The Swing Engineer™
TrackMan
Q - “Do you use TrackMan during lessons?”

A - No, I don’t use TrackMan. There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, before I begin, I am by no means an expert on TrackMan. The following is my own opinion and understanding of it, and similar devices. I’d be very happy to hear from an expert who can provide references to show where and why I am wrong, if indeed I am.

To begin, let’s look at how TrackMan, and similar systems work. They are radar devices. Very simply, radar works by sending out radio waves. These radio waves reflect off objects and return back to the radar device. By measuring these returning radio waves the radar device calculates where an object is. By continuously sending and receiving these radio waves the radar device can track an object moving in almost real time.(1)
I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of “cause and effect”.(2) In golf, hitting the ball is the “cause” and the “effect” is the ball’s flight. Without the cause, there would be no effect. Similarly, if you change the cause, you change the effect.
TrackMan’s raison d’etre is to provide you with the statistics from the causes, namely what the club was doing during impact, and how the ball’s behaving to make it fly the way it does. You can find a list of the statistics provided by TrackMan at their website.(3) These include; the club path, club speed, face angle, the ball’s spin axis and spin rate.
You’d presume TrackMan provides these “cause” statistics by looking at the cause. That is to say, physically monitoring and recording the actual clubface angle at impact, the spinning ball etc. But it doesn’t. It can’t. It’s just a radar device, only able to measure where an object is in space. TrackMan can’t actually measure the angle, within a degree, of a clubface traveling at 100+ miles per hour as it’s in contact with a golf ball for 0.0005 of a second. Nor can it actually count the thousands of revolutions per minute the golf ball makes as it’s flying through the air.
So how does TrackMan provide the “cause” statistics without measuring the cause? It looks at the effect. It measures how the ball is flying, and then takes an educated guess at those cause statistics. It does this with, no doubt, very complex mathematical formulae and models which are patented by TrackMan.(4)
So there’s my first reason for not using TrackMan, or other similar devices. They don’t quantify the actual statistics they provide, only an educated guess of them. TrackMan doesn’t provide you with the clubface angle, ball spin rate etc because it knows them, rather it provides you with a best guess of them given the outcome of the ball’s flight.

The second reason for not using TrackMan is a case of necessity, or lack of it. In any endeavour, in order to improve you need feedback. When learning to speak a new language, you’d need a fluent speaker to listen to your mispronounced words and tell you about them. With a musical instrument, you can play a tune, compare it to how the song should sound, and hear for yourself when your notes are off key. And with golf, you hit the ball and can see for yourself if it was a good shot or not by virtue of the fact it landing near your intended target or not.
The statistics TrackMan provides are a tool to inform you of what took place when you hit the ball. You don’t need TrackMan to tell you this- simply watch the ball’s flight and where it lands. Then either educate yourself as to what causes the ball to fly out on that certain path, or rely on my education as an instructor to tell you this. TrackMan, for me, would be the equivalent of employing someone to stand behind you as you hit balls- for them to tell you how the ball flew out and where it landed. This is something you could have done yourself for free by watching the ball after hitting it. The only time I would find TrackMan useful would be where you can’t see for yourself the ball’s flight. Either because you’re visually impaired, or you’re hitting balls into the dark / into the sun.

The third reason I do not use TrackMan or a similar device is purely a business one.
If we look at the latest version of TrackMan, the “IIIe”, and go for the cheapest option, the indoor version without video, that’s a price of $15,995.(5) That’s excluding the tax. In my part of the world, for such an item the tax would be an extra 20%(6) bringing the total to $19,194.
Let’s assume I charge $50 for a 30 minute lesson, which is about average for PGA professionals in the London area. Now let’s assume, because I’m using TrackMan, I’m going to add a premium to my lesson fee. We’ll make it an extra $20. So for me to break even, and have the TrackMan pay for itself, I would have to give ($19,194 divided by $20) just shy of 960 lessons. Bare in mind this is the cheapest TrackMan. I also don’t believe the use of such a device would enhance my instruction to make my lessons worth any sort of premium.
Because of this I don’t believe it’s a good business investment, especially so given my first two reasons for not using the TrackMan or similar radar devices.

So to sum up, I don’t use TrackMan because I don’t trust it, don’t need it, and can’t afford it!

(1) Radar - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radar
(2) Cause and Effect - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causality
(3) Trackman website - http://trackmangolf.com/
(4) Trackman patents - http://trackmangolf.com/company/patents
(5) Trackman products - http://trackmangolf.com/trackman-pro
(6) VAT (value added tax) - http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/forms-rates/rates/rates-thresholds.htm#

Information on TrackMan’s prices etc correct at time of posting - Dec 2012

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