all: Changing your strategy so you can golf smart.

Most golfers don’t have a plan. They immediately grab driver when they come to each hole that isn’t a par-3. They find out what their yardage is to the flag and choose the club that matches the yardage. And most of all, they choose how to play a hole based on what they wish would happen, and not what is most likely to happen. 

All of this means that most golfers throw away several shots per round, not because of a poor swing but because they have no plan. 

You wouldn’t expect to have success in any other endeavor without a plan. Why would golf be any different? No matter what handicap or skillset you have, every player can come up with a strategy that makes the most sense. 

So how do you formulate a plan? For some this part may sound too intimidating, but there is a very simple method that even beginners can use. This is at the heart of the golf smart concept, a more detailed, understandable and effective method for thinking about the way this game is played at all levels. 

Assessing What You Have

The first step in golf strategy is assessment. In other words, who are you as a golfer? Write down where you are most comfortable and uncomfortable on the course. The more specific, the better. 

A novice may start by noting that they are more confident on the green than hitting a driver, or that a 6-iron is their favorite club. 

The more experienced you are, the more details you can write down. For myself, I would say that I am most comfortable hitting a driver on holes that bend right-to-left, using short irons (8-iron or less) when I can make a full swing and making short putts within five feet of the hole. From all of those areas, I am very confident. I don’t mind when there is a daunting hazard on the left side of a hole, but it makes me queasy to see one on the righthand side. My bad shots tend to go more to the right than the left. My least favorite shots are in the range of about 30 to 50 yards from the hole, but I am more comfortable from 100-120 yards away. 

Gather the observations you have. If it’s only a sentence, start with that. You can build along the way. 

Gathering Vital Analytics

The next step, and arguably the most vital, is to know the average of each of these: 

  • How far you hit each club
  • Where you are most likely to miss with each club
  • What your range is in terms of being offline from your target

This is where an analytics platform like Graff is key, because this information, paired with your likes and dislikes as a player, will form your strategy. 

Managing Expectations

You should not plan for hitting a shot perfectly. What the experienced player plans for is the 50th percentile of all of their swings. If a well-struck 6-iron goes 165 yards but the average of all your 6-irons is 156 yards, you should plan for it to go 156 yards, all other variables being equal. If the trend throughout most of your clubs is that you hit it short and to the right, you should plan for that possibility. And if you hit your driver an average of 30 yards offline compared to your start line, you should know that not every hole — a lot of holes, actually — will be receptive to that.

A lot of golfers get tripped up here. They visualize their best shot and plan to hit it, but the reality is that golf is a very hard game. You are far more likely to hit your average shot than the ideal one you are visualizing. This applies even to the best in the world. 

You have to manage your expectations while playing to the strengths you’ve identified. 

Once you have created a profile — your likes/dislikes paired with the hard data of who you are as a golfer — it’s time to take that information with you to the course. If you only have limited information, take whatever you have. 

Golf is a severely misunderstood game from a strategy standpoint, but understanding it doesn’t have to be complicated. At the core of the golf smart concept is the ability to take a lot of information and pair it down to its simplest form.

Choosing Clubs Off the Tee

You stand on the first tee of a narrow par-4 that is 350 yards. On each side of the hole, there are dense trees. In between, there is what you estimate to be a 40-yard window. On average you hit your driver 260 yards and are offline an average of 30 yards from your start line. If you hit a perfect driver, you would be left with a 90-yard shot in the fairway. 

The thing is, that is less likely to happen than your average. Your average driver, which only fits in a 60-yard window given the 30 yards on each side of your target, will put you in the trees. You are taking on far too much risk, all for the reward of hitting a 90-yard wedge shot that you may or may not be comfortable with in the first place. 

You look at your 3-wood, which goes an average of 220 yards while being offline by an average of 18 yards. This would leave you 130 yards, but your average shot will put you within the 40-yard corridor between the trees. 

