By Dan Suedbeck
ROK Golf - Director of Golf
I get asked this question more than any other when it comes to people wanting to improve their swing.
What are the ideal numbers?
My response 9 times out of 10 is... "It depends!"
There are a lot of factors that come into play when we are talking about ideal. The first place I start is with a person's goals. Some people have a goal to hit high draws, others are ok with fades, and some just want to get it airborne. Ideal is going to look a lot different for those three players.
Then you take a look a person's physical and athletic ability and combine that with their golf history and all of that plays into what ideal will look like.
A person with medium athletic and physical abilities that has hit a "power fade" their entire life is unlikely to make a quick shift to hitting draws. Therefore, ideal for them might just be getting their path and face numbers closer to zero and increasing their smash factor a little bit.
An athletic player that isn't constrained by any physical limitations that has only been playing golf for a couple of years can move their numbers much faster.
Let's break things down a bit though to give you an idea of what you can work towards. I would break things down into a few different categories:
Swing Speed & Efficiency
This category mainly has to do with distance and how far a person can potentially hit a golf ball. The big driver here is club speed! This one number will be the thing that dictates how far a person can potentially hit a golf ball.
Due to restrictions on how well a golf club and ball can perform, i.e. coefficient of restitution or COR, you are going to max out distance at some point if launch conditions are optimized. So club speed is the one thing that will be the driver behind gaining more distance.
What's ideal? This comes down to a couple things, physical strength and technique. A person that can squat 300 lbs and bench press 250 has more potential than a person that struggles to pickup their 30 lb grandson off the floor. What is lacking in strength can often times be made up for in technique. Technique is going to trump strength as far as getting the most speed out of your swing.
The main thing with technique is a thing called kinematic sequencing. This has to do with how a person's body coils and uncoils thus producing speed. The proper uncoiling of the body for maximum speed starts with the lower body releasing or turning towards the target, then torso, then arms, then hands and finally all of that energy is delivered down the club shaft to the head. Look for more info on this in the future.
The other part of speed comes down to efficiency. Meaning did we get all of the energy from the club, no matter if it was fast or slow, to the golf ball. TrackMan's term for this is Smash Factor. Smash Factor is a player's ball speed divided by club head speed. The range here for solidly hit golf balls will vary from the low 1.2's in your wedges up to 1.5 for the driver.
The main way to maximize your ball speed is hit the golf ball in the middle of the club face. There will also be a difference in smash factor depending the type of club you are hitting. For example a Ping i500 has the potential for a higher Smash Factor then a Titleist MB iron just because of the head design. Another factor that will influence Smash Factor is draws versus fades. A draw club path and face angle has the potential for higher Smash Factor over a fade swing.
Key Point: Swing as fast as you can while still maintaining solid contact in the middle of the face.
From an instructional standpoint this area of numbers is where I spend most of my time when working with a student. The big players here are a person's club path and his face angle in relation to that path that will determine where his golf ball ends up flying towards his target or finishes left or right.
Ideal here a fairly decent range.
This is also where "ideal" comes into play most often. Most golfers strive to hit draws for some reason. Yeah they provide the potential to hit the golf ball a little further which can benefit a lot of golfers. Below is a chart with general ratios of of how the face should be oriented to the club path in order to get a golf ball to end up as close as possible to your target. You'll notice that as a club loses loft the face angle has a bigger influence on where the ball ends up. This is also due to increased ball speed. There are other factors that play into these ratios, like swing plane, attack angle and swing direction, but they are a good starting point for most. Note that these are ratios and work for both draws and fades and work in opposite directions. For example if your path is to the right you need a Face-to-Path to the left.
Below are graphics of shots hit with a pitching wedge, 6 iron and driver that ended up pretty close to the target line.
Key Point: Determine a shot shape you desire to play and work towards getting the appropriate ratio of path and face angle. Not everyone needs to hit draws and hitting it straight is very hard!
How a player launches the ball tells a story of how he/she is delivering the club into impact. The consistency of a players attack angle and club path are two of the biggest factors I see that differentiate a good player from an average one. Due to a good player delivering the club consistently they are consistently hitting a similar shot pattern through a similar apex window.
The big thing that happens when you launch the ball consistently is you are better able to control your distance. In a lot of golfers that I work with I see much greater variability in a players distance control then I see in misses left-to-right.
So what influences launch?
The biggest influence on launch is what TrackMan calls Dynamic Loft.
Typically what we look for in Dynamic Loft with irons is a number that is a little less the static loft of the club - Attack Angle. For example the numbers below are from some 8-irons I hit. The static loft of my 8 iron is 36 degrees, subtract 6.5 for a negative attack angle, and you are left with 29.5. My path being in-to-out with a closed face and a forward shaft lean account for the remaining 7 degree difference between that number and my average Dynamic Loft of 22.4 degrees.
Even golfers that fade the golf ball (open face-to-path) should ideally have a lower Dynamic Loft then Static Loft - Attack Angle.
Golfers that have a Dynamic Loft equal to or greater than Static Loft - Attack Angle likely have a poor impact position. This situation tells a story of having minimal if any forward shaft lean at impact. There is likely a casting type action on the downswing which will reduce the ball speed, overall distance and reduce contact quality.
The other side of launching the ball ideally comes into play from a clubfitting standpoint. Golfers today are much more aware of what ideal launch conditions should be on a driver. Launch conditions for irons often get overlooked however. The main number that I advise looking at when it comes to iron launch conditions has very little to do with launch and everything to do with Landing Angle, a number that TrackMan calculates. The ideal range from varies from 50 degrees in the wedges down to 45 degrees in the long irons.
The reason I focus more on the landing angle then the launch angle and spin rates in irons is because different combinations of launch and spin can lead to an optimal landing angle.
With a driver the main thing for the vast majority of golfers is maxing out distance. I like to use the analogy of turning on a garden hose full blast with the goal to spray the water as far as possible. Point it too high or too low and it won't go as far.
The ideal ranges for a players launch and spin have a lot to do with club speed, attack angle and ball speed. Below are a couple graphics that show what ideal ranges would be based on those numbers.
So as you can see, there is no ideal for everyone! Your numbers will vary significantly based on a number of factors. My advice for you is to find a facility or professional that can give you access to TrackMan and knows the data enough to advise you figuring out what ideal is for you currently and what you can potentially work towards.
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