PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Tour Intelligence

What tour players are looking at when using a launch monitor on the range

On the practice range it's more during tournament weeks, it's more about informed decisions than refinement

One of the big misconceptions about technology on the PGA Tour is that players are constantly looking at the data on a Trackman or Foresight Sports launch monitor and making adjustments swing to swing, based on what they see.

A player like Justin Rose might have one of those devices running all the time when he’s on the practice range during a tournament week, but he’s using that information for reference and confirmation that what he’s feeling and seeing is reflected in the numbers. I just hit a 7-iron that came off exactly the way I wanted. Let me make sure that’s what is actually happening. It’s validation using ball data. As the coach, I’m looking at what the player is putting into the club. How the club being delivered. Those are two very different sets of data.

For the player, it’s about how far the ball is carrying, clubhead speed, trajectory and spin. I’m interested in that information, but that’s not necessarily my priority, especially early in a tournament week. I’m looking more at things like club path, swing direction, angle of attack and swing plane—the vertical angle of the swing arc relative to the ground. What’s the face-to-path relationship, and is it within our set tolerances? Every player has an acceptable range in different categories, and does that range change accordingly for the shots they’re trying to hit? Typically, the range will vary within a few degrees of the baseline for a stock shot.

Early in the week, I’ll look at something like the club-path value, but that number and all the others don’t exist in a vacuum. Not only is it difficult to change one delivery variable without changing others, but a value like club path also can be identical from one day to the next—and the player might be producing it with a different technique. The coach better have a deep understanding of cause and effect, prioritizing what work happens next (if any!) and how to communicate it productively. Otherwise, you’re just a cheerleader who thinks anecdotes are evidence!

When things are on point, the role of the launch monitor transitions much more into a performance tool versus a diagnostic one. For example, Rosie might play a game where he mirrors the approach shots he’s most likely going to face on the course. After a warm-up, he’ll go to hitting specific shapes of shot to specific distances. At that point, the launch monitor is really helping the player get into a performance state, which is very useful.

Take Augusta National, where there’s very little margin for error. The greens are undulating, and the targets are small. For those reasons, you’ve probably heard that it’s a second-shot course, but you have to drive it well so you can be in position to hit the shots those greens demand—where your trajectories, distances and shapes are very important. All of those factors matter, not just distance. You’re setting specific parameters about where the pin is, and the shape and trajectory have to be correct. This process prompts the player to be more external and creative instead of technical.

All of this is designed to help the player practice in a way that best replicates the decision-making, shot process and execution that will be required on the course. The information is augmenting and improving the player’s feel, not replacing or blunting it. It’s giving him confirmation that he’s doing what he wants to do, and it’s giving me under-the-hood metrics about how he’s doing it.