The days of mindlessly banging balls on the driving range are long gone. Recent technology advancements in golf have made it possible for range rats to chart every single swing and gain valuable insights from each session.
Once a perk of the elite pro golfer who could afford a five-figure Trackman, portable launch monitors are now available to consumers for about the cost of a new driver.
"It's invaluable if you're a student of the game and you really want to practice," said Mike Malaska, 2011 PGA National Teacher of the Year. "Because it gives you information where you're not guessing. There's so many good things they do. I don't think there's a tour player or mini-tour player or anyone serious who doesn't have a launch monitor."
It's powerful tech that provides instant feedback. I asked Malaska, as well as Art Chou, founder of Rapsodo, for some suggestions on the best ways to apply an MLM to your range sessions.
Rapsodo's Mobile Launch Monitor is one of several options on the market that can be purchased for less than $500. Rapsodo's unit is unique in that it tethers to your mobile iOS device in order to use the video capability and it also charts all your shots to the app instantly. It provides video of each swing and can audibly tell you each shot's stats. In the app, you can view each swing's video (with tracer), carry distance, ball speed, club speed, smash factor, shot type, and launch angle.
Ready to join the mobile launch monitor revolution? Here are some ways you can use it to help your range practice.
Gaining a true understanding of how far you're carrying each club in your bag is invaluable for hitting more greens in regulation. There are so many variables on golf courses that we may not be as accurate with the clubs we use for certain yardages as we think.
"I find that for the average person the most important thing is once they hit a solid shot is to know exactly how far the ball carries," said Malaska. "And most people have no idea. They're not even close."
Once you learn your true average carry distances with each club, you can fine tune your yardages for each club and take added confidence to the course.
Dialing in your wedge game
We may typically associate launch monitors with hitting longer drives, but they may be most valuable in honing your wedge game. Dustin Johnson attributes his improved play that led to a Masters win by advances in his wedge play. Truth is, all amateurs could benefit by learning how far their quarter, half and three-quarter wedges carry. Reviewing the video you can also see how far back you are taking the wedge on your backswing and how it affects the carry as well as ball speed and launch angle. Some instructors like Helen Curtain in St. Louis are now hosting short game clinics that employ launch monitors for their wedge practice.
Club fitting and adjusting
Art Chou points to a personal moment using the MLM that led to some valuable insight: his driver launch was too low and thus not gaining any distance advantage over his three wood. "So then I knew I needed to work on hitting my driver higher, and until I do, there's no need for me to hit it."
I had a similar realization earlier this summer. My driver launch was also way too low (it does come in handy in breezy Texas), but I was able to adjust the loft on the clubhead, which instantly got me about 10 more yards of carry. In addition to launch angle and carry distance, you can use the MLM's GPS view to view all of your balls hit by club will tell you if you need any adjustments of your own.
Getting faster (longer) the right way
Not a day goes by it seems where a pro isn't trying to set some sort of Instagram record with their ball speed.
Most of us know by now that there is a difference between swinging harder and faster (Exhibit 1a: Ernie Els). Power is generated from the whole body moving efficiently in harmony. Trying to channel our inner-Bryson is, in a word, perilous.
"What I see with most people is a misinterpretation of where speed actually comes from," said Malaska. "The launch monitors help you understand if you're creating more speed or just creating more effort, which happens 80-90% of the time."
Once the snow falls or it's too dark after work for a bucket, it doesn't mean you have to stop practicing. In fact, this is the best time to try and add speed to your swing or work on a significant swing change. Put a hitting net in your garage or driveway, add a launch monitor and suddenly those swings into a net right in front of your face return some insights beyond how impact felt.
Personally, I've always been wary of mindlessly banging balls into nets. I've never felt I swing the same. Chou says their data at Rapsodo indicate that more golfers than not swing slower when indoors hitting into a net (Rapsodo added indoor/net capability to their MLM earlier this year). With a mobile launch monitor, you can see the launch and speed for yourself. "Don't look at distance, look at clubhead speed," Chou recommends when using a launch monitor indoors.
You can't have a coach for every range session, but your coach would love to know what your range sessions look like in between lessons. They may also be able to detect biases in your own analysis. What you tell your coach is ailing your game may not be consistent with what the data is suggesting. Players can share video and sessions with their coach who can look for red flags or see where the easiest gains can be made in improvement and use that to guide their lesson plan.
Special thanks to our partners at Rapsodo Golf for their participation in this article.