On Monday of the 2013 U.S. Open, Sean Foley was casually standing behind Tiger Woods at Merion's makeshift range when an email from Justin Rose appeared on the swing instructor's phone.
"I looked at the email and a friend who was next to me said, 'What is that?' " Foley says.
Foley explained that Rose was sending a reading of TrackMan-recorded numbers following a final practice session at home before traveling to Pennsylvania. "And my friend goes, 'Isn't that too much thinking? They don't send videos anymore?' "
The instructor told him no, just the opposite. "His path was zero and his face was two degrees open," he explains. "So the ball was starting a little right with a little bit of cut. I wrote back, 'Rosie, awesome, love those numbers, can't wait to see you tomorrow.' "
Foley's friend was stunned, saying, "That seems too technical to me." Foley countered that it was only "technical if you do not understand TrackMan. If you understand TrackMan, this simplifies things."
Known as a ball-flight analyzer for revolutionizing clubfitting, TrackMan has become a vital tool in the teaching arsenal of a growing number of instructors thanks to its portability, the constant refining of its software parameters and a better understanding of what to do with the information provided.
"It's a moderator, somewhere between pure science and Harvey Penick," says Foley.
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Contrary to first impressions and what TrackMan critics say, in the right hands the tool simplifies the way players adjust their swings, makes practice sessions more efficient and breaks down longtime swing models by emphasizing swing path and face angle at impact. TrackMan's growing influence is not just relegated to PGA Tour ranges. College programs are using it, and more than 350 TrackMan-licensed facilities in the United States are making the $25,000 device increasingly accessible at rates usually starting at about $100 an hour.
In a nutshell, TrackMan is becoming a must-have piece of equipment in every elite player's arsenal, with widespread use by top golfers rapidly transforming the game. Just as TrackMan's inventors had hoped.
DR. KLAUS Eldrup-Jorgensen played on the Danish National Team and built a career in the medical-device world, focusing on research. He was also curious about ways golf could be analyzed. Along with brother Morten, Eldrup-Jorgensen joined leading radar engineer Fredrik Tuxen, a designer of missile-tracking applications. The trio formed TrackMan in May 2003. After a few years of trial and error honing the system's ability to track a golf ball, they eventually sold versions of TrackMan to five major manufacturers for approximately $200,000 apiece. By 2006 the PGA Tour was a customer, and TrackMan devices began appearing on at least one hole per tournament round, tracking ball flight while providing unprecedented feedback on tee shots.
Although TrackMan wasn't the first launch monitor, it was the device that made them fashionable, spawning a number of competitors, including Foresight Sports GC2, a small, highly portable tool used by many retailers, tour reps and tour pros. In TrackMan's early days, however, not many people even knew of its existence.
Foley says the first TrackMan device he bought looked "like a homemade bomb" when run through an airport X-ray and got him stopped so regularly that he had the TrackMan website ready to show skeptical TSA agents. Since that first version, the company has developed a streamlined, wireless system that looks and feels like something straight out of Jony Ive's Apple design lab. Unveiled at the 2013 PGA Merchandise Show, TrackMan IIIe is a sturdy-looking gray box featuring TrackMan's distinctive orange logo, a small built-in camera and metal stand. As with Apple's products, there is full integration via phone or tablet apps allowing a golfer to study his progress and review swings past or present.
With a burgeoning online community and constant input from the company's software team utilizing user data, those who have signed up for free on MyTrackMan.com can read case studies, look at past swings, attend seminars or compare scores in the TrackMan "combine" standardized test with golfers across the globe.
While there are other products on the market, TrackMan is easily the most popular on tour despite its high cost, which comes with almost no discounting except for tour pros who get about 20 percent off. In return, they must submit TrackMan combine scores as well as allow the use of their swings for comparisons. All TrackMan owners get constantly updated software and service. Michael Pinkey, a Scottsdale-based disciple of David Leadbetter's IMG Academy and one of the world's top TrackMan experts, handles West Coast tour events for the company and recently counted 43 players bringing their devices to the range on Tuesday of the 2014 Humana Challenge. Ping, the earliest adopter among manufacturers, has since purchased 66 TrackMans for worldwide clubfitting.
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As expected for something that provides 26 data parameters on club delivery and ball flight along with numerous analytic tools both on-screen or recorded in a user's account for posterity, skeptics insist that TrackMan will breed a generation of cloned robots with nary a clue how to play the game. In fact, the opposite is happening.
"It only clones at impact," Foley says. "If Jim Furyk hits a two-yard draw and Tiger hits a two-yard draw and you put them side by side on video, sure, it looks way different. But in most cases, if you look at the numbers that matter, they're dead similar. So how they get there is different. But they're obviously getting to the same point to make the ball do the same thing."
Woods is a convert after purchasing his own TrackMan. "A lot of times in this game, what we're feeling that we're doing is not exactly what we're doing," says Woods. "I just think that you're trying to match up 'feel' and 'real.' And as you make swing changes, you make slight alterations, you start realizing what [the club] does at impact, and what that can translate into in the performance of a golf ball."
Foley believes the device is eliminating preconceived notions about swing positions and methods. He points out that there are only two fixed positions in the swing -- setup and finish -- and that the only moment that genuinely matters for all swings is approximately half a millisecond at impact -- which can't be seen by the human eye.
"As soon as I started using TrackMan, it helped me to not be didactic and get way off into things like, 'The arm is here, if we could get it here, etc.,' " Foley says. "Now, if I just change ball position, tee height, maybe make the stance a little wider and we go from an attack angle of 4 degrees down to 1 degree up, and the player is at the same exact clubhead speed, we can be hitting it 25 yards farther and we haven't had to do much of anything."