Having been a golf teacher for 30 years it is amazing how much my teaching information has evolved. Looking back, especially at my less than stellar college career, my information was not only bad, but subversive to my improvement.
Early on in my career – in the early 80s – I thought hooking was a result of coming “over the top” of the shot (still a common misconception), only to swing more to the right on the next one. Talk about putting water on a grease fire!
I read in Jack Nicklaus’ book Golf My Way that when I wanted to hook the ball back to the hole, I should aim my clubface at the hole and swing in the direction I wanted the ball to start. It wasn’t working for me and I wondered why my ball would always end up way left of the hole.
In 1988 after reading the book, In Search for the Perfect Swing, I finally understood that the clubface had significantly more to do with the ball starting direction than the path. It was at that time that I knew I needed something to measure what the club was doing at impact.
I bought a Golftek swing analyzer in 1989 which did a decent job of measuring path, face and impact point. My teaching took a big leap forward and has centered on impact alignments ever since.
I then bought a Vector Launch Monitor in 2001 and used it along with the Golftek.
In 2006 at the Merchandise Show someone told me about this really cool ball flight monitor named Trackman. Well I went to the booth looking for a ball flight monitor and discovered the best teaching tool ever!
I finally had a precise measuring device that would measure club delivery. It was then that I was re-introduced to the D-Plane. I read the book The Physics of Golf in 1995 and thought that the D-Plane was the same ball flight model that I was currently teaching, but it was not.
I told Fredrik of Trackman that he had way more than a launch monitor. I saved up and bought one in 2007. I have used it on every lesson since. Here is the process I go through when teaching with Trackman:
I ask the player what ball flight they have been experiencing; I also ask them what their misses have been.
I observe them hitting at least a half dozen 6 irons and Drivers to a specific target without comment. I look at the following impact alignments.
Angle of attack: The upward or downward movement of the club at impact
Downswing plane direction: The baseline in relation to the target line of a plane created by the arc of the sweetspot on the downswing. Pre and Post impact.
Path: The direction of the movement of the club in relation to the target at impact.
Face angle: The direction that the face is pointing at impact
Impact Point: The location on the face where the ball impacts.
From there I ask them what shape shot are they trying to hit. Sometimes it is painfully obvious that there is no way that the shot they want to hit is geometrically possible based on their numbers. For instance, how can someone hit a small draw if their path is constantly left? Or how can someone stop hooking it when their impact point is way out on the toe for their woods?
The combination of the downswing plane direction and the angle of attack are what determines the actual path at impact. I determine if these are helping or hurting the desired ball flight.
For instance if a golfer wants to draw the ball with an iron and has a downswing plane direction of zero and an angle of attack of zero, we would find a way to hit down on the ball to change the path more to the right.
But if the angle of attack is sufficiently down and we still have a path that is to the left then we must adjust the direction of the plane to create the desired path. I start with path adjustments first except with a slicer. I will start the slicer with a face adjustment first and then they can change the path second.
It is vitally important that the student’s swings can produce the desired shot shape. If you are on the other side of what you want (i.e. want to draw the ball with an “out to in” path) then you are in golf hell!
Next I will decide what swing mechanics of a person’s swing I need to change enough to be able produce the impact numbers we are looking for for each of the 5 impact alignments.
Everything we do in teaching should be to measure, adjust, and verify one or all of these 5 impact alignments.
What is really interesting is that none of the 5 impact alignments can be precisely measured with a video camera. We can determine what swing shapes to change to adjust the impact alignments with a video camera. So, the Trackman is the ultimate feedback tool to accurately measure and verify the impact geometry.
The final small adjustments to a golfer’s impact alignments are feel related. Trackman validates that feel.
Inside the Numbers
I have used Trackman on every lesson for 5 years. It has not complicated my teaching, only verifying what I am doing. Here is the 7 iron data on a sample student that has a 6 handicap. He hit down on his irons and up on his woods and fought a sweeping hook. Also the big hooks carried way further than his straighter shots which put him in some bad positions. He displayed a common trait among hookers. After hitting a hook he would even swing more to the right. Only to create bigger hooks or big blocks to the right.
This is his 7 iron swing before any instruction. The first thing I am going to ask the golfer is what type of shot would he like to hit. He wanted to hit a pretty straight ball flight with maybe a slight draw. So obviosly this impact geometry would not acomplish his goals. His plane direction (i.e. swing direction) was 4 degrees to the right. So his swing on video showed his clubhead swinging out way to the right. His angle of attack also was a little shallow. This shot started 2.5 degrees to the right of the target (about 20 feet) and curved left to 51 feet left of the target. A 71 foot curve! To get the path less to the right we reduced his pelvis slide on the downswing toward the target and increased his turn velocity throught the ball. I also put a restrictor noodle on the shaft plane past impact so he would have to feel that he is swinging left. This should also help him hit down on it better. He was prone to slightly thin shots.
Below is the result of our changes. He is still not up to full speed and impact point issues are still not perfect. As you can see his angle of attack is more in line at 4.1 degrees. His path is now only 1 degree to the right instead of 6. This shot started about 12 feet right of the hole and stayed right there. The big pushes and sweeping hooks are gone.
Here are the driver numbers with the same golfer before instruction. His downswing plane direction was way to the right but the upward angle of attack actually reduced the amount of inside out path. His club face at impact was close to square but when the path is this far to the right, it results in a pretty big hook. He was also prone to drop kicks with his driver and 3 wood, which is not uncommon with this plane direction. This ball started 15 feet to the right of the target and finished 86 feet left. A 101 foot curve! His block shots were equally poor.
We did some on the same changes as with the iron swing. He hit the below shot slightly on the toe so this ball should have faded slightly. We would like his future path to be about 1 or 2 degrees to the right. His spin rate went up slightly so the landing angle also is a little steeper. . The ball carried the same distance but he lost a little roll and overall distance versus the duck hook. A good trade off for me.
Teaching with Trackman has showed me that every shot is a different impact occurrence. It is our job to change a golfers swing to improve their 4 impact alignments (path, face, clubhead speed, and impact point) to create a shot pattern that they want and are able to repeat. I always say “Never guess what you can Measure”. I hope you feel that way too!