Maybe your favorite club is an 8-iron, which you hit 150 yards. Taking a driving iron, which travels 200 yards on average and is only offline by 13 yards normally, will leave you at your favorite distance while taking on even less risk than a 3-wood. 

That is golf smart. It’s not about playing conservatively or aggressively — it’s about having a reservoir of data behind you, looking at all of your options and picking the one that makes the most sense for you. 

Changing Your Approach to Golf Smart

Picking clubs off the tee is one part of the plan. The other is approaching the hole. 

Most golfers use a rangefinder or GPS to find out how far away the hole is, but this is just one data point and often a misleading one. The golf smart concept wants you to look at playing golf a different way.  

The question is not “How close can you get to this target?” 

The question you want to be asking is “Where do I want to hit my next shot from?” 

If you are playing to a hole that is on the back of the green and you laser that it is 140 yards away, it’s likely that you don’t want to plan on a 140-yard shot. This is a flawed line of thinking. 

For every club you hit, there is a shot dispersion where you can draw an imperfect circle around your target. That imperfect circle needs to include as much of the green as possible, eliminating as much of the circle that falls outside of the green.

Prioritizing Greens Hit

We know from many years-worth of data that, for the average golfer, being on the green is the biggest indicator of shooting the lowest score possible. That may sound obvious, but most players are not planning for their average shot to hit the green. They are playing to get as close to the hole as possible, visualizing their best shot and not their average shot. 

So that 140-yard shot to the hole location in the back part of the green is not really a 140-yard shot for most players. It’s probably 130 or 135 yards, the shot that allows the greatest probability to hit the green. 

When you add in particular trouble around a hole — water to the left of the green, let’s say — this is where it pays to know all of the information we have talked about. If you tend to miss approach shots to the left, you need to move the circle further right. 

You are not a sniper. It’s more like you are operating a semi-accurate cannon. 

Of course, golf is not a game played purely by numbers. It’s played by humans. If you are not comfortable with a decision, or you feel particularly confident, those are decisions that can be made within your game plan. 

But at the end of the day, the golf smart plan asks you to assess who you are and give yourself the best chance to make the lowest score. 

That’s all any golfer wants to do. 

We will have more detailed articles on strategy coming in the future, but hopefully this provides the basis for how your profile and analytics combine to form a game plan. Check back with The Club shortly for more updates.

July 7, 2021

The Five Most Efficient Ways to Fix a Slice

Of all the shots you can hit in golf, a slice is the most common — and arguably the most frustrating. 

A slice is defined as a shot that, for a righthanded player, starts to the left before peeling off in a banana shape to the right. It is a shot most beginner players struggle with. It is very difficult to control a slice because of how far the ball curves. Also, because of the amount of spin on the ball, the shot generally loses distance. 

This might not be as noticeable with shorter shots, but it is hard to play with a slice off the tee. 

What causes a slice? The easiest answer is that a slice occurs when the clubface is open — pointing to the right for a righthanded player — while the club itself is hitting the ball while coming across your body. If you are standing behind a golfer, this would mean the club starts to the right and comes to the left, “slicing” across the ball. 

So how can it be fixed? Here are a few methods for turning your slice into something different:

1. Strengthen Your Grip

Your hands are your only connection to a golf club, so they need to be attached properly. Most golfers who hit a slice have a weak grip. This means that their left hand is more below the club while their right hand is more on top. For a lefthanded player, it would be the opposite. This type of grip naturally opens the clubface and makes a player vulnerable to a slice. Moving your left hand more on top of the club so that you can see two knuckles on your left hand allows the club to release towards the target. 

Changing your grip will feel uncomfortable at first. You will notice that the ball may hook horribly from right to left when you first try it. This is a natural part of fixing a slice. In order to fix it, you have to start by hitting the exact opposite shape. Once you do, you can learn how to straighten your shot.

2. Correct Your Aim

Most people who hit a slice have an easy-to-correct issue: they aren’t aimed correctly. The majority of slicers have their club aimed at the target but their feet and body aimed well to the right. This creates the effect of feeling like they have to swing more to the left. This is going against where their body is aimed to the right. 

