Simple guesswork in professional golf ended decades ago, replaced by increasingly sophisticated yardage books and slope charts that the 120 players competing in this week's Memorial Tournament will use to their advantage.
As technology has advanced, however, data is providing a clearer path to perfection. TrackMan is a practice device that uses radar to measure and record multiple statistics, including how far a golf ball travels, spin rate and the launch angle at the moment of clubhead impact. It also provides putting feedback to validate "feel triggers."
The TrackMan company has been around since the late 1990s, but not until the past five years did the monitors become a must-have among the majority of PGA Tour players.
Klaus Eldrup-Jorgensen, who co-founded the Danish company with his brother and another partner, created the business knowing that professional golfers go gaga over gadgets and are open to buying anything that lowers their score.
Tour veteran Ian Poulter, who about 10 years ago was one of the first to purchase a TrackMan, used an auto racing analogy to explain his decision to buy the expensive product, which costs $25,000 for the outdoor model.
"If you're a racing driver, if your business is your livelihood, is your life, why wouldn't you go back in and speak to the team about how you can try to improve?" he said. "I feel this level of technology needs to be used."
Players say TrackMan, and a competing photographic device called GCQuad (produced by Foresight Sports), is here to stay. In other words, not a gimmick.
"Distance control is one of the most important factors with these players, and (TrackMan) will tell you distance as well as if the ball goes 4 meters right or left," Eldrup-Jorgensen said. "How high is the shot? How much spin rate? You get all that."
And sometimes too much of it. Players can become overwhelmed by so much data, which is why most focus on three to five TrackMan metrics.
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Swing coach Sean Foley, who counts Justin Rose among his clients, cautioned not to let the volume of numbers deter from the main point, which is that TrackMan allows players to "see" their swing.
"A surgeon doesn't get paralysis by analysis by seeing X-rays. It actually gives him a clear understanding of where he needs to cut," Foley said. But he added that anything can be a gift and a curse, which is why players and coaches discuss how much information is too much.
"I have players who know all their numbers and ones where I know their numbers and they don't," Foley said. "They don't need to know. Some players need to be smarter and some don't need to be smarter at all."
Graeme McDowell credits TrackMan with helping young players arrive on tour with honed swings that produce 300-plus-yard drives.
"No one told me when I was 15 years old I had to launch it 12 degrees and spin it 25 RPMs to get the most efficient carry," McDowell said. "I just got a driver and ball and went and played. Nowadays, these kids are getting dialed in with their data."
Swing monitors do have limitations. Brian Harman does not trust his TrackMan completely.
"I can't reproduce adrenaline on the range, so I just use TrackMan as a baseline," he said.
Where the monitor is most effective is in confirming proper "feels." When a player hits a perfect shot, he checks his TrackMan numbers, then tries to duplicate the feel again and again.
This article is written by Rob Oller from The Columbus Dispatch and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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