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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Watch: Rose one-arms approach, makes birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 7:25 pm

Justin Rose appears to have taken a course in Hideki Matsuyama-ing.

Already 3 under on his round through five thanks to a birdie-birdie-birdie start, Rose played this approach from 143 yards at the par-4 sixth.

That one-armed approach set up a 6-foot birdie putt he rolled in to move to 4 under on his round and 14 under for the week, five clear of the field.

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McIlroy battles back into tie for BMW PGA lead

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 4:09 pm

Rory McIlroy got off to a rocky start on Saturday in the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, including hitting a spectator and making a double bogey. But after that incident on the sixth hole, he didn't drop another shot, birdieing the final hole to shoot a 1-under 71 and tie for the lead.

McIlroy had gone into Moving Day with a three-shot lead, but Francesco Molinari had the round of the day, a 6-under 66. "It was nice keep a clean scorecard," said Molinari, who hasn't made a bogey since the 10th hole on Friday.


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


McIlroy and Molinari will be paired in Sunday's final round. They are tied at 13 under par, four shots clear of Ross Fisher, Branden Grace, Sam Horsfield and Alexander Noren.

The Wentworth course ends with back-to-back par-5s, and McIlroy birdied both of them. He got a break on the 18th hole as his drive hit a spectator and bounced into light rough.

"It was a struggle out there today," McIlroy said. "I think when you're working on a few things in your swing and the wind is up and you're stuck between trying to play different shots, but also try to play - you know, make good swings at it, I just hit some loose tee balls on the first few holes. But I'm proud of myself. I stayed patient. I actually - I'm feeling a bit better about myself after today than I was even walking off the course yesterday."

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Watch: McIlroy hits spectator on hand

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 2:58 pm

We never cease to wonder at how close fans crowd in to the intended line of some shots, and just how skilled Tour players are in not hitting someone.

But every once in a while, golf ball and spectator intersect, with painful results. It happened to Rory McIlroy during the third round of the BMW PGA Championship, after he had hit a wayward drive on the sixth hole. Attempting to hack out his second shot from under a bush, McIlroy struck a female spectator on her right hand. There was no official word on her condition, but she was clearly - and understandably - in pain.

McIlroy went on to make double bogey but was able to put the incident behind him, as he promptly birdied the next hole.

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Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.