Opening your stance, which means to aim more to the left, will allow the club to travel more from the “inside” of your swing path on the downswing. This means that the club is closer to the your body before you hit the ball. 

3. Shallow Out Your Swing

Slicers often struggle with becoming too steep in their swing. This means that the club is traveling to the ground more like an axe and less like a croquet mallet. The steeper your swing, the more spin is added. This can exacerbate the effects of a slice. 

To shallow your swing and put less spin on the ball, you will want to feel like your club is closer to the ground as you start your swing. The more “depth” you can create on your backswing, getting the club further away from your body, the shallower your swing.

4. Learn How to Release the Club

Golf clubs are designed to follow the arc of a golf swing. If you were to hold a club waist high and swing it like a baseball bat, you would feel the need for your arms to “turn over”. In other words, your left arm would be on top as you swing back and your right arm would be on top as you swing past your body. 

Doing this drill allows you to feel how the club should travel through the ball. Most players who hit a slice are not allowing the club to “turn over” as it was designed. 

5. Do Away With Tension

It’s counterintuitive, but holding a golf club tightly is not productive. It actually hinders you from hitting the ball farther, and straighter. 

A good visual is to picture holding a small bird in your hands. You want to hold it firmly enough so that it won’t fly away, but you also don’t want to hurt it. You want to be able to feel the weight of the clubhead as it goes back and through. This is critical for allowing the club to release through the ball instead of holding the face of the club open and not allowing it to rotate. 

May 28, 2021

Spin Rate in Golf: How You Can Interpret Your Golf Ball’s Spin

When people say that golf is a game of control, they really mean that golf is a game of spin rate.

There are other data points that get much of the attention — carry yardage, ball speed and launch angle are three of the most highlighted, and we went over them in a broader analytics post you can find here — but an argument can be made that spin is the most underrated of all the variables in golf ball launch analytics. 

What Causes Spin?

Every golf ball has somewhere in the neighborhood of 300-500 dimples with most balls being in the high 300’s. The dimples are there to help lift the ball by forcing airflow downwards so the ball can be pushed upwards. This is a process that sends the ball spinning backwards after impact at thousands of revolutions per minute. 

The amount of spin in this process, which is called spin rate, is a major influencer of height and distance in a golf shot. With all other variables being equal, there are two primary factors that increase spin rate: 

  • More loft. A 7-iron would have more spin than a 5-iron, for example. A good analogy here is a tennis racket. If you wanted to hit a high-arcing shot where the tennis ball hits the court and stops, you would open the racket more towards the sky instead of pointing it perpendicular to the ground. The same principle is true in golf. The more the clubface is pointed up to you, the more spin you are likely going to apply. This is assuming all other factors in your swing stay the same. 
  • More clubhead speed. A stronger, faster player hitting a 9-iron will generally produce more spin than someone who hits the same 9-iron but swings slower. If you flipped a coin without much force, it may only go end-over-end a few times. With more energy, it can go end-over-end dozens of times. 

While more loft and clubhead speed create more spin, that’s not always a desired outcome because more spin makes a golf ball go shorter and stop faster. Adding spin could be useful in some situations and harmful in others. 

Understanding Spin Rate Numbers

So knowing this information, the obvious question to the spin rate equation is this: when you have just hit a golf shot and go to look at each data point, what does the spin rate number actually mean? 

Let’s start with a simple example. When the average PGA Tour player hits a driver, their spin rate is typically in the area of 2,700 RPMs. For a player who is a scratch handicap, their average is right around 2,900 RPMs. If you are a 10-handicap, you are probably around 3,200 RPMs. 

Of course the better players are swinging faster, but they are typically using less loft and stiffer shafts to produce a lower launch. They also have a shallower angle of attack into the ball and make contact higher on the clubface. All of that combines to make for less spin and longer carry distances. 

(Pro Tip: If you spray your driver with something that will create a film, like Dr. Shoal’s odor spray, you can see exactly where the ball is hitting the face. Anything low on the face will usually create a lot more spin because the ball rolls up the face during impact.)

