Numbers don’t lie
An interview with FlightScope founder Henri Johnson
By Zak Kozuchowski
For even the best golfers, it’s often difficult to understand what makes one round of golf better than another.
That might be one of the reason golfers are relying so heavily on numbers to analyze their games. Statistics like “greens in regulation,” “fairways hit,” and “up and downs” are tools golfers can use to monitor their progress. But they’re not perfect measurements. How many times have you hit a good drive that made its way into the second cut of the fairway, or struck a great iron shot that just rolled into the fringe? Often, a great putt bails out a poor chip, and vice versa. How do you measure that?
FlightScope founder Henri Johnson didn’t know much about golf when he began designing golf radar systems more than a decade ago, but he did know one thing – speculation is inferior to information.
He and his team sought to create a tool that could give golfers immediate feedback on their ball flight and golf swing – objective numbers they could use to improve their games. They came up with FlightScope, a system that uses thee-dimensional Doppler radar to measure the entire flight of a golf ball, as well as important aspects of the golf swing.
Most launch monitors are able to measure things like clubhead speed, ball speed and spin rate, but they have limitations, Johnson said.
“With a launch monitor, you’re measuring the ball flight over literally 6 inches of data,” Johnson said. “The rest is speculation. Our approach at FlightScope is that if you can measure something, why should you have to speculate about it?”
Because FlightScope measures a golf ball’s trajectory from launch to finish, it more accurately measures launch angle, spin rate, apex height, angle of descent, carry distance and roll. It also can identify a club’s angle of attack, ball spin axis, face angle, dynamic loft and club path – very important tools for club fitting. FlightScope’s latest product, the X2, has the ability to measure the golf club’s path from the top of the shoulder on the downswing until the club disappears behind a golfer’s back on the follow through. It also creates a “speed profile,” which calculates a golfer’s clubhead speed at different parts of the swing, as well as the amount of force a golfer is applying to the club at those points. By showing graphically what the club is doing through impact, fitters are better able to decide not only what shaft is best for a golfer, but also what kind of tip stiffness a golfer should have in their shaft.
But where FlightScope really shines is in its ability for PGA professionals to use it as a teaching tool. Johnson himself has used FlightScope products to diagnose issues with his golf swing. He took up the game 11 years ago, and credits the products for helping him play to a six handicap. The X2 measures both the horizontal and vertical swing planes. Johnson said that he closely monitors his vertical swing plane, a part of his swing that has caused him problems in the past.
“It lets me know what causes what in my golf swing,” Johnson said. “It tells me know what I shouldn’t be doing, and reinforces good behavior.”
One of the X2’s most important new features is that it requires no PC connection to function. It is wirelessly compatible with Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod, as well as with Android devices through applications available for purchase in the iTunes Store and Android Market.
“When we were designing the X2, we knew it had to be wireless,” Johnson said. “I personally don’t like wires because they’re messy. Mobility today is very important. Everything is going wireless.”
The app costs $49 dollars for instructors, and student’s can view their sessions with their teachers with an app that costs $10.
One thing that separates FlightScope from other golf radars available is its price point. It costs around $11,000, about half the amount of its nearest competitor, Trackman. According to Johnson, the X2 is also more accurate than the more expensive model offered by its competitor.
“If you put X2 against Trackman, and you measure – I would put money on it that we are more accurate,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s primary market for FlightScope has been PGA professionals, a market he said the company has been doing very well in. He said his company works hard to show PGA professionals that proper technologies like FlightScope can help differentiate them from their competition. But Johnson has also received a lot of positive feedback about FlightScope products from non-professionals. Through the X2’s wireless technology, FlightScope was able to show spectators data from professional golfers at the ranges at this year’s British Open and Women’s British Open.
“We want to inform the general public of what professional golfers are doing with their swings,” Johnson said. “We’ve found that people are craving information. When we took iPads into the crowd at the British Open and Women’s British Open, people were amazed at how consistent the players were. It’s an insider view people want to see.”
Johnson was hesitant to talk much about future FlightScope releases, but he did say that in the coming year, his company would release a consumer product at an affordable price.
“It’s not a toy,” Johnson said. “It’s as accurate as we can make it at a tolerable price point.”