10 fascinating revelations from Ping’s high-tech golf swing program
Welcome to Play Smart, a game improvement column published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday by Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen (who you can follow on Twitter here).
If you’re a player lucky enough to get in shape at Ping’s HQ, chances are you’ll end up on his ENSO system. The program measures a variety of different advanced metrics in players’ golf swings that Ping uses to dial in their tour pros’ specifications and modify their club designs.
Dr. Paul Wood, Vice President of Engineering at Ping, gave us insight into some of the most interesting discoveries of male professional golfers and told us about the results. The numbers you’re about to see are all from Ping sponsored players, each swinging a standardized club.
Fastest club head speed
- Drew Cooper: 140.2 mph
- Wilco Nienaber: 212.2 km/h
It’s no wonder to see super bomber Wilco Nienaber at the top of the ranks, but who is Drew Cooper? He is an amateur long-distance golfer and founder of Next Gear Golf with an alarmingly silky swing considering the speed he has with it.
Maximum speed of the fastest hand
- Cam Field: 28.85 mph
- Wilco Nienaber: 28.62 km/h
The speed at which you move your hands during your downswing is directly correlated to how fast you swing the clubhead and, therefore, how far you hit the ball. In reality, the idea of gripping the club like a little bird is not what actually happens when you swing.
Largest decrease in hand speed from max to impact
- Wilco Nienaber: 10.19 km/h
- Cam Champion: 9.27 mph
It’s interesting – although not a coincidence – that two of the longest players to hit a ball in ENSO also had the biggest decrease in hand speed at impact. This is because, as Dr. Wood says, they transfer all the energy they have created with their body into their golf club.
“You free the club, effectively,” he says. “The player starts pulling on the club with his hands, and that helps the club turn around them.”
Longest hand path length
- Sahith Theegalah: 74.4 inches
- Wilco Nienaber: 70.9 inches
This was measured on the downswing, and as I wrote earlier this week: the longer the path of the hand, the more power potential your golf swing has.
“The longer the arc of the swing, the more time you have to apply speed to the golf club,” says Wood. “This beautiful, long journey is a big part of where Sahith gets his speed.”
Shortest hand path length
- Taylor Moore: 57.5 inches
On the other end of the hand path spectrum is 5-foot-9 PGA Tour rookie Taylor Moore. This is about the same length as the average single-digit handicaps that have been measured in the ENSO. The difference is that Moore’s athleticism means he can make the most of his relatively smaller arc.
Largest variation in hand path length in a single session
- Bubba Watson: 65 inches to 68.6 inches
What’s the longest someone can swing, and then the shortest someone can swing? That award went to Bubba Watson, still the shooter, who achieved the feat by alternating between his hook and slice swings.
Highest average close rate
Closing rate measures how quickly the clubface moves from open to closed at impact. This is an interesting area of research about which we still don’t know a lot. What we know found no correlation between close rates and accuracy, as Wood explains.
“The assumption has always been that in theory it should give you more room for error,” he says. “On a robot it is, but there’s something about a human that makes it noisier.”
Lowest average close rate
- Yoshinobu Tsukada 2207.18 deg/s
- Taylor Moore 2249.95 deg/s
- Viktor Hovland 2459.5 deg/s
Low close-rate players are players whose swings we associate with a more closed clubface on the downswing and at the end of the hold-off. Viktor Hovland and Dustin Johnson, who both have low close rates, are prime examples.
The largest maximum shaft deflection
- Wilco Nienaber: 6.5 inches
Deflection is the flexing of the shaft during the swing. Players weren’t measured with their gaming drivers (they used a Ping Tour 65 X tilted 1″), which means Wilco’s shaft deviated more than half a foot during his swing. That’s why it’s so important to find a good clubfitter who can match you with the right shaft flex. Otherwise, a tree that deviates too much will send your misfires off-planet.
“The clubface has to move more to get back square,” says Wood, describing what happens when the shaft deflects during the swing. “It may be consistent, but depending on their swing for some golfers it will send the ball to the right…others will hit it more to the left.”
Maximum deflection of the lowest shaft:
- Harris English 2.02 inch
And curiously, swing speed is not always correlated to shaft stiffness. “It will get you into the ball park,” says Wood, but the best shaft flex for you depends on How? ‘Or’ Whatrather than how fast you swing the club. He cites the example of Harris English.
“It’s not that he doesn’t swing fast – he can swing it 120 mph – when he shoots [the club] he doesn’t shoot as much, he shoots more,” he says. “He could probably swing a stiff shaft [rather than an extra stiff] if he wanted to.”