The Connected Golfer: Portable launch monitors are a game-changer for weekend golfers

David Dusek
·6 min read

In Part I of the Connected Golfer series, we introduced you to the driving ranges of the future, facilities that have installed systems like Toptracer Range and TrackMan Range. Now, learn how you can get pro-level data from your practice sessions at any facility in the world thanks to launch monitors designed specifically with club players in mind.

On February 9, there was snow on the ground in Connecticut while the fairways at the We-Ko-Pa Resort in Fort McDowell, Arizona, were emerald green. After a 30-minute frost delay that morning, the range opened under a cobalt-blue sky and the sun quickly warmed the air. The Saguaro Course, the top-ranked track on Golfweek’s “Best Courses You Can Play List: Arizona,” beckoned.

After not playing for four months, I was nervous and knew warming up could be an adventure. What was my swing going to look like? Where were these shots going?

I took a Rapsodo Mobile Launch Monitor out of a small pocket in my bag, turned it on and linked it to my iPhone using Bluetooth. Then, after setting the compact device about 8 feet behind me, I started hitting some balls.

A sand wedge went 71 yards. Another sand wedge, 94 yards. A few minutes later I switched to an 8-iron and it sailed 144 yards. Then 146, 157 and then another to 157 as I started to loosen up.

A few 6-irons, a couple of 4-hybrid shots (I always warm up with even-numbered clubs) and then the driver – 241 yards, then 250. Ok, so that’s what I’ve got today. Let’s have fun!

Launch monitors made for weekend golfers

Graphite shafts, titanium driver heads and multilayer, urethane-covered balls were all game-changing, but the development of portable launch monitors has changed how elite golfers train, how swing gurus teach and how club makers fit gear to meet the best players’ needs.

However, to get the most out of something like a TrackMan 4, a FlightScope X3 or a Foresight GC Quad, you need deep pockets and a Ph.D. in swing dynamics. Devices like those start at more than $10,000, with some devices topping $20,000.

Systems like that are not practical for weekend golfers, but several companies are now offering launch monitors designed for recreational players. Admittedly, systems like the Rapsodo Mobile Launch Monitor, FlightScope Mevo, Swing Caddie SC300 and SkyTrak Golf Simulator and Launch Monitor do not track as many things as those expensive units. For instance, they don’t provide information on the clubface at impact, the attack angle and typically can’t determine spin rates. They do, however, provide accurate, consistent information that will help any club player practice smarter, get more out of lessons and make smarter equipment decisions. In short, they can be a powerful tool for a Connected Golfer.

Rapsodo Launch Monitor
Rapsodo Launch Monitor

Rapsodo Launch Monitor

While there are subtle differences between the units, most work on the same principles. After linking with your smartphone or tablet, the launch monitors track your shots by emitting Doppler radar, which is transmitted in the direction you are hitting and reflects off the ball and back to the unit. Some models also use internal cameras, or the camera built into your smartphone or tablet, to track the ball.

Using the radar and camera information, the system’s software reveals things like ball speed, carry distance, launch angle and shot height. Some systems can also display things like angle of descent.

As technologies have advanced over the past few years, there are now several different models available that work both outside and indoors. Used indoors, launch monitors track the first few feet of your shot, then extrapolate where the ball would have flown based on its velocity, launch angle and spin rate. This allows golfers in cold-weather climates to use the systems year-round.

At this point, one question is obvious: Compared with a high-priced launch monitor system used by pros like Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy and Danielle Kang, how accurate can a unit that costs $500-$1,000 be?

Well, according to Rapsodo, its $499 unit measures ball speed within 0.8 percent of a TrackMan. The company also claims that launch angle measurements are within 1 degree and carry distance is within 1.87 percent. That’s less than 6 feet of difference for every 100 yards of carry distance.

So, for golfers who do not live near a facility with a system like Toptracer Range or TrackMan Range, these devices are revolutionary. They allow golfers to interconnect different aspects of their game easily, utilizing real data.

Rapsodo feedback
Rapsodo feedback

Rapsodo feedback

Make practice more meaningful. Launch monitors designed for club players show things like carry distance and ball speed, but several also display visual representations of your shots. Sure, the arcs and tracer patterns created on your smartphone or tablet are cool to see, but after you hit a series of shots with the same club, observing a scatter pattern of your shots can reveal a clear picture of how far you hit that club and where you tend to miss. You can see the typical severity of a slice or a hook, learn how high you are hitting different shots and with some models, discover how much roll occurs after your shots land.

Share swings and data with coaches. For years, it has been common to see pros on the PGA Tour get their caddie to capture video clips of swings with a smartphone, then email those videos to their instructor back home. Launch monitors made for recreational golfers typically have a “share” feature that makes sending shot information easy. Some models take things to another level. For example, Rapsodo allows golfers to send video clips with distance, ball speed and launch angle data, along with a tracer pattern of the shot, automatically overlaid on the video. It is a powerful way for students and instructors to reinforce what was taught in lessons and for instructors to give follow-up tips to players.

Data to share with club fitters. One of the first things a good club fitter does is examine a player’s gear and have him or her hit balls using a launch monitor to create a baseline of performance. Armed with data collected from your own launch monitor, a player can bring more information to the fitting, then use it to tell whether new clubs perform better than the gear he or she already owns. They can also tell whether dispersion patterns are tighter, shots are flying higher and compare other aspects of performance.

Having your own launch monitor is not going to transform your game overnight. It can, however, help you practice smarter, communicate with your instructor more effectively between lessons and understand your game on a deeper level. Those things, in turn, should help you improve as a player and shoot lower scores.

In the next installment of The Connected Golfer, we cover shot-tracking systems that allow you to replay every shot in your round, gather performance data about your game and discover the strengths (and weaknesses) of your game.

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