DECEMBER 7, 2007.
Sixty-six years ago today, on December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan’s Imperial Japanese Navy launched a pre-emptive military strike on the United States Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbor. Two attack waves totaling 350 aircraft inflicted dramatic losses on the American fleet and Navy aircraft, including the loss of 2,333 lives.
In relative terms the planning and execution of the strike appeared to have been nearly flawless. Japan’s strategy was that, by catching the U.S. Pacific Fleet unaware, they could break its back and largely disable it for a year or more. This would enable Japan to move on Malaya and the Dutch East Indies to secure oil and other natural resources it desperately needed because of U.S. embargoes established in retaliation to Japan’s invasion of China.
But Japan made two fatal mistakes. Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, who directed the attack, opted to not launch a third wave attack that could have knocked out the U.S. fuel storage and naval repair facilities. This error in execution enabled the U.S. Fleet to reconstitute itself and get into action sooner than the Japanese had planned.
But on a larger scale, the Japanese had based their plans on the concept that the mighty battleships would be the pivotal force that would determine the overall outcome of the war. As it turned out, a new age of naval combat emerged in World War II, with carrier based air superiority being the determining factor. Unfortunately for the Japanese the American carrier force was not in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.
The Japanese had built their war plan on a false foundation. They had built their planning on theories founded on historical data that did not reckon with factors of advancing technology and the increasing effectiveness and power of carrier-based aircraft.
The major golf manufacturers of balls and clubs are a very intelligent group. They have made some dramatic advances in equipment technology. Teaching pros worldwide have contributed greatly as a whole toward improving the science of golf instruction. We’ve learned a lot about how to make equipment and how to swing a club.
But like the Japanese in 1941 the prime movers in equipment and teaching today are, in some areas, building their knowledge and products on false foundations. This is largely the fault of the technological tools that have emerged recently that fall into the product category of “launch monitors”.
Launch monitors are designed to deliver definitive data on the ball, and sometimes the club. Most monitor just what the name implies, the initial launch. However, some more sophisticated devices are capable of monitoring the ball in flight for some distance–in some cases, according to the manufacturer, over 300 yards.
The key ball data supplied, which the industry has come to covet, is ball velocity, trajectory, and spin. The most key club data in use is club speed. If managed properly, one can determine the dynamic COR (coefficient of restitution) of the club. COR, in simple terms, relates to the speed of the ball off the clubhead in relation to the speed of the clubhead.
The golf industry in some circles has gone relatively bonkers over all this newfound data. The foundational problems relate to how the industry goes about getting this data, and the degree to which the industry trusts the data they are getting. The dynamic applying here is that of “knowing just enough to be dangerous”.
Some of the data obtained by some of the industry is very accurate, and some of this accurate data is applied soundly toward the development of equipment and teaching techniques. Especially with equipment we can all agree that there have been marvelous advances.
But the greater portion of the industry is not always going about the use of this new data in a proper scientific way. And, they have a tendency to buy into the data far too easily. The fact of the matter is there are a lot of flaws and anomalies in launch data delivered by all of the mainstream systems.
In science, it is acceptable to have flawed and anomalous data, IF YOU RECOGNIZE IT AS SUCH. The false foundation we’re seeing in the golf industry is how this flawed and anomalous data is often trusted as definitively accurate, and how it is used as the basis for further analysis. This is like taking one wrong turn and subsequently making all the right ones. Once you make the wrong turn, all the “right” turns you make after that are actually wrong.
We’ll try to flesh this claim out over time, but for now here are three examples:
--A major manufacturer recently released a new line of balls. This line of balls was designed based partially on initial launch velocity data recorded by a modestly priced launch monitor. The particular launch monitor is actually quite accurate on ball velocity most of the time. But the concept of basing a ball design on initial launch conditions is flawed. Initial launch velocity may or may not relate to overall distance performance. In this case it’s been reported that the balls in actual use do not perform well.
--Many club manufacturers test using a particular long range tracking device that is quite expensive and also quite impressive overall. It is very capable of watching the ball over all or most of its flight and reporting results. But users have had a tendency to equate the accuracy of the ball flight tracking to the accuracy of the launch data, particularly spin. The reality is that this particular device is not capable of directly measuring the axis of spin, essential to accurately reporting the back spin and side spin components. It also, by our observation, does not always accurately measure the overall spin rate. This occurs particularly in shots hit with relatively low swing speeds–like those of the majority of golfers. This provides a false foundation relative to testing and fitting clubs.
--A certain pro, fairly typical of many of his peers, is quite sure he knows what his spin rates are and should be on various shots–especially drives. However, the equipment that he’s used to measure his spin has a tendency to report rates that are consistently higher than the actual spin. This pro bases his equipment decisions based on achieving the spin he thinks he should be achieving. However, he doesn’t really know what the optimum spin rates are for his shots, nor does he know his actual spin rates.
These types of scientific errors are common, even by extremely intelligent people. It wasn’t long ago that we based science on the assumption that the world was flat. But the industry needs to think more carefully about how they use this new technology, and where they might be building on false foundations. The technology will continue to improve. But it’s the usage of this technology that MUST improve.