February 1, 2018

Seeking the Truth About Radar

Do we trust launch monitor calculations or the measurements we take as fitters and teachers?


If you’re an instruction junkie, you’ve likely spent time reading about or even contributing to the conversation on Doppler radar and measurement. At the center of the conversation is which product TrackMan, FlightScope or Foresight produces the best measurements of variables like angle of attack, swing direction, club head speed and many more.

With so many opinions and so much info out there, what are we to believe? Who’s right and how do we know? After much careful thought and consideration here’s my opinion: We are considering a rhetorical question. The whole idea rests on the idea that the machine in question measures the variables in question precisely. When that’s considered, two things stand out:

  1. We don’t know for sure what is measured and what is not, since the companies don’t release their algorithms. 
  2. It really does not matter, because measuring is an inexact science.

Before you react, let’s do a little thought experiment. If you are approximately 150 yards away from the pin and wanted a precise yardage, would you rather walk it off or use your rangefinder? If you are like me, you would choose the rangefinder, which calculates the distance just like many other products in our lives from cars (which calculate the speeds) to ovens (which calculate temperatures).

Another thing to consider is that the actual measurement is not as important as reliability. What do I mean? It is not so important that you know the yardage is exactly 150, but more so that every time you use the rangefinder from that same spot it gives you the same number. And if you move forward one yard, it then tells you 149. Another example: It is not so important that you know that the exact number of a player’s clubhead speed, but it is extremely important to have that number be consistent and reliable. If a scale says you weigh 150 pounds and then we add a 10-pound weight and it says 160 pounds, then the scale is reliable. Likewise if the radar reads 100 mph with your student’s driver today and two days later it measured 103 mph after you worked on drills to enhance swing speed, we can determine that the radar is reliable. It is less important that the measurement be exactly precise, and more important that it’s consistent and reliable over time. Having reliable information gives you a sturdy and factual starting point as a teacher/clubfitter.

I’d like to add one more note about math and measurement. When Zeno’s Paradox, which challenges a number of apparent truths that can be proven false, is applied to math and measurement sometimes things don’t add up:

What does 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 equal? 1 Now what is 1/3 as a decimal? .333 Now what is the sum of the same decimals? .333 + .333 + .333 = .999 (not 1)

This paradox helps show us that in all measurement there is some element of calculation, and perhaps some level of variance. Although measurement presents opportunities for endless debates, we cannot really settle anything until all major manufacturers allow total transparency.

Although this would be amazing, it’s unlikely to happen. So let’s be happy we have some really reliable ways to collect data and use our time on other conversations like who’s going to win the Masters!