Trackman Golf Launch Monitor and Angle of Attack:  5 Steps to Optimize Distance

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In depth studies using the Trackman Pro Golf Launch Monitor, the same equipment used on every tee on the PGA Tour nowadays, has been successful is changing our understanding of the ball flight laws.

Although hitting our best drives does involve some fairly complicated interplay between several numbers like launch angle and backspin, we do now have a clear understanding of what we need when it comes to one measurement - angle of attack.

Angle of attack is how your driver head comes into the ball as you would look at the strike from face on.  Either you are catching it at the bottom of the arc, which would be a 0 degree angle of attack, or you are catching it before or after that lowest point of the arc.

Much research by the smart guys at Trackman in Denmark has revealed that to hit your longest drives, you need to hit up on the ball about 5 degrees.

How big of a difference can there be?  Well, according to Golf Magazine, the difference between a -5 AoA and a +5 AoA is about 25 yards of distance at a 90 mph clubhead speed.  You would potentially go from around 235 to around 260 without using more effort!  At higher clubhead speeds, the difference will be even more.

So how do we reach that magic number of +5 angle of attack with our drivers?  Follow these 5 steps and you will see a noticeable improvement in distance:

1.  Ball position.  Conventional wisdom used to be to play the driver off the left heel.  In a good golf swing, like the Mike Austin golf swing that I teach on this site, this point will be the bottom of the swing arc, thus the 0 degree point of attack.  Start playing the ball closer to the left big toe instead, about 2-3 inches further forward than before.

2.  Proper lead.  The lead of a club is how much forward the shaft leans at address.  In the Mike Austin method of swinging, we set the lead of every club precisely where we would like to see it at impact, so that we don't have to change our swings from club to club to hit the proper trajectory.  Most manufacturers build in either zero lead or slight negative lead into their drivers, meaning that in some cases, you actually should have the shaft leaning slightly backwards at address. 

3.  Fit the right side under.  Get the right hip and shoulder lower than the left at address by making a slight lateral flexion of the spine (a bump), and a subtle flexing of the right knee inward.  This will shorten the right leg and tilt the spine to the right.  These first three steps set you up for the next two.

Here is long drive legend Mike Dunaway demonstrating the subtle anatomic adjustments of fitting the right side under at address.  When in this position, we already feel like we're going to hit up on the ball.

4.  Swing from the inside.  If you are an 'over the top' swinger, you will have virtually no chance to ever get your AoA into positive territory.  Trackman is showing that hitting 5 degrees inside out will hit the ball significantly farther than when you swing 5 degrees outside in.  This is because there is an upward bias to the inside out path.   An outside in swing tends to be hit much more sharply downward on the ball.   Shoot for a 0 clubpath, or inside to square, to about 5 degrees inside out as a good range.

For many people, swinging from the inside for the first time can feel radical.  I often use a baseball analogy - you may need to literally feel like you are hitting the ball down the first base line, with the clubface pointing to 2nd base.

5.  Release the head of the club!  If you are trying to lag or delay the release of the clubhead, you will have a very difficult time getting your angle of attack into positive territory, much less +5 degrees.  Waiting or trying to hold lag will cause you to actually have forward lean at impact, which necessarily means the clubhead has not reached the bottom of the swing arc. 

Instead, we need to throw the clubhead slightly out in front of the hands by the time it reaches impact.  This will require you to start releasing from the top of the swing, as there is a time delay between stimulus of the muscles, reaction, and response, which is the clubshaft catching up to the left arm to form a line by the time you reach the left heel.  Ideally we want to see that slight negative lead at impact that we started with at address.

Training high school and college golfers lately on the Trackman, I began to see release timing as a huge factor in creating positive AoA.  They were pivoting correctly, with good ball position....so why were they still at -1 degrees?  My theory was proven correct when they started to uncock the club earlier.  Not only did they start hitting longer straighter drives, but the angle of attack jumped up well into positive territory.

Focus on the image of Fred Couples just after impact.  See how the clubshaft is already a good 30 degrees past his left arm.  He started releasing as soon at the beginning of the downswing, and let his wrists free hinge through the hit, rather than going rigid.  This is the key to his effortless long hitting.

Many long drivers subscribe to the 'hold the lag' method, which often makes them late with the clubhead, and they block the ball well right.  Eventually they will learn to flip the face over, squaring up the face but not gaining the advantage of a positive AoA.  This also brings a duck hook into play.  Watching a long drive competition, you often see this pattern of erratic driving.

Let's take a look at current World Long Drive Champion Joe Miller, who releases the clubhead extremely well:

The throwing of the clubhead out in front of the hands is what gives Joe a tremendous positive angle of attack.  His winning drive last year was launched at 11.7 degrees with less than 2000 rpm of backspin, even though he was swinging a 3.5 degree driver.  He is hitting the ball squarely and on the upswing.

One more look at Joe from face on:

Notice that the butt end of the club is still slightly behind the tee!  The clubhead is out ahead striking upwards on the ball for maximum club to ball energy transfer.  Joe reaches speeds of nearly 150 mph clubhead speed and 225 mph ball speed.  His winning drive was 414 yards.

Following these 5 steps can pick you up between 25 and 40 yards to your driving game, just by changing one swing parameter, angle of attack.  Now you can be the guy who swings smoothly and easily, and still hits it past everyone in the foursome!  Unless of course Dunaway, Couples, and Miller make up your foursome.  Then I hope you're playing a scramble.

prev article