The golf industry has recently made a few exciting technical breakthroughs supporting the value of proper driver fitting and optimization of your long ball game with launch monitor feedback.
Launch monitor feedback tells us how the ball leaves the driver face (how fast, what angle, and how much spin). This additional information is valuable to determining whether the club is right for you and worth your time for final testing on the course. Buying a driver based on looks and shaft stiffness and a little bit of luck rarely delivers the performance you seek. Buying a driver with launch monitor feedback and club-fitter input takes a lot of guesswork out of the process and offers a clearer path to a more enjoyable golf game.
Most fitting and launch monitor locations have a reference table of ‘optimal’ launch conditions for a given ball speed posted somewhere. Did you know that most of these tables are guidelines to maximizing carry results instead of total distance (or carry + roll) ? The details of how much improvement can be expected from current launch conditions are often vague.
Two recent technical developments help golfers get more value of launch monitor data.
1) Advanced ball flight tracking technology has confirmed the importance of landing angle at the end of a ball flight to maximize total distance. This factor has relatively been an unknown and difficult measure. Thanks to Dopplar Radar tracking launch monitor systems, this information can be captured and some general results are being released. The Golf Digest December 2006 issue featured a technical report illustrating the difference between landing the ball too steep and landing it right to yield a 17 yard difference at a tournament.
2) An interactive ball-flight software program called OptimalFlight makes sense of launch monitor data with multi-ball flight analysis. It offers an easy-to-understand graphical summary of how to optimizing carry or total distance with supporting landing angle analysis. It has a bonus feature of telling you how much of an improvement can be achieved over current launch conditions.
The rest of this report uses OptimalFlight output to illustrate a number of observations (in quotes) from Mike Stachura’s article, “Angle of Descent – The 17-yard secret”, in Golf Digest December 2006.
“The key to bounce and roll is the elusive concept of angle of descent, or landing angle.” This discovery was made possible with Doppler Radar-based launch monitors tracking the entire ball flight. Maximizing distance depends on achieving an “angle of descent down to where you get enough roll to offset any minor loss in carry distance”.
OptimalFlight was used to illustrate results for a 150 ball speed golfer who launches a golf ball at 14* launch angle with different amounts of spin.
1. Ball Flight A has too little spin and causes the ball to have a flatter ball flight and low landing angle (30.9 degrees). As a result, this flight spends less time in the air.
2. Ball Flight D has too much spin and causes the ball to land steeply (47.3 degrees).
3. Ball Flight B is the optimal result for carry and lands at 40.4 degrees.
4. Ball Flight C produces the longest total distance drive of 276.6 yards (251.3+25.3). It has a slightly lower spin than the ideal carry flight to create a landing angle of 37.1 degrees to maximize roll-out.
“Paul Wood, a research project engineer at Ping Golf, says ideal range of angle of descent should be between 35-42 degrees and notes that Bubba Watson achieves a landing angle of 40 degrees.” The ideal range for angle of descent is still being researched and has not reached general consensus among golf experts. For example, Fredrik Tuxen, the inventor of TrackMan, says it should be 40 degrees or less.
In a no wind situation, OptimalFlight says Bubba Watson’s drive actually has a little steeper landing angle than the ideal 35-42 degree range. This result is not surprising because of how much harder and higher the ball is being hit. Players capable of generating high ball speeds, high launch, and low spin conditions gain some benefit from a slight bit of wind to achieve favorable landing angles. This effect is illustrated with 5 and 10 mph of tailwind.
“Golf Digest’s latest research shows that the perfect marriage of launch angle and spin will lead to an ideal angle of descent and greater total distance.” Other factors to consider in this ‘marriage’ are the course conditions (wind, turf) and how it can affect the angle of descent and roll-out.
The following Optimal Distance Profiles for Bubba Watson shows initial launch conditions for Ball Flight A (highlighted by triangle shaped markers) with no wind produces optimal Carry + Roll peak for backspin. The landing angle versus Carry + Roll distance also shows maximum distance occurs with a 43.1* landing angle (see blue circled dot in 2nd graph below). This angle of descent result is slightly outside the ideal range of 35-42 degrees and is an acceptable result when playing with the benefit of a tailwind because of how it helps lower the landing angle at impact. It would not be a surprise to see a player have two drivers in the bag to make the most of a number of tailwind and headwind situations on a windy day.
A few bar graphs in the Angle of Descent article tries to point out the difference in launch conditions and results due to shaft stiffness (regular and stiff). Data was gathered by a Golf Laboratories swing robot data at a swing speed of 105 mph and a 11.7 degree launch angle. Assuming a swing speed to ball speed energy transfer ratio of 1.47, it translates into a 154 mph ball speed.
The reduction in spin caused by a stiffer shaft contributes to a lower ball flight path and landing angle. OptimalFlight’s ball flight picture makes it easier to visualize what’s happening. Ball Flight A (regular flex shaft, high spin) has a higher apex and lands steeper than Ball Flight B (stiff flex shaft, lower spin). Ball Flight B produces near optimal total distance results (near peak of the Max ROLL Zone).
The following Carry + Roll graphs clearly illustrates how the two ball flights perform with regard to optimal distance. Ball Flight A is outside of the Max ROLL zone. Ball Flight B achieves a near peak performance of landing angle at 35 degrees.
The landing angle profile for Carry + Roll distance is at a peak around 35 degrees instead of at 37, 40, or 43 degrees as shown earlier. OptimalFlight recognizes that there exists a unique landing angle profile for a given ball speed, launch angle, wind, and altitude. The optimal landing angle range for a long drive professional (190-210 mph ball speed) will be uniquely different for a 150 mph ball speed golfer.
OptimalFlight feedback makes it easy to see what’s happening with launch monitor data and how a ball flight can be further optimized. Golfers and club-fitters can use this tool to build a personal database of launch monitor results to further study and understand equipment differences that can make a difference in their golf game (ex: same head, 4 different balls or shafts).
<< Stay tuned for more notes and examples >>