During quarantine Bryson DeChambeau posted an Instagram video where he hit a ball 203 mph with a driver that had less than 6 degrees of loft, but the ridiculous speed caused the spin rate to go all the way up to 2,976 RPMs, which meant the ball went nowhere near its potential yardage. It was during this time that he was testing new drivers and trying to see if he could hit the ball that hard while still maintaining a low spin rate. 

“If spin rate was 2,000 (RPM’s), it would fly around 360 yards,” DeChambeau said in the caption.

Rory McIlroy was recently tested on a launch monitor and his spin rate came back at 2,297 RPMs. Being able to keep the spin that low while maintaining the other metrics is something players of his caliber are constantly checking. 

Key Takeaways

The lesson here? If you want the ball to go far, your spin has to get lower while your launch angle either stays the same or gets higher. A simple rule of thumb is that you want the highest launch possible with the lowest spin possible, trying to marry the two to keep them both happy. This is a bit of an oversimplification when you get deeper into the analytics game, but it’s a solid starting point. 

If you have a fast swing speed and your driver spin rate is something like 3,300 RPMs, it’s possible you are playing a driver with too much loft or you are using a shaft with too much flex. It can also mean a swing adjustment is necessary. One of the biggest adjustments is shallowing out your angle of attack into the ball and making contact higher on the clubface. This is where a PGA professional or trained club-fitter could be a valuable resource. 

Of course it’s possible to not have enough spin with a driver — a slower swing speed player hitting an extra-stiff shafted driver with 8 degrees of loft won’t have success because the ball would barely get airborne — but the average amateur golfer is guilty of too much spin off the tee. 

A recent study showed that the average golfer has a 3,275 RPMs driver spin rate with a 12.6 degree launch angle, when the optimal “robot in the lab” relationship is 2,300 RPMs of spin with a 14.7 degree launch angle. The difference is 30 yards lost off the tee. It goes to show you that most amateurs are launching the ball too low with too much spin. Getting to 2,300 RPMs of spin is a very low number and not possible for most. However, it’s reasonable to think most golfers could realistically take a few hundred RPMs off of their drives. 

It should be noted that abnormally higher spin rates with longer clubs also come with uncontrollable ball flights. For someone who hits a massive slice, it’s not uncommon to see their spin rate over 6,000 RPMs. This is a glaring sign of loss of distance and direction off the tee. 

This is key information when testing a driver as well. If you hit a ball with two different drivers and they both have the same launch angle but one has more spin, the one with less spin will typically go farther. It’s hard to overestimate the impact of equipment in this equation. A great swing with an ill-fitting club is not going to work very often. 

Spin Rate for Other Clubs

Moving down throughout the bag, here are PGA Tour spin rate averages for other clubs: 

  • 3-wood: 3,655 RPMs
  • 5-wood: 4,350 RPMs
  • Hybrid: 4,437 RPMs
  • 3-iron: 4,630 RPMs
  • 4-iron: 4,836 RPMs
  • 5-iron: 5,361 RPMs
  • 6-iron: 6,231 RPMs
  • 7-iron: 7,097 RPMs
  • 8-iron: 7,998 RPMs
  • 9-iron: 8,647 RPMs
  • Pitching Wedge: 9,304 RPMs

While these are professional averages, a normal player doesn’t generate the same speed. That means they would be likely aiming at spin rate ranges that are lower than a pro’s.

Unlike with the driver where amateurs have more spin than professionals, amateurs generate less spin with their irons than professionals. This is mainly because irons require more of a downward strike. For pros, a driver angle of attack is -1.3 degrees while a pitching wedge would be closer to -5 degrees. So the faster swing speed and increased loft combine with a more downward blow to create more spin. 

Of course, a pro wants their irons to stop as quickly as possible. That being the case, there is much less of an incentive to reduce spin. 

