FAILURE TO LAUNCH: Monitoring the Debate
Technology will always be advancing and reshaping the way we learn, teach, and grow the game. At the forefront of this movement are launch monitors, most notably TrackMan. Since its technology popularized the “New Ball Flight Laws” (vividly explained by Adam Young here) and gave rise to the endless angle of attack debate with driver, the golfing world is left with one overarching question:
IS TRACKMAN GOOD FOR GOLF?
Like so many questions, the answer depends. From the student perspective, has it promoted positive changes in their game, or has it just created more confusion? Does it leave students dependent, or enhance their understanding of the swing? From the teacher perspective, has it helped business, or is the guy down the street that owns one taking all of your clients? Can the teacher give a better lesson, or is their limited knowledge of the biomechanics coupled with a new found plethora of information crippling their message?
Michael Hebron, a top instructor known for his program Neuro Learning for Golf which is based around self discovery, recently published his thoughts on TrackMan (available here). I have pulled a couple of excerpts as discussion points relating to the overarching question. There’s nothing like jumping right into the heart of the debate...
“TrackMan utilizes a system based on perfect numbers…”
We know TrackMan’s reports are extensive, but was TM on a mission to promote perfection? What defines perfect? If we’re studying this practically, then functional (serviceable and repeatable shots) is perfect. Therefore, the simple answer is no; TM is just a measuring tool and is not after a single, golden set of numbers. Allen Burton (@DocAtTheRock) realizes TM “is the only way to benchmark a golfer’s swing motions and resultant ball flight. [In turn] putting together a compatible face to path relationship is much easier and students enjoy putting a feel to what’s real.” TM’s beauty lies in the varying, acceptable degrees of perfection based on what players and instructors want to see.
“TrackMan promotes outcome goals, not the more useful process goals.” TM is an inanimate, 3D doppler radar system incapable of invoking emotion or driving a particular goal. The orange box provides detailed club and ball data and doesn’t make us do anything. The instructor and player are responsible for it being effective. Burton adds “It’s about improving something and making it compatible with something to achieve something.” Properly interpreting data as it relates to biomechanics and 3D motion is a process and often the goal during TM lessons. “TrackMan is not a true trial and error approach to learning.” What if a player is trying three different ways to produce a smaller path number and less curvature? Is he supposed to just keeping trying, erring, and guessing which of the three mechanics are best? Does it hurt to know what specifically defines a swing error for any given person? If TM isn’t encouraging trial and error learning in this situation, then I’m not sure what is.
“Lowering or eliminating frustration would help grow the game. I am not sure using TM can accomplish that by putting forth all those numbers.”
There’s an easy solution to this one. Don’t share every single number with students (know your audience) or turn off the display for some of the numbers. : ) On a more practical note, isn’t answering the question as to how and why a ball curves offline reducing frustration? For a player that doesn't understand why it curves, seeing ball flight laws alone may produce exponential improvement. I find it ironic that the golf industry’s poster child for effective learning repeatedly suggests that correct data and defining actual occurrences isn’t compatible with meaningful learning.
As an industry, we need people like Hebron as a harbinger of technological advancements in order for us to sharpen our argument as to how and why we are using it. So is TrackMan good for golf? The pattern is evident: those still content to guess versus know have failed to launch into a new era of instruction. The best instructors are successfully using it to improve students’ games. They are monitoring the debate and growing with the technology.
Special thanks to Allen Burton, a friend and great instructor at Rock Barn Golf & Spa, site of the Champions Tour Greater Hickory Kia Classic this October. Always great to chat with and learn a few things from him. Thanks to TrackMan influences in my career including Mario Bevilacqua, Alex Pisano, Andrew Rice, Jeffry Smith, Joseph Mayo, and Grant Waite and Adam Young for his regular brilliance. You've all inspired me to keep learning as time goes on. Thank you.