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Since I started Practical Golf, I have tested and reviewed almost 100 golf products. There is one that has generated the most interest – the SkyTrak launch monitor.
I bought SkyTrak almost a year ago and wrote this first assessment. Since then I have hit thousands of balls and tested all functions quite extensively. It has definitely helped bring my golf to new heights this year despite my doubts about the launch of monitors in general years ago.
I get MANY e-mails and messages on social media that ask me about SkyTrak. In this article I want to shed some more light on how I practice SkyTrak, because many of us go to the golf season and interest in golf simulators for home and exercise tools is increasing. I will highlight some important aspects of how I practice SkyTrak effectively, and more importantly, have fun with it.
I will start with the driver because we all know that everyone wants to hit the ball and judge. Through some experiments and analyzes I have been able to reach that goal in the past 12 months.
I'm going to divide this into two sections – properties of shot shape and launch:
I have learned to stop fighting my draw
The first change was my actual swing. My natural shot shape is a draw, but in the last two years I tried to play my version of a cut with my driver (it really was a straight push). When I started working with SkyTrak for the first time, it became clear to me that I was fighting myself and that I had to go back to my normal routine.
For about a month I worked on keeping my lot under control, using my shooting range and shape as my guideline. I was convinced that going with my natural swing tendencies had a controlled ball flight:
Here is a cluster of typical drawings of my driver
My total spread also seemed to be narrowing with my natural trekking swing, something I keep a close eye on in my shooting data. I wrote this article in which I show how I use my driver's dispersion data to plan tee-shots on golf courses.
Optimizing my launch
When evaluating ball data, three parameters are crucial for optimizing your driving performance: ball speed, start angle and total rotation. In general you want to increase the ball speed, increase the starting angle and reduce the turn . Now the numbers can be different for all players, and if you practice with SkyTrak, you can use their Shot Optimizer to get some guidelines on what your optimal numbers should be.
I launched the ball on average around 11-12 degrees, which is not bad with my swing speed. The other two parts of the equation I do reasonably well – I have a lower spin at about 2000 rpm and a ball speed of about 148-155 mph. However, I left some distance on the table but could not get into the 13-16 degree region for my launch corner.
I have achieved this goal by:
Increase my angle of attack, which means you have to hit the ball more.
Check where I hit the ball on the club surface. The lower I am on the face, the lower the launch and the more spin I get because of something called a vertical acceleration effect. If I hit it in the middle of the face or just above it, I get a higher launch and a lower spin.
I used two ways to measure my progress and experiment with changes. I kept track of where I was lying on the face with the face, with Dr's foot spray. Scholl. Second, I used my SkyTrak starting angle numbers to determine if I add loft to impact.
The magic bullet for me was the starting length and the ball position. I noticed that I hit the ball too low with my driver. That way I touched it more to the bottom of my face.
Hitting the bottom of the face robbed me of almost 40 meters in the distance on some swings
Moreover, by moving the ball even further in my position, it helped to increase my launch angle.
The result is a ride like this:
This represents the absolute best that I can hit a golf ball – launch it at around 14 degrees, low spinning speed of 2000 s and a speed of 155 mph.
Here is the corresponding image of where I hit it on the face:
My results in 2018 spoke for themselves. I drove better than ever, allowing me to book some of my best results in tournaments. A round in particular that really paid off was a 73 in competition with Bethpage Black, which is one of the hardest tests for the tee in golf.
Because I had hard data showing that what I was doing with my driver improved my flight, I could have more confidence with my swings on the golf course.
Dialing In My Wedges
Regardless of the level of the golfer, wedge plays are important for scoring. If you are a bomber from the tee, then you have enough approach shots where you have to control your distance with your wedges. More importantly, if you are an 18-handicap, you will probably miss more than 12 or more greens per round. Most of your recoveries are within 100 meters and your ability to get the ball on the green helps you save more pars and reduce double bogeys.
I believe that the use of a launch monitor to set your wedge distances and challenge yourself is one of the best practices. Dustin Johnson was for years one of the best players in the world, but failed to take advantage of his incredible driving skills because his wedge game was poor. So what did he do to become number one in the world? He bought a Trackman to help him with his wedge game.
This kind of practice requires very little analysis. You choose distances and evaluate how accurately you can land the ball to your number.
There are a number of ways in which I practice with my wedges with SkyTrak. The first is repetitive "block" exercise. I hit multiple shots at distances between 35 and 100 meters. I try to capture the muscle memory of how each shot feels so that when I encounter it on the track, I can easily remember what my 55-yard wedge swing is.
I tried to land this wedge 50 meters, pretty close!
Recently SkyTrak added a handy practice function to help with this, the wedge matrix. It takes you through your bag to map different yardages with each of your wedges. It is reminiscent of the exercise Dave Pelz uses in his Short Game Bible.
Here is an example of wedge matrix data
The second way I practice my wedge distances is through random testing. I even made a nice game with my five year old son. I ask him to choose a number between 35 and 100 (he likes numbers) and we see how closely I can land the ball to the yardage. This creates more pressure and is a good test for how well your distance control skills are maintained. In five swings, for example, I will go to 37, 78, 54, 92 and 67 yards.
Interestingly enough, when I faced these shots under pressure on the track, I could hear the voice of my son calling out the number.
Simulation is the best practice
Using the range function on SkyTrak is a great way to practice. You can run inside yardages, experiment with changes in your swing and measure directly how this affects your ball flight. However, after using the product for almost a year, my favorite form of practice is playing the World Golf Tour.
I live in New York, which means that I can not get on a golf course for much of the year. To a certain extent I have always practiced indoors, but in the end it can become boring.
This is the closest in the neighborhood to play Pebble Beach in the winter
One of the best elements of a practice routine is to simulate what is going on during a round of golf. You only get one chance to hit the track and it is usually never with the same club. Although it is an advantage to hit shots repeatedly, you want to eventually test yourself and have more fun.
I soon found out that playing simulated golf courses is probably the best (and fun) way to practice at home. I usually spend part of my practice sessions working on the elements I've discussed before, but the way I usually was able to stay engaged is playing Pebble Beach or Pinehurst # 2. I try my lowest score, so every shot has meaning and it forces me to think exactly about what I'm trying to do – just like on the golf course.
So when people usually ask me how SkyTrak helped my game, I talk about the benefits of simulation. On a gloomy winter day I can have fun and I keep myself busy hitting balls for more than 2 hours. In the spring I found out that my game did not suffer from hibernation because I had hit balls all winter and saw how my recordings performed.
A nice approach shot in Chambers Bay
I know that many of you are interested in building a golf simulator for home. As you can see, I am very pleased with the investment I made with SkyTrak last year. Looking at the current market, I do not think you can get a better mix of functions, software integrations, accuracy and cost effectiveness. For those of you who already own this launch monitor, or even another one, I hope that some of the ideas in this article will help you practice at home.
This is how my SkyTrak setup looks like at home
If you want to know more about SkyTrak, you can visit their website here.