The Basics of Launch Monitors, How They Work, & How They Can Improve Your Game
When you think of golf, “advanced technology” probably doesn’t come to mind. After all, this is a sport that’s been played for nearly 500 years. But that doesn’t mean that the game of golf has remained unchanged since then.
Technology has played a huge role in the development of golf, especially in recent decades. And that fact is nowhere clearer than in the development of the golf launch monitor.
So, what is a golf launch monitor? How does it work? And how can it help you improve your golf game? Those are the questions we’ll explore here.
Let’s get to it.
What is a Golf Launch Monitor?
Golf launch monitors are sophisticated electronic systems that measure a host of data points about your club and ball, before, during, and after you make contact. All of this data is analyzed by a powerful computer that’s then able to predict the shot to an incredible degree of accuracy.
But launch monitors don’t just tell you how far your ball will go or how badly you’ve sliced it. They can drill down on angle, spin, and so much more. All of the information provided by a launch monitor is invaluable for understanding and improving your swing.
Depending on the model, a launch monitor will give you:
Ball Speed: The velocity of your ball immediately after impact. This number is the primary data point used to determine distance.
Carry Distance: The distance your ball travels in the air.
Total Spin: The amount of spin created around the tilt axis. This number is used to determine the shot’s curve and lift.
Vertical Launch Angle: The vertical launch angle (also called “launch angle”) is the ball’s initial vertical angle relative to the ground.
Horizontal Launch Angle: The horizontal launch angle (also called side angle or deviation angle) is the initial horizontal angle relative to the target line.
Spin Tilt Axis: This is the axis that your ball is rotating around. It is used to estimate your shot’s curvature and lift.
Back Spin: This is one part of your ball’s total spin. It helps to develop a picture of the ball’s trajectory and lift.
Side Spin: This is another part of your ball’s total spin and it helps define its curvature.
You can get immediate feedback on what you’re doing right (and wrong) without needing a golf pro to tell you. Then, you can work to fix whatever issues you may have with your swing.
But launch monitors aren’t just for correcting problems. Today’s tech allows for golfers to play entire courses via an immersive, indoor, video game-like experience. And they can use their real clubs for each and every stroke. Some of the more advanced launch monitors feature dozens of real world courses to play.
In the past, golf launch monitors have been so expensive that the only place you’d find them would be professional settings, like high-tier pro shops. But today, there are golf launch monitors that are reasonably priced enough that setting up a full-size, indoor golf simulator in your garage isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
How Does a Golf Launch Monitor Work?
The magic of a golf launch monitor lies in its clever use of the latest technology. But depending on the kind of launch monitor you’re looking at, the tech can differ in significant ways.
There are two primary kinds of launch monitors.
Radar Launch Monitors
Radar launch monitors analyze your golf shots with precision by harnessing the power of Doppler radar, the same technology used in weather forecasting and police speed guns.
When you take a swing, the launch monitor emits radio waves that bounce off the moving golf ball as it heads down the fairway. These waves return to the device and are analyzed to determine how the ball was hit. This analysis provides a wealth of data about the ball’s speed, trajectory, spin, and overall flight path.
Camera Launch Monitors
These monitors employ high-speed, HD cameras (anywhere from two to four cameras are used, depending on the model of the golf launch monitor), often filming at thousands of frames per second, to capture a comprehensive view of your golf ball’s journey from clubface to the air.
As soon as your club makes contact with the ball, the cameras spring into action. They record the ball’s speed, launch angle, spin, and direction with incredible precision. This isn’t just a snapshot; it’s a super slow-motion video, offering a frame-by-frame analysis of the ball’s behavior. The sophisticated software then jumps in, crunching numbers and translating it all into actionable data.
Think of it as having a high-speed, ultra-precise eye that catches every twist and turn of the ball, something even the sharpest human eye would miss. These monitors can dissect your swing, offering insights into the intricacies of your game.
While both kinds of launch monitors are accurate, the camera models tend to offer a greater degree of accuracy. Though that accuracy can come with a hefty price tag.
How Can a Golf Launch Monitor Improve My Game?
For golfers looking to hone their skills, a launch monitor can be an indispensable tool. By providing detailed data on each shot, it allows players to understand exactly what happens during their swing and how it affects the ball’s flight.
This information can be used to make adjustments in technique, club selection, and swing mechanics. Here are a few practical suggestions for how you can use a launch monitor to improve your game:
Get a Grip on Your Distance
It’s easy to accidentally add a few yards to your club distance estimate. And while it may not make a difference when you’re bragging at the club house, it can lead to major problems when you’re setting up your next shot.
Fortunately, you can use a launch monitor to get an accurate picture of every club’s distance. How? Take a range of shots with each club, using the same type of ball you’d use on the course. Record those distances and average for a reliable picture of how far you actually hit the ball.
Optimizing Wedge Distances
Ensuring consistent distance gaps across your clubs, particularly with wedges – the key scoring clubs – is crucial. Utilizing a launch monitor is invaluable in this aspect. It’s especially beneficial for understanding the travel distance of your ball on partial swings, like half or three-quarter swings.
Getting a handle on these challenging distances can significantly improve your scoring. A launch monitor offers critical feedback to help you master these nuances for a more refined game.
Train Comfortably Throughout the Year
Depending on where you live, practicing your game may be difficult – if not impossible – during certain times of the year. And while some golfers are committed enough to hit the links even when it’s approaching freezing, wouldn’t it be nice if you could practice comfortably all year long?
With a launch monitor, you can. All you need is a mat, a net, a computer, and a launch monitor. Then, you can practice drives, chips, and putts, all from the comfort of your (warm) home. When the weather warms back up, you won’t have missed a beat.
But launch monitors aren’t just great practice tools. Many of the latest golf launch monitors come with software that offers drills and games, making practice both effective and enjoyable. There are even games available that will let you play entire courses online with up to eight others. And much of this tech is still in its infancy. As time passes, we’ll only see the possibilities continue to increase.
Whether it’s increasing your driving distance, improving accuracy, or mastering the art of shot-shaping, a launch monitor provides the objective feedback needed to achieve these goals. Essentially, it’s like having a personal golf coach – and potentially dozens of real courses – at your disposal.