Bomb & GougeOctober 19, 2009

Editor's Essay: The launch monitor doesn't lie

MESQUITE, Nev. -- After 30 years of playing golf, there are certain things you think you know about your game. Your average ball flight, your typical mis-hit and, obviously, how far you hit the ball. But mere minutes on a high-tech launch monitor, such as the Trackman we've brought with us to the CasaBlanca Resort in Mesquite, Nev., for the 2010 Golf Digest Hot List summit, will shatter those illusions. Because really, odds are you have no clue.

Once we had bid farewell to our brainiac friends on the Hot List technical panel Monday afternoon, the Hot List editors resumed the extensive launch-monitor testing that is a big part of our annual analysis of all the new clubs in golf. This afternoon, we recorded 6-iron launch data for every iron that made the five-day truck ride to the desert. The launch monitor measured ball speed, smash factor, vertical launch angle, spin rate, landing angle and distance on every shot, and the information we gleaned will help us in our evaluations come deliberation time. But the time spent with Trackman also reminded us how crucial getting fitted on a launch monitor is when buying new clubs; and that goes for irons as well as drivers.

With today's advances in golf-club technology, there is a great difference in how clubs perform, from brand to brand and from model to model. Add that to the myriad shaft options available to players of all levels, and anyone could tell you that buying clubs off the rack without a proper fitting is just plain silly. But the majority of golfers still do buy off the rack, wasting hard-earned money on equipment that might work a little better than their old stuff but not nearly as well as a set fitted to their specific swing and build.

Then there are players like me, who think they know everything about their swing and ideal club specs just because they've spent some time in the past hitting drivers on a launch monitor. It turns out we are just as clueless. Because the numbers that showed up on Trackman when I hit those 6-irons today didn't at all jibe with my perceived reality. I hit my irons almost 10 yards shorter than I thought, and even though I swing faster than the average woman, I still need all the launch I can get. And the difference in results between a player's iron, a game-improvement iron and a super-game-improvement iron for a player of any level, but especially for a slower swinger like me (at 90 mph ball speed with a 6-iron, I fall on the slow end of the men's scale) is substantial. My ball speed on the SGI irons was on average almost 10 mph faster than it was on the smaller clubs.

Your eyes lie. Your hands lie. Your ears lie. But the launch monitor tells you the truth. Don't buy another club without it.

-- Stina Sternberg