Dr. Chris Blasy had just finished a round of golf with Ryan Skipton, Head Golf Professional at The Ford Plantation Golf Course. During the round, Dr. Blasy shot a personal best on the back nine and was understandably excited. Ryan, of course, couldn’t help himself.
“Dr. Blasy, you could have shot ten strokes lower today—if we fixed your drive,” Ryan teased.
After a little more good-natured ribbing, Ryan convinced Dr. Blasy to take one private lesson with him, betting Blasy that he could extend his average drive by twenty yards. But Ryan had an ace up his sleeve—the club’s new TrackMan training device.
Made in Denmark, TrackMan is a small, portable dual-radar technology that tracks the flight path of golf balls and golfers’ swing paths. If you’ve watched a televised PGA Tour event within the last few years, then you’ve probably seen a simplified version of this technology used to trace the flight paths of tee shots in real time.
“The TrackMan has two radars built in,” explains Ryan. “One radar tracks the golf ball from the moment of impact until it lands. And it gives you all kinds of information on what that golf ball did: how far it carried, how much it spun, how much it curved, how high it went the angle of decent. TrackMan reports everything you want to know about what that golf ball did while it was in the air.
“The second radar picks up the path that your golf club travels and tells you exactly what’s going on at the point of impact,” Ryan continues, “including the angle of the club face, which is extremely important. People always want to know why they’re not hitting the ball straight; face angle at impact is the number one thing.”
For his private lesson with Dr. Blasy, Ryan set up the TrackMan on the driving range and had him hit a few golf balls. The TrackMan instantly provided Ryan with a wealth of data.
“Dr. Blasy was swinging almost a hundred miles an hour,” says Ryan. “The spin on his golf ball was very high, almost 4,000 revolutions per minute. The ball was curving 67 feet from left to right, and his attack angle all was -2.8. He was hitting so far down on the golf ball that his club was swinging ten degrees to the left, which was causing the golf ball to go left and then curve hard to the right with a lot of spin. He was carrying the ball 230 yards down range with a final distance of 247 yards. His smash factor was 1.49 out of 1.5 so we knew he was getting maximum speed out of the golf ball. All in all, it was a pretty good hit, but I knew he could hit it a lot further and a lot straighter.”
Based on the data, Ryan had Blasy make a few small adjustments, mainly to his setup. “So we changed his attack angle from -3 to +0.5, and when he swung more up on it, his path went from -10 to -6. The ball spin went from 3,900 RPM down to 2,600 RPM, the clubhead speed went up 9 MPH, and the ball carried 270 yards for a total distance of 293 yards. I promised him he’d pick up 20 yards; he picked up almost 50!,” Ryan added.
With results like these, it should come as no surprise that the TrackMan (or a similar device) is used by every top golfer in the world. Dustin Johnson, for example, was known as one of the longest hitters on tour. Despite being great off the tee, Johnson didn’t have a very good wedge game. He purchased his own TrackMan and every day before he went out and played a round, he hooked up the TrackMan and practiced his wedge shots. He wanted to know exactly how far his shots were going with each of his wedges. Aided with immediate feedback from the TrackMan, Johnson was better able to fine-tune his wedge game, eventually becoming the number one player in the world.
More than just a teaching tool
Technologies like the ones used by the TrackMan have resulted in a paradigm shift in the way golf instructors teach; however, the benefits are not limited only to golf instruction.
“If someone comes into the Pro Shop tomorrow and says, ‘Hey I want to buy a new driver,’ I’m not going to sell a driver off the shelf,” says Ryan. “I want someone to be properly fit, and the only way to get properly fit is to actually see how far the ball is going and what the ball is doing in the air. Then we can make adjustments as most of today’s clubs are adjustable allowing us to maximize performance instantly. For instance, now with the TrackMan, you can tweak the loft of the club, you can change shafts and compare different models and manufacturers making it easier than ever to find the club that fits a person the best.”
The TrackMan also includes a simulator containing nearly a dozen virtual golf courses. Imagine playing a virtual round of golf at The Old Course at Saint Andrews in Scotland.
Finally, the TrackMan features software that can add virtual elements to real-life golf events. The Ford Plantation utilized this technology recently during the Member-Guest Tournament. The TrackMan was set up on the driving range, and everyone who played in the tournament was asked to hit just one drive. The TrackMan software created a virtual longest-drive competition, comparing the drives of the 96 people who played in the tournament.
“At the end of the day, each player got an email from TrackMan that showed where they placed in the longest-drive contest,” says Ryan. “The email also contained a video of each person’s swing, which compared their swing to the swings of some PGA Tour pros I hand-selected: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, and Cameron Champ. As a result, tournament participants could compare their numbers and their data to some of the best players in the world.”
The Drive for Excellence
With a starting price of $25,000, a TrackMan is no small investment. So when asked why it was important for The Ford Plantation Golf Course to invest in this technology, Ryan responds without hesitation.
“Golf has become very much a numbers game. Back in the day, when you got a lesson from a golf professional, he was watching you with the naked eye and making assumptions. These days they’re actually putting data to your swing, data to the golf ball, and they’re teaching that way. Technologies like the TrackMan are the new standard of excellence in this sport, so investing in something like this is part of how we fulfill our commitment to excellence as a club.”