Launch Monitors: What do the numbers mean?
In this article - Launch Monitors: What do the numbers mean? - Neil Tappin unpicks the data to give you an idea about what to look out for during your next fitting
Launch Monitors: What do the numbers mean?
We have placed this at the top of our list because backspin is one of the most important numbers in modern-day club fitting. A good way to look at it is that the first number of the backspin rate should match the number on the bottom of the club you are using. So if you are using a 7-iron, your backspin should be around 7000 rpm. If it is well below this (at around 5000 rpm), you will struggle to get the flight you need to stop the ball on the green. As equipment manufacturers strengthen the loft of their irons, this is a very important number to keep an eye on. Lower spin might offer a little more yardage (if the launch angle is high enough), but you need to ensure you are also getting the correct overall flight. With the driver in hand, fitters are often wanting to get players to produce high launch, low spin drives. However, before you get wedded to a certain ‘ideal’ backspin number remember that slower swingers need spin to get the ball up into the air. A lack of spin will actually hurt your distance and possibly your accuracy too.
WARNING… We are now going to make you feel very inadequate about your golf game. Dustin Johnson creates a clubhead speed with his driver of around 123mph. He then goes onto deliver a whopping 186mph of ball speed. As his driver has been perfectly dialled in by the technicians at TaylorMade he is able to carry the ball 333 yards with a total distance of a touch over 350 yards. Yikes. A typical (good) club golfer, with driver in hand, would create a clubhead speed of around 90mph. A lighter and more flexible shaft and the latest clubhead technology can certainly help you help find a few extra yards but if you want to make serious strides, you’ll need to invest in a combination of lessons and gym sessions!
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Some launch monitors provide a reading for smash factor. This is a way of telling you how efficiently you are striking the ball – effectively, how well are you transferring energy from the club into the ball. You get the smash factor number by dividing the ball speed by the clubhead speed. So a typical calculation would be: 120 mph ball speed divided by 90mph clubhead speed. That gives a smash factor reading of 1.3. The higher the number is, the better you are transferring energy. If you manage to achieve 1.5, take a photo and upload it to social media… that’s just about as good as it gets!
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When it comes to launch angle, every player is slightly different. That’s why it is impossible to advise a player, before a fitting, on exactly what loft to have on his or her driver. Two players with 10.5˚ drivers will deliver the club to the ball in very different ways! A rough guide for faster swingers would be to aim for a launch angle of around 12˚ and for slower swing would be a fraction more – around 14˚. If you can couple these numbers with the right spin rates, you will maximise your distance.
Launch Monitors: What do the numbers mean? Carry/Total Distance
By far the most important number to look out for here is your carry distance. The overall distance depends on the course and atmospheric conditions – that’s why players who think ‘I hit my 7-iron 155 yards’ often end up pitching in the bunker short of the green. With irons and wedges in hand you should aim for around a 10-yard difference in carry between each club. As the loft goes down, those numbers might start to tighten up. If they do, swap out your long irons for hybrids and let the fitter set the correct lofts for you.
When it comes to your driver and fairway woods, the carry distance gaps are likely to be more than 10 yards. That’s fine but make sure you know what they are so that when you are devising a strategy out on the course, you can confidently select the right club that takes certain key dangers out of play.
In his current role, Neil is responsible for testing drivers and golf balls. Having been a part of the Golf Monthly team for over 15 years and playing off a handicap of 3, he has the experience to compare performance between models, brands and generations. For 2022 he thinks the main trend in drivers is: "In a word, consistency. Whilst all the brands are talking about ball speed (and the new drivers are certainly long), my biggest finding has been how much more consistent the ball flights are. Mishits don't seem to be causing the same level of drop-off or increase in the spin numbers. This means that more shots seem to be flying the way you want them to!" As far as golf balls are concerned the biggest development is in the, "three piece, non-Tour, urethane-covered section. For regular golfers, these models offer superb performance at both ends of the bag without denting your wallet quite as much as the premium Tour-played options."
Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he is now the brand's Digital Editor and covers everything from Tour player interviews to gear reviews. In his time at Golf Monthly, he has covered equipment launches that date back well over a decade. He clearly remembers the launch of the Callaway and Nike square drivers as well as the white TaylorMade driver families, such as the RocketBallz! If you take a look at the Golf Monthly YouTube channel, you'll see his equipment videos dating back over a decade! He has also conducted 'What's In The Bag' interviews with many of the game's best players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Over the years, Neil has tested a vast array of products in each category and at drastically different price-points.
Neil is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth Plus Fairway Wood: Titleist TSR2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons (4-9): Mizuno JPX 919 Forged Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 46˚, 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X
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