TrackMan combines golf with science

By Rex HoggardJanuary 9, 2013, 9:00 pm

A day before teeing off for the first round of last fall’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Charlie Wi plowed through a pile of range balls on the Walt Disney World Resort practice tee in search of answers. Something wasn’t right.

Although his swing felt “normal,” his ball flight was less than perfect, which explained the presence of an orange box looming a few paces behind Wi, instantly sending information to a nearby laptop and creating, at least for Wi and a growing number of similar-minded Tour types, a new reality – a new truth.

“The ball was over-drawing a little bit,” Wi said. “When I got on the TrackMan it showed me my swing plane was a little too far in and out so I needed to change the plane a little. Even without a teacher if you have a TrackMan you can kind of teach yourself.”

The famously meticulous Ben Hogan spent his career searching for golf’s secrets in the Texas turf, while the modern version has shifted his pursuit of perfection to a laptop and enough data to make an MIT graduate go cross-eyed.

TrackMan, a radar device developed by Denmark-based TrackMan A/S, was introduced on Tour about seven years ago initially as a way to pair players with the proper golf ball and club, but it has evolved into a swing panacea for many players and high-profile swing coaches.

Golf, meet data mining.

To be clear, TrackMan has nothing to do with swing theory or teaching methods, it is about facts. The litany of statistics the radar produces isn’t about preconceived notions of the classic swing, just hard undisputed data.

“TrackMan is the greatest teaching tool ever,” said Sean Foley, whose list of Tour players includes world No. 3 Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan. “If TrackMan is on when Tiger or Justin are hitting drivers you can see everything. It has been absolutely invaluable.”

TrackMan doesn’t teach the swing – although a growing number of coaches are now incorporating its technology into their lessons – just science.

Consider that the Tour’s ShotLink database now includes a collection of “radar” statistics, a dozen categories that range from the easily understandable “club head speed” to the more arcane “carry efficiency.” With this information coaches and players can easily, and unequivocally, quantify what is and is not working.

“There are a lot of numbers and there are some that are more meaningful than others in diagnosing what a player is doing with his swing, and then there are others that are used to fit a player with a certain driver or iron,” said Grant Waite, a former Tour winner turned swing coach.

For Waite, TrackMan is a constant litmus test that he uses to create a baseline for his players, a list that includes former Masters champion Mike Weir, and track incremental improvements.

“It’s quantifiable data. It gives an ability to say is he improving or is he not? I use TrackMan to measure improvement,” Waite said. “In video, two-dimensional observation, you really couldn’t see that.”

The practical application of TrackMan’s number crunching has quickly, if not somewhat quietly, spread on Tour. Although no small expense – the Tour version retails for over $20,000 – many players have added the device to their regular practice routines.

Charles Howell III, for example, purchased the device in 2012 to diagnose his swing and aid in distance control with his wedges and short irons.

“I first thought it was mainly used for launch and spin,” Howell said. “I learned pretty soon it gives you so much more than that. From angle of attack to launch angle to face alignment.”

Critics dismiss TrackMan’s use as a teaching aid, pointing out the disconnect between cause and effect when dissecting data independent of the swing, and suggest that there is such a thing as too much information.

But that logic means little to radar’s converts.

“If you’re an airline pilot you want to know every instrument on the airplane,” Wi said. “It’s how you utilize them really. You can’t be thinking launch angle when you’re playing, but you have to know how the swing operates so if you’re in trouble you know how to work your way out.”

For Foley the question is not the validity of the information – that, he says, is a question of simple science – so much as it is how the data is applied, or as he suggests the art of teaching.

“Probably eight out of 10 times I give too much information,” Foley admits with a self-deprecating laugh. “For me the key is to go into a lesson and see the numbers and find the simplest way to get the numbers to work. You have to be efficient and use the most minimal amount of information.”

That, however, has nothing to do with the validity of the information or its place in modern teaching. A notion that is backed up by the fact that more than 30 Tour players currently own their own TrackMan and there is often a line of the circuit’s best and brightest waiting to use the machine on Wednesdays at Tour stops.

By itself, the player that led the “carry efficiency” category in 2012 on Tour, hint he works with Foley and is not named Woods or Rose, means little. But combined with the other elements of instruction it is a telling number when success is measured in a fraction of a second.

“It’s not going to tell you what you need to do or what you need to fix, but it tells you if you need to shallow out the swing or maintain your spine angle,” Foley said. “If you’re not using it in 2013 you’re behind the eight ball. New drivers are made with science, not art.”

Hogan once reckoned, as only the Hawk could, that if you hit 1 million golf balls your 1,000,001st attempt would be better than your first. It seems that number, thanks to TrackMan, has been dramatically reduced.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry