Golf World

Tool Time

Continued (page 2 of 2)

By figuring out what the ball is doing in reaction to the swing, any instructor versed in TrackMan no longer focuses on how a swing looks. Instead, the task is often about making minor adjustments to setup or ball position to maximize impact. Pat Perez recently chalked up his strong West Coast Swing to this approach imparted by instructor Joe Mayo. And the modern poster child for TrackMan confirmation may be Jordan Spieth and his fundamentally unsound-looking swing that serves up beautiful TrackMan numbers.

"No one cares anymore how a swing looks," says Alex Galvan, who runs a TrackMan Training Center in Los Angeles where golfers can rent time on the machine or receive instruction from a certified instructor.

Woods is almost ready to declare the device transformational for all golfers, with a caveat.

"Is it transformational? I think it is if you understand how to do it," Woods says. "But also not to get embedded in it where you start losing your feel and your touch. Seeing the ball the right number, the right shape, and controlling the right traj[ectory] and all the other things. You can't just get locked into just hitting for the numbers. You have to still go out and play off uneven lies, deal with wind, deal with adrenaline and a lot of different components."

Even though Justin Rose was emailing his numbers on the eve of majors, he says he doesn't "get too caught up in TrackMan, but it's nice to know that there's more than one way to square a clubface, and there's more than one way to change your path and your plane."

Other "feel players" are buying and traveling with TrackMan to make practice more fun while confirming what they are feeling. This is done through the TrackMan software's combine, where players can structure their own test or use already-scripted exams to test themselves on the range.

"You can make your own tests; you can judge yourself and get instant feedback," says the self-taught J.B. Holmes, who purchased a TrackMan only to improve his practice. "So for a feel player, it's really good to get that instant feedback. As a guy who is competitive it's really nice to play and have a little competition with yourself. And their website has scores posted so you can see where you rank for the week, month or year. It's just something else that makes it a little less boring than hitting balls all day."

Geoff Ogilvy, on the fence about buying the device, is intrigued by its ability to make practice more efficient. "It makes you accountable for your practice session," he says.

francisco molinari

Francesco Molinari utilized a TrackMan on the practice range at this year's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Photo: J.D. Cuban's peer community has given the combine an added element of practice-session intensity that Foley believes will only make players stronger.

"I've watched some of my students leading NCAA tournaments choke," says Foley, "and I've seen them choke the same way on the range in the combine."

The combine can be a precursor for great play. Recently, Jason Gore posted the eighth-best combine score of all time and five days later qualified for this year's Northern Trust Open. And as the device is accessible to more players, Foley sees a day when juniors are reared on TrackMan and taught how to make adjustments based on the feedback.

"If I took a kid who is a really great player, really skilled, 12 years of age and I taught him everything about TrackMan, until he was 15, he'd never need a coach," Foley contends. "If I said, 'Look, this is how you move it to the right, this is how you move it to the left. If it gets too steep, this is how you get it out of the ground, this is how you can hit farther, this is how you can hit it lower,' then he would just be able to find it in the dirt the way Ben Hogan did. And all the learning experts are saying that's where true learning is done. From just doing it. Trial and error. TrackMan tears down method-and-model instruction."

College golf coaches increasingly lean on TrackMan to help players make swing adjustments or to enhance practices. In Stanford's case, a recent effort was made to improve par-3 distance proximity after studying the huge scoring impact one-shotters had on the team's play compared to par 4s. Men's coach Conrad Ray, whose program received a grant to buy one of the first TrackMans and has since updated to the current version, says both the men's and women's programs use the device daily.

"At first glance it appears too technical," Ray says, "but you quickly learn it's the opposite. Understanding the relationship between attack angle and face path leads to efficiently delivering the club at impact."

As much as he loves it, Ray is not requiring recruits to submit TrackMan numbers or combine scores because he is cognizant of the cost and access factor. However, recruits are free to share TrackMan information, and Ray anticipates more college coaches leaning on the data in a variety of ways.

Of college programs with just four and a half scholarships to give out, Foley puts it bluntly: "It's just another way to check. They're putting money into this kid."

Although Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee is one of TrackMan's biggest naysayers -- "Not one tour pro needs a machine to tell him how to hit a fade or draw," he says -- colleague Frank Nobilo envisions a radical change akin to other sports where players make adjustments to their game based on data, all to suit, say, a particular course where firm ground might dictate different ball flights.

"Guys are worried about the angle at which the iron shots are coming down because if you're setting up for Augusta or setting up for an Open Championship you can pretty much tailormake your game before going to that venue," Nobilo says. "ShotLink gives you stats on greens missed and all that, and you put that together with the technology of a TrackMan, and they've got that whole thing sorted out. It's like Moneyball."

Only unlike baseball's stat-driven Moneyball, TrackMan has the power to tangibly change how well a player strikes the ball. Just ask 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.

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