Article on how these high-tech tools provides important swing data for the world's best players
When Tiger Woods has a question about his swing, coach Sean Foley doesn’t necessarily want to see the swing on video.
“I’d rather see the numbers,” Foley says. “They allow me to know I’m making a far more educated opinion.”
The “they” refers to the readings spit out by TrackMan, the portable gray and orange box that has been popping up more and more on driving ranges across the PGA TOUR in recent years.
“Tiger sees the numbers and it helps him understand certain things,” Foley continued. “It’s 2014; why would we continue to guess what we can measure?”
It’s a valid question. Enter TrackMan, the souped-up launch monitor that takes the guesswork out of the game by using radar technology to provide precision swing and ball flight analysis.
Formed just over a decade ago by Dr. Klaus Eldrup-Jorgensen, his brother Morten and Fredrik Tuxen, the Danish technology company manufactures and sells three-dimensional flight measurement equipment that is used in a number of sports.
Eldrup-Jorgensen, who played for the Danish National Team and has a background on the research side of the medical device world, was curious about how golf could be analyzed. Tuxen’s resume, meanwhile, includes being a leading radar engineer who designed a two-ton Doppler radar system that could track a Trident missile leaving the earth’s atmosphere.
Early versions of TrackMan were sold to a handful of major manufactures for $200,000 each and by 2006 the PGA TOUR was on board, too, using it to track ball flight and provide data on tee shots in its tournaments.
The popularity of the device that measures 26 different parameters -- everything from club and ball speed, to spin rate, to carry distance and so on -- has only continued to grow. There are more than 350 licensed facilities in the U.S., a number of college programs use it and more than 150 TOUR players own or have used the $25,000 machine.
“I think you try and confirm feel and real,” Woods said last year. “A lot of times in this game what we're feeling that we're doing is not exactly what we're doing. As you make swing changes, you make slight alterations, you start realizing what it does at impact, and what that can translate into in the performance of a golf ball.
“Is it transformational? I think it is if you understand how to do it.”
And for many it’s becoming a necessary tool.
As Luke Donald churned through various drivers in an early-week practice session at TPC Sawgrass during this year’s PLAYERS Championship, his coach Chuck Cook barked out a series of numbers that were showing up on his iPad via TrackMan.
“The game is very much based on technology now and you have to keep up with the curve,” says Donald, who purchased his own device earlier this year. “For example, if I’m hitting downward too much I don’t have to have Chuck around looking at me every day. I can show him the numbers and my swing and between that figure out what we have to do.”
On this particular day, Donald figured out that one driver he was testing was peeling off to the right too much. But with TrackMan he can also find things not discernible to the naked eye.
“Maybe I’m getting 2-3 more mph speed out of one of them, which gives you five or six more yards,” Donald says. “For me, that’s big.”
So too is the danger of getting caught in a numbers game, which is why some are cautious when using it.
“I do look at the path of my swing but try not to get caught up in (the numbers),” says Keegan Bradley. “That can get you a little sideways. You can become too number-oriented in this game and you have to separate yourself from it and leave it at home.”
Jordan Spieth does just that, letting his coach Cameron McCormick disseminate the data rather than choosing to purchase his own TrackMan.
“I look for too much and that’s not good for me,” said Spieth, a feel player who believes less is more. “But for some guys it’s really good to know all the details.”
As for those who argue that TrackMan has taken the feel out of the game and produced robotic swings, quite the opposite is true insists Foley.
There are only two fixed positions in the swing -- the setup and finish -- and the high-tech system has actually made things simpler.
“I want to be right in the middle between true science and Harvey Penick,” says Foley, who when he first got the device would bring it to the driving range at Orange County National to soak in the swings of amateurs. “But it has just helped me put a magnifying glass on what I’m trying to do. It helps you alleviate the doubt.”
And there’s little doubt about TrackMan’s place in today’s game.