Simulators are popping up all over Western New York. They’re a fun and unique way to work on the game without having to spend multiple hours on a course.
That is… if you know how to read them.
Ron Philo, Jr. is a teaching pro at Webster Golf Club. He also played in the 2003 PGA Championship, qualifying through the PGA of America Club Professional tournament. He works with students constantly in the half dozen shiny new simulator bays inside the Webster clubhouse. The simulator data that gets his attention first is the swing path.
That number is listed in positive and negative degrees away from the target line. While many students mistake the positive and negative numbers as an assessment of the swing, they are actually just a direction. Positive numbers mean a miss to the right of the target line. Negative numbers are a miss to the left.
The left miss is one Philo has to address often. When thinking of a left miss, imagine the proper swing path is straight down the target line. If that proper swing is represented by a straight line, the line of a missed swing will cross over that straight line, making an “X”. A left miss will actually start with the club too far right during the backswing. Where the “X” crosses is at impact. The left miss will continue with the club moving beyond impact to the left of the straight or correct line.
To fix this, players will often try to tuck the hands a bit in the backswing to hold them inside the target line until impact. The swing thought may also be to get the hands low and under the swing plane to prevent the left swinging shot.
“People have been conditioned to believe that left shots are are the result of what we refer to as ‘over the top’,” Philo, Jr. says. “Frequently, they come from swings that are under the bottom and released early with a club pointing left and a path that, by the time the club reaches the ball, is also left.”
Many right-handed players have been told to try and swing to right field or first base as a correction. As Philo, Jr. points out, the target isn’t right field. The target is down the middle. He doesn’t teach players to swing that way because it can just compound the problem.
“When players work to get the club out the right, they fall back,” Philo said. “As the player falls back, that club has the tendency to open up, fall behind their hands and have the toe lag. They present the club open.”
A player might have fixed the problem of a negative swing path, but the above situation is Slice City, if not reaching the realm of the dreaded Hosel Rocket.
Getting the weight on the back foot or leaning back might also cause a player to throw their hands at the ball as a correction. Instead of hitting a ball straight right, the hands flip through impact quickly and the swing path is again missing left.
Philo’s goal is getting the first move from the top of the swing towards the lead or front leg. The upper body on the downswing should be following the hip turn into a swing. It’s almost as if the hip turn drags the upper body into proper alignment at impact. Baseball actually has a good analogy for this movement.
“It’s like a pitcher delivering a pitch moving down the mound into his lead leg,” Philo, Jr. says. “I’m going to bring my upper body with it which is going to present the club in line with that weight.”
The end result is hopefully much better contact.
Another data point players might not understand on a simulator is attack angle. This measures the angle of the clubhead at impact. A positive number means the clubhead is elevating at impact. A negative number indicates a descending impact.
Players who constantly are worried about getting the ball in the air might also rest too much weight on their back foot. They lean back so the front shoulder is above the back shoulder and try to swing up that shoulder line. While this can create a positive attack angle, it’s rarely a positive swing.
Wedges and higher lofted clubs are actually better used striking the ball with a negative attack angle. The club’s natural loft is plenty to get the ball in the air. For drivers and other woods, moving the ball forward in the stance can create the positive attack angle. That’s only if the weight is shifted properly during the swing.
Philo, Jr. reiterates how many different swing issues a player will attempt to correct by (often inadvertently) leaning back. It’s nearly impossible to hit a good from that posture.
“The movement of this center point in my spine (leaning back)… it’s just not something I can recover from,” Philo, Jr. says. “All these other efforts to hit from the inside, they’re double negatives.”
The term “follow through” is usually a reference to the finish of a player’s swing. After impact, the club follows through to a front-facing finishing position. The term can also refer to how the clubhead should move through the swing. The head of the club should follow the hands through to impact and past it.
Players may often try to flip the hands through impact in an attempt to get the ball in the air, but it’s a move that will only cause problems.
“As soon as the club gets past (the hands), while the impact angle is displayed as a positive number (on a simulator), it’s not a positive for the golfer,” Philo, Jr. says.
Another advantage a simulator can provide is access to a shot pattern. It’s hard to remember what the 7-iron did on the 4th hole, the 8th hole and the 15th hole when someone is playing a round. On a simulator, a dozen 7-iron’s in a row can reveal consistencies in different facets of the swings including a dispersal pattern.
Philo, Jr. says the best players in the world are looking at those patterns, not individual shots to analyze their swing. “They have an understanding of what they want to make happen.”
In large part, thanks to their understanding of the numbers their swing creates on a simulator.