My excitement is building as I am about to take ownership of TrackMan – the #1 swing and ball flight analysis technology in the game of golf today. TrackMan radar is used by the PGA Tour, USGA, R&A, and many Tour Professionals to analyze ball flight, collect data, and improve at a higher rate than ever before. So when I made the choice to make a substantial investment in TrackMan for my students, I knew I was getting the best in the business. What I also found out was that I was about to embark on a learning journey that has only just begun. So this post is the first of what will certainly be many about things that I have and am learning about the ball/club relationship and how it effects your game.
One of the simplest and most important things that I have had reinforced to me was the importance of center contact. I always knew that hitting the ball more solid (center) would make it fly further and give the player a chance to maximize distance. However, what I have learned in achieving my TrackMan Certified Professional status is that center contact is just as critical to direction as it is to distance, especially with the driver.
First, understand that drivers are all made with bulge and roll – the rounded shape of the face of the club from top to bottom and across the face. This is meant to serve as a “security net” for players that don’t hit the ball in the center of the face, as it will activate the gear effect. Gear effect is essentially the twisting of the club face that happens when the club collides with the ball, thus tilting the spin axis of the ball and making it curve back toward the target. Next time you watch a little golf on TV, notice how a right handed player will appear, using slow motion video, to hit the ball on the toe of the club, causing the club to look open (pointed to the right of the target) – yet the ball will curve right to left and often end up left of their intended target. That is gear effect at work. The farther from the center of the face you hit it, the more it will curve.
Based on TrackMan research, it is very clear that center impact is the key to distance with the driver, even by sacrificing a little club head speed. When a ball is struck in the center of the club it has (all things being equal) a better chance of maximizing distance for that player; as soon as a ball is struck away from the center the player not only sacrifices distance, but direction can also suffer. It’s a simple but very critical piece of information that can’t be overlooked. How often do you see players (maybe you too) try to hit the ball further by swinging harder? That is essentially “fool’s gold” as you will most likely miss the center of the face, taking away the distance you would have gained. If you watch PGA Tour players you will notice that when they need to hit one really straight, they seem to relax and let go, knowing that by swinging more in control they will have a better chance of hitting the center, and a little extra distance may be a bonus. When they need to really hit one? They stay in control building speed gradually like pressing a gas pedal on a car smoothly, still hitting it in the center with a few extra miles per hour of club head speed (every 1 mph of club head speed can lead to approx. 2 more yards). Tiger’s win at Torrey Pines today was a perfect example of that – down the stretch he focused on swing speed control to maximize contact and control direction. He didn’t risk swinging all out because he knew he needed the ball in play and at his swing speed, an off-center hit can result in a huge miss off the target line.
So to practice this feeling of striking it in the center here is an idea: slow down just a little. Not much, because you still need a bit of club head speed to hit it as far as you want, but practice with different swing speeds and a good launch monitor (TrackMan) to see how it changes your distance. Focus on set up fundamentals and make sure you don’t get sloppy with them as you experiment. A great way to see if you are hitting it in the center of the club face is to use Dr. Scholl’s foot spray and cover the face; I learned this from TrackMan Master Instructor Andrew Rice, and it works very well without providing any interference and reducing friction with the club face. Get that ball mark in the center, just above the equator of the face for maximum distance and direction (assuming good swing fundamentals).
If you struggle with a center strike, or the ball still is not flying where you want it to go, get with a good instructor who has access to technology like TrackMan to help you put the swing and contact together to maximize your game. Chances are that you can take what you have and find a way with the instructor’s help to get the most distance out of your body and swing. Then the game gets really fun.