Future of golf: Launch angle leads way as game immerses itself into analytics

Flag Binary Code Vector Pattern Background. The main symbol depicted is made up of the binary code zero and one pattern and is in the center of the illustration. The numbers are in bright green color. The rest of the image is filled with a binary code background. The numbers zero and one alternate and are of various sizes and shades of the green color. There is a sense of vertical motion in this image, The background color is black. Getty Images

Future of golf: Launch angle leads way as game immerses itself into analytics

By The Numbers

Future of golf: Launch angle leads way as game immerses itself into analytics

By

Brace for impact.

Launch-angle golf is coming and in a short time will radically change how players are developed.

The confluence of new stats, technology, instructional switches and opportunities to piece together a case for a radical approach will revolutionize how elite golf is played and how young talents are developed.

Whether it’s fun to play, enjoyable to watch or a path to longevity is not a question on which to dwell.

Defy the trend and face irrelevance.

Barring intervention from golf’s governing bodies via rule changes or a return to the high rough of the early 21st century that fueled bombing and gouging, professional golf in 2018 will be remembered as one of the small ball era’s final seasons. A sport always five-to-10 years behind progress, golf is now ushering in the data-driven shifts transforming baseball and basketball over the last decade.

In the very near future – maybe even on the PGA Tour – you’ll hear caddies and coaches say unimaginable things about degrees, smash factors and other launch-angle lingo before a tee shot is struck.

“Clip the tee and get that attack angle to one degree, not four,” one college coach recently was overheard saying to his player. Think of it as “take dead aim” for the 21st century.

For all of the ways launch monitors have revolutionized instruction and instilled diversity in golf swings, the numerical obsession and paths to obtaining speed never have demanded a more one-dimensional approach to play. It’s distance first, worry about the rest later. Not that the players are
to be blamed. The variety of factors suggest the odds for success are higher the longer a drive is placed down a fairway, no matter the lie.

Physically fitter players reared to swing harder with large drivers, improved shaft technology and modern fitting systems would be foolish not to craft a swing capitalizing on the engineering wisdom. And if all their coaching development and pre-tournament planning turns out to be a little off, the player always will have the launch monitor there for warm-up and post-round sessions.

The sight of PGA Tour players walking with small briefcases holding launch monitors has become normalized over the last two years. Even Tiger Woods was seen at The Match with his cell phone resting nearby, feeding him launch-monitor numbers before his round. With reports of juniors turning up at ranges and setting up $25,000 devices as part of their pre-round preparation, futurists shrug. The future is on our doorstep.

A launch monitor will be placed on each of the 18 tees during the entire 2019 PGA Tour season, and while the data is meant for television and ShotLink, the day soon will arrive when players and maybe even fans demand immediate data from tee shots the way baseball stadiums now post exit velocity of all hit balls. In an appeal to young, technology-minded fans who are unable see a 350-yard drive land, professional tours inevitably will display the data to help everyone believe what they could not see. Players will check their numbers and make mid-round adjustments.   

SOUTHAMPTON, NY - JUNE 12: A trackman is seen as Justin Thomas of the United States plays a shot on the range during a practice round prior to the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 12, 2018 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Justin Thomas works the driving range before the U.S. Open under the watchful eye of TrackMan. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The future normal arrived in 2018 with Ariya Jutanugarn’s epic Player of the Year season in which she ranked 121st in fairways hit while almost never using a driver. Yet she still ranked 15th in distance.

More eye-opening was the PGA Tour’s Cameron Champ, who has shown what the player of the future will look like sooner than his biggest backers even imagined. The Texas A&M golfer and 2017 Walker Cupper led the 2018 Web.com Tour with a 343-yard driving-distance average, earning his PGA Tour card. He now leads the 2018-19 PGA Tour with a 328-yard average after the fall events.

Beyond those old-school numbers are staggering stats revolutionizing player-strategy that will gain notice by instructors and young players. Champ can dismantle a course design, as he did in winning the Sanderson Farms Championship this fall, covering 67.5 percent of the course with his tee shots. That’s more than 6 percent better than the field. More astounding: Champ averaged 28 yards less per hole on his approach shots compared to the field.

Who needs to practice chip shots, mid-irons and 4-iron recovery shots from the trees when you can launch, lob and make a putt?

The strategy will work because no golf course outside of Erin Hills at 8,400 yards or Torrey Pines South on a cold, damp day with ankle-high rough can accommodate drives carrying from 50 to 100 yards longer than the architects ever dreamed possible.

The Cameron Champs of the world have built the strength and timing that a new generation of players must emulate. The game always has seen exceptionally powerful players and fought their skill with architectural and agronomic roadblocks.

But with a wave of Champ-like players coming and the numbers to codify priorities in developing a game, responding to launch-angle golf will pit those putting on tournaments against those reared on a mentality of overpowering a powerful field.

Whether this battle is interesting to watch depends wholly upon how much sports fans are drawn to the launch-angle gospel. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the December 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home