Other than weather and ground conditions, the distance traveled by a golf ball is determined by three key parameters, namely initial ball velocity as it leaves the clubface, the launch angle in relation to the ground and the initial ball spin rate. These are collectively known as a player’s launch conditions.
A launch monitor is a tool capable of measuring these three parameters. The cheaper camera or laser-based launch monitors then use this information to predict the ball flight on a computer screen. This has limitations.
At Precision Golf Clubs we use a top-of-the-range ball flight monitor called FlightScope which, instead of trying to predict the ball flight, actually tracks the path of the ball in the air, giving exact yardages and shot shape.
It does this by using sophisticated Doppler radar technology, similar to the systems used by the military for tracking ballistic missiles. At last we have a tool which takes the guesswork out of test hitting. We can now measure distances to an accuracy of 1-2 yards.
The tour pros have been making full use of this new technology in recent years to select and customize their drivers. However this technology is not just a fitting tool for the elite player. Slower swinging amateurs can also benefit from a launch monitor session.
A common problem for many of these players is that they are unable to achieve a high enough launch angle or optimal spin rate from standard lofted drivers, and as such are losing precious distance off the tee.
Initial Ball Velocity
Ball speed from the face of a driver is determined by the player’s clubhead speed, the impact point on the clubface, the loft and the level of clubface spring-like effect (COR). A direct centre strike achieves more initial ball velocity than one from the toe or heel of the club.
Initial ball speeds from a driver can be as low as 90 mph for a weak lady amateur player or more than 170 mph for the top men tour pros. For every ball velocity there is an optimum combination of launch angle and spin rate in order to achieve maximum distance off the tee.
Club loft is only one factor contributing towards a player’s launch angle. If this was the only factor, then the launch angle would usually be around one degree less than the loft of the driver.
However, other factors are involved, including the player’s angle of attack on the ball, the clubface angle at impact, and the impact point on the clubface.
High strikes on the clubface or an open clubface at impact will increase the launch angle whilst low strikes on the clubface or a closed clubface will have the opposite effect. One essential element for long driving is the ability to launch the ball significantly higher than the loft of the club.
Ball Spin Rate
Other than the force of impact, the main reason for a golf ball flying as far as it does is backspin, which generates vital aerodynamic lift. The ideal spin rate is that which provides optimum carry and roll for maximum distance.
Too much spin results in a soaring flight and a ball that stops quickly on landing. Too little spin reduces the ball’s ability to stay in the air, limiting ball carry.
The initial spin rate depends upon several factors, including club loft, clubhead speed, the angle of attack, as well as the spin characteristics of the ball itself. The faster the swingspeed the more backspin is generated, so in order to prevent a soaring flight, golf’s big hitters need to use a low spin ball and less loft.
However, for amateur players with driver swingspeeds below 90mph, the ball spin rate is not so critical. Therefore the “high launch-low spin” concept, much favoured by the tour pros, may not be appropriate for the average amateur player, where a “high launch-high spin” may prove to be more beneficial.