Jeff Summitt Postulates That Humans Are Indeed More Worthy Than Machines
If you have recently visited a big box golf retailer, you may have noticed a designated indoor practice area where a customer can hit clubs into a net. In some cases a potential customer can have an employee accompany them and take some measurements using a device called a launch monitor. This is used to guide the employee to tell which club from the many the customer hit which might be best for him or her. Before you get excited and run out to one of these places, there are some things you should know first.
What is a Launch Monitor?
The Launch Monitor (LM) is frequently used in club fitting to provide accurate and unbiased data. It a device that measures typically three parameters: ball velocity, initial ball trajectory and ball’s spin rate.
- The ball velocity (or speed) coming off of the face of the club is measured in miles per hour (or meters per second) and not to be confused with clubhead speed that consumers might be more familiar with.
- Ball trajectory is the height at which the ball leaves the face of the club and is measured in degrees based on the angle relative to the horizontal (ground level).
- Ball spin rate is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). The most relevant is the back spin rate, but also measured (or calculated) is side spin rate which also has an influence on accuracy.
Many individuals need to be aware what the limits of a launch monitor are. It is merely a device to get empirical data – that’s it and nothing more magical than that. It will not tell you what club or shaft you need or tell you how to improve your swing to obtain most distance or accuracy. Only a qualified club fitter and PGA teaching professional respectively can do those things.
Are There Other Limitations?
Yes, there are a few. Realize that an individual is hitting into a net and only gets to see the ball flight for 15 maybe 20 feet at the most. In many cases the customer is so enamored by the data from the LM they don’t realize where they are hitting into the net. Often times the employee conducting the “fitting” (I’ll use that term loosely) is relying on the average numbers the LM calculates as they don’t know where the ball goes while hitting indoors into a net either. To save time, after all there may be several people lined up at once that wants to hit different clubs, the employee might only discuss with the customer the cumulative results of each club instead of a shot-by-shot dialog. Let’s see why this last statement is important.
The player hits one ball at 138 mph, 5° launch angle and spins at 1800 rpm and the next ball at 142 mph, 21° launch angle and spins at 5200 rpm. Well, the first one might have been a duck hook and the second a high pop up. But when the computer averages out the data this gives 140 mph, 13° launch angle and 3500 rpm spin rate. The employee might say those are great numbers based on a chart the LM came with and try to make a commission on the sale of the club.
Unfortunately this still may be only tell part of the story. The first ball may have been 40 yards left of the target and the next 40 yards right. Again when the computer average out the data the LM would say the ball went straight. In reality, neither of these two shots would have found your own fairway and quite possibly had resulted in 4 penalty strokes on a tight course. The direction of each ball is equally as important as the numbers it provides.
The LM will come with software to calculate not only the distance based upon the ball’s speed, trajectory and spin rates, but also show were the ball might had landed either right, left or straight of the target (and by how much). Just because a golf driver may provide more distance than another (based on calculated averages by the LM), doesn’t mean it is not the best choice if accuracy of each shot is not accounted for. Remember, a driver that may not have produced the so-called “optimal” numbers, but was able to find the fairway nearly 2/3rd of the time would serve a customer much better than a driver that found the fairway only 1/3rd of the time.
Using Your Eyes (The Old School Method)
The average golfer can save time and often money (as some stores charge for time on the LM). Just go out on the range and simply observe ball flight. After all, launch monitors are relatively new and people where able to make pretty accurate buying decisions beforehand. With the assistance of a local clubfitter, range attendant or teaching professional armed with a handful of different demo clubs, hit clubs side-by-side and make your evaluations. It will become obvious when the person hits a club when the ball gets airborne, goes further than others and most importantly goes relatively straight to where they were aiming.
Many times you can ask the facility you are hitting at if there is a certain demo club you can use to hit against your current club. In most cases they will be glad in hopes you will like that demo club better and end up generating a sale. Also look to find a “Demo Day” at your local facility as you will have an opportunity to hit a multitude of clubs. You and your buddies can do the same thing by exchanging each other’s clubs at the range. Often times people end up buying a club because they used someone else’s they hit well.
Important Hints: Take notes down as to what you hit well including not only a specific model of head or shaft, but any other identifying specifications such as loft, flex, etc. The more you know, the better you are at getting something equivalent. The greater number of clubs you have an opportunity to experience, the better informed shopper you can become in the future.
Rely on the Machine When Your Eyes Can No Longer Tell
For golfers with a very repeatable swing can use the launch monitor data with confidence. But we are talking primarily about lower handicapped golfer. Professional golfers and some top amateurs have the luxury of trying a seemingly endless combination of clubheads, shafts and balls to get every inch they can without changing their swing.
But for us mere mortals, one time when a LM can be helpful in fitting is if used outdoors in conjunction when you can also see ball flight. If you have two clubs that hit the ball what looks like the same distance and direction, the data from the LM might persuade you to buy one club over another.
Don’t get me wrong – technology is great! But in cases with individuals who have less than a repeatable swing (which is the vast majority of golfers) simply letting their eyes decide which club is best is all that is really needed. But if you do decide to see for yourself what your LM data is at one of these indoor facilities, don’t forget to ask the direction the balls went as well otherwise you might not be spending your hard earned money wisely.