An Example of Iron Spin Rate

A pro swings their 6-iron around 92mph to get to 6,231 RPMs. Here are some ranges to keep in mind for more normal swing speeds: 

  • Swing speed between 84-91mph: 5,300-5,750 RPMs, launch angle of 15-17 degrees
  • Between 75-83mph: 5,000-5,500 RPMs, launch angle of 15-18 degrees
  • Between 65-75mph: 4,700-5,250 RPMs, launch angle of 16-19 degrees
  • Less than 65mph: 4,400-5,000 RPMs, launch angle of 16-19 degrees

This is just for a 6-iron, but looking at the PGA Tour averages and seeing what your swing speed is with each club, you will notice the typical amateur range is normally 300-1,200 RPMs or so below that, particularly for the highest lofted clubs. The more speed you are producing, the closer to the top of the range you would expect to be. 

Final Thoughts

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you are looking at spin rate is that outliers are cause for concern. If you see an 8-iron come off at 4,000 RPMs, that would be cause to look deeper at your equipment or technique. There isn’t one set spin rate to reach for every club. However, getting within a reasonable range given your swing speed and marrying it with the proper launch angle is vital.

We will have a more in-depth look at spin rates in the future. Hopefully this intro is a good foundation for understanding one of the most important metrics in golf ball launch analytics. 

February 2, 2021

Golf Ball Launch Analytics 101: Understanding the Basics

For the average golfer, looking at a set of data after making a golf swing can be intimidating. Some elements of golf ball analytics are straightforward, but understanding how each piece works together is key to knowing what adjustments you may have to make in your game. 

You might not think that ball data that you see on the PGA Tour is relevant to you, but it is certainly an advantage to utilize technology in the modern era and break it down to simple, usable information. Accurate data for variables like overall spin, spin direction, launch angle and carry distance can allow a golfer to reverse engineer a golf swing to get the desired result. No, you don’t want to compare yourself to elite tour players, but having a range of quantifiable data to compare to gives you a solid idea about what to work on during practice sessions. 

Ball Speed and Carry Distance

The most basic component of golf ball analytics is ball speed. Ball speed is the measurement of the golf ball’s velocity just after impact and is the main component in generating distance. Carry distance, a direct relative to ball speed, is the total distance of flight produced by initial launch. 

For example, a player using a driver who has a ball speed of 150 mph will produce a carry of between 254-275 yards assuming there are no external factors like wind. A player using a 7-iron with a ball speed of 120 mph will generate a carry of roughly 162 yards. 

Higher ball speeds and longer carry yardages can definitely be advantages, but consistency is more important. During practice, you should aspire to have your range of ball speed to be within 1-3 mph with each swing. This will allow a player to have a better feel for exactly how far they can carry each club.  

Launch Angle and Spin Rate

While carry distance is a direct effect of ball speed, not every shot with the same ball speed carries the same distance. There are a couple of reasons for that. 

Let’s say one player uses a 5-iron with a ball speed of 118 mph and carries their shot 170 yards, while a stronger player uses an 8-iron and has the same ball speed of 118 mph. His ball, however, will only travel about 155 yards. 

This is because of launch angle and spin. In general, a club with more loft (in this case, it is the 8-iron) produces a higher launch angle and more spin. Launch angle is the initial vertical angle of ascent relative to the ground plane measured in degrees. Spin is the amount of rotation around the tilt axis that creates curvature and lift. 

Marrying the proper launch angle and spin rate has a significant effect on how far a ball travels. A player who carries his driver about 270 yards will want his launch angle to be around 11 degrees and his spin rate to be about 2700 rpms, or revolutions per minute. If the spin rate is too high, the ball will not travel as far and will be more susceptible to going off line. 

However, another player who has a lower swing speed and only produces a ball speed of about 140 mph with their driver would want a higher launch angle, somewhere in the area of 14 degrees, with a spin rate fairly similar to the stronger player. The less powerful golfer wants a higher launch than more powerful players because too low of an angle creates unpredictability — a 7-iron with a launch angle of 12 degrees will likely carry short of the desired distance and will be more reliant on roll. 

