At least two-thirds of recreational golfers leave considerable driver distance on the table because their launch conditions are inadequate, according to a recent study by TaylorMade Golf. Most golfers could increase their distance off the tee significantly without making a swing change.
Launch conditions are defined as the ball’s launch angle, i.e. initial velocity and spin measured at the instant after impact, or the angle formed between the ground and the line on which the ball rises into the air (measured in degrees). Launch conditions are critical to promoting distance, especially off the driver.
TaylorMade has conducted an in-depth study of launch conditions during the past six years with the help of its MATT (Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade®) system. MATT records and animates a player’s swing with extraordinary detail, and measures a variety of key statistics that includes swing speed, initial ball speed, launch angle and spin. MATT System Performance Labs located around the country upload new swing data on a daily basis to a central computer at the company’s headquarters in Carlsbad, Ca.
“There is no doubt we know more about what produces distance than we did a few years ago based on the data we’ve gathered with the MATT System,” says Benoit Vincent, chief technology officer for TaylorMade-adidas Golf. “This research has been invaluable in helping us develop better products and improving our clubfitting methods.”
According to TaylorMade research, distance-enhancing launch conditions for a driver combine a relatively high launch angle with a relatively low spin-rate.
If spin-rate is abnormally low a player won’t generate enough lift, and the ball will fall out of the sky quickly, shortening carry and dramatically reducing distance. However, too much spin makes the ball rise too quickly. Instead of piercing the air, the shot “balloons” high and short before landing steeply, killing roll. Optimum launch conditions generally include a relatively high launch angle--to get the ball high up in the air with enough spin to keep it there for a while, which equates into a long carry. As the flight decays, the ideal ball flight finishes on a semi-shallow angle, allowing for some roll after landing. Thus, the ideal trajectory is a high-flying ball that hangs in the air for a long time before descending and finishing with moderate roll.
Recreational players typically leave distance on the table because their launch angle is too low and their spin-rate is too high, problems that are intensified because the characteristics of their driver often don’t fit their swing. The clubhead’s loft might be too low or the clubhead’s center of gravity too high. The shaft might be too firm or the shaft’s kick-point could be too low. A properly fit driver can make a dramatic difference.
In professional golf, clubfitting is considered essential. Finding better ways to further fine-tune the fit, especially with the driver, can pay big dividends. “We’ve added seven to 10 yards to a player’s drives by getting him into equipment that’s a more precise fit for his swing,” says Paul Loegering, a TaylorMade Tour representative.
Access to launch monitors used to be reserved mostly for tour pros. No more. Many pro shops, driving ranges and off-course golf retailers are outfitted with these devices, which help clubfitters do a superior job.
“Years ago, we used to measure the player at a 100 mile per hour swing speed and then put him in stiff shaft and low loft,” says Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s project leader for fitting technologies. “Now, with the measurements we can take using launch monitors, we can fit clubs far more precisely to dial in the distance-enhancing launch conditions.”
Launch conditions that promote more distance differ according to ball speed. For players that generate faster average ball speeds, spin-rate is critical. Conversely, finding the optimum launch angle is more important for players who generate slower average ball speeds.
The best way to find out what your current launch conditions are, and whether they’re costing you distance off the tee, is to visit a qualified clubfitter with a launch monitor. TaylorMade operates clubfitting vans that tour the United States. Most are staffed with one or more qualified fitters and are equipped with a launch monitor and club-building workshop, and have schedules can usually be found on the taylormadegolf.com.
There are even technologies that allow the player to change the club’s launch conditions themselves quickly and easily. TaylorMade’s Movable Weight Technology™ (MWT™), featured in the r7® 425 driver, incorporates differently weighted cartridges that can be removed and reinstalled in different locations in the back of the clubhead. Reconfiguring the cartridges allows players to alter the launch angle and spin-rate, allowing them to hit the ball higher or lower to promote optimum distance in differing weather and course conditions. Likewise, positioning more cartridge weight toward the heel or toe influences clubface alignment at impact, helping to either promote a draw or fade or helping to straighten a slice or hook. The r7 425 is also the No. 1 driver model on the PGA Tour, validating that tour professionals both understand the importance of launch conditions and are in favor of a club that allows you to adjust them.