When it comes to irons and wedges, being able to carry the ball a certain yardage and stop it within a few yards of where it landed is paramount. Having a predictable ball speed, launch angle and spin rate will give you a solid foundation for knowing 

The proper launch angle goes up as you increase loft, with the exception of fairway woods. Faster swing speed players will want their fairway woods to be launching around 8 or 9 degrees while slower swing speed players who have ball speeds around 130-140 mph will want to launch their fairway woods at 10-12 degrees. Note that both launch angles are lower than the ideal launch for a driver. However, all launch angles continue to get higher as the club gets shorter from that point forward. A pitching wedge, for example, is likely to be launched in the area of 21-24 degrees. The slower your club head speed, the higher part of the range you will find yourself. 

While you could hit one hundred 5-irons and not see a drastic difference in launch angle, wedges and short irons are more susceptible to big jumps. Picture a wedge approach where you catch a shot high on the face, or vice versa. There can be a wide variability of launch, and a big part of learning about advanced analytics down the road will be knowing how to control a wedge shot that pierces the wind at 18 degrees launch versus a high-lofting shot that launches somewhere around 35-40 degrees. It is also great practice to know how high a player launches a wedge with half, three-quarter and full swings. You will find there that slower, more controlled shots have less spin. 

When you are talking about your average pitching wedge approach — that can be upwards of 10,000 rpms — knowing your spin variability has a massive impact in how far the ball travels. 

Other Golf Ball Analytics Terms to Know 

A golf ball can spin in multiple directions: the direction of flight (top spin), against the direction of flight (back spin) or to either side of the direction of flight (side spin).

Side spin, or the component of total spin that defines ball curvature or shot shape, is a key ingredient in understanding how reliable certain shots are. For instance, if you hit a fade that starts 15 yards left of your target and finishes 10 yards right of your target, seeing your side spin metrics decrease will provide evidence that you are molding a more repeatable shot shape. 

Offline, which is the end position distance left or right measured from the target line, will also tell you everything you need to know about your side spin. 

Peak height, or the apex of the trajectory measured from the ground plane, is a direct relative of ball speed, launch angle and spin. The higher all three of these are, the higher the peak height. The average 6-iron will reach a height of about 76 feet. If you are consistently well above or below an ideal peak height, going back to see whether your launch angle and spin rates are within the proper range will be crucial. 

Examples of Using the Golf Ball Analytics You Have

Let’s say you want more distance and have tried several things to make your swing faster but have not seen any meaningful results. Seeing a spin rate well north of 3,000 rpms would allude to the fact you are creating too much back spin and side spin. The harder you try to swing, the more you are compounding the issue of adding too much spin, which shortens the length of shot and gives the ball more of an opportunity to go offline.

In this case, you may need to look at your equipment — especially your shaft — to see if this is a swing problem or an equipment issue. Consulting with a PGA professional is always advised in these situations. Or perhaps your angle of attack, the descending or ascending path of the club head measure in degrees, is too steep. This means your swing needs to be shallower coming into the ball to reduce spin.

On the other side, if you are struggling to get height on your irons, seeing a lower ball speed and lower spin rate will be proof as to why the ball does not carry as intended. Many times more solid contact with the ball will alleviate both of these concerns. Too many golfers spend time trying to find height by manipulating their hands or trying to lift the ball up. This is the exact opposite of what you should be attempting to do. Changing technique, such as moving more of your weight onto your leading side, putting the ball position further back in your stance and working on drills that prioritize hitting the ball first and turf second will yield more spin and a higher launch. 

The reality is that having golf ball analytics allows players to investigate exactly what type of changes are necessary. Every player — from a novice to a professional — can get significant use out of knowing what type of contact they are making with the ball. The evidence you receive will send you on your way to becoming a more consistent player who understands their game at a higher level. 

For more information, you can listen to The Club podcast with Alex Fortey to gain more information on how golf ball analytics can impact your game.

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