Ken Starr Interview: Zelocity Launch Monitors

Ken Starr is the co-owner and CEO of US-based Zelocity Corporation who manufacture the Pure Launch Golf Monitor

Q: Launch Monitors are not widely used or well known downunder. What has driven these tools to be developed in the US?

Ken Starr: Major golf club manufactures have used launch monitor technology in their research and development facilities for decades but these devices often cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars, were significantly large in size and therefore not portable. During the past few years launch monitor technology has become more portable and affordable for club fitters, instructors, retail stores, etc.

The major benefit for owning a launch monitor is that you can offer faster, more accurate club fitting, which translates to more profitability. It is a fact that people who are fitted for clubs when using a launch monitor are 85% more likely to purchase than those who do not get fit on a launch monitor. Having a launch monitor to fit a customer for clubs is no longer a competitive edge; if you don't have one now the consumer will go to your competitor.

Launch monitor technology allows quick comparisons of different clubs, balls and shafts that a consumer can understand and therefore make an informed purchasing decision. Having access to this information provides the consumer with the critical information needed to purchase the best golf club possible for their game at that point in time.

Ball fitting is even becoming very popular in the U.S. and launch monitor owners are seeing fees of $50 to $100 USD for a 30 to 45 minute session. It is incredible the difference between the various golf balls that can be good for one player but are terrible for another.

In the US we have a segment of the population known as the 'baby boomers'. This 35 to 60 age group is keen on technology, wants to analyse data and represents the most significant buying power for golf products.

Launch monitors are also now being used by instructors to track a student's ball striking progress throughout the lesson plan. Playing better translates into more golfers staying in the game and therefore generates income for the golf companies, golf course operators, retailers, etc.

Launch monitors are also proving to be a source of additional revenue source for golf course operators who can rent out the machines for charity events, demo days, golf leagues, etc.

Q: Is there a difference between a golf simulator and a Launch Monitor?

Ken Starr: Yes. A simulator is designed more for entertainment and gaming rather than club fitting or instruction. Some simulators incorporate the same technology to provide actual measurements to make the data more realistic, and some use extensive calculations to "simulate" rather than look at actual data."

Q: So why did Zelocity take its chosen development path? Why radar vs. opposing methods?

Ken Starr: Radar is the most precise, robust technology available today. Radar is low maintenance, proven accurate and easy to use. It is also an extremely robust and flexible technology. Radar signals do not care if the environment is the dark of night, blowing snow, wind, bright sun, clouds, rain and just about anything else it may encounter. Camera technology cannot make these claims.

Radar is more accurate technology when compared to camera technology in similar price ranges. Camera technology is alright to use but is significantly limited by the capabilities of the camera contained in the launch monitor. For example, a $100,000 camera unit is fast enough to snap a picture of a fast moving ball but with an inexpensive camera system the ball becomes more and more 'blurred' the faster it travels. Camera systems use software to 'crop' the haze off the picture of the ball then use calculations to determine its speed. Radar just locks onto the ball as it travels and measures its actual speed.

Another limitation of camera technology is that it requires adjusting the camera for each club. Next time you are at a demo day or inside a retail store with a camera ask to hit an iron then a driver then a wedge. They will need to adjust the unit for every club change. Have you ever seen anything but drivers hit at an outdoor demo day when the sales representative was using a camera system? Radar tracks actual ball flight, and does not care what club you hit!

Q: You have given us a test example of a driver session. Could you run though for us what all the headings on the table mean and how they are derived?

Ken Starr: The first heading, "Golfer", is used to record the basic information of the golfer which includes name, address, handicap, etc. The screen also provides a summary of each club or ball hit and allows the launch monitor operator to enter specific recommendations for that golfer regarding what golf club (metals, hybrids, irons, or wedges) and shafts allow that golfer to optimise their distance with a driver and obtain the most consistent and desirable ball flight trajectory to obtain the most precise level of distance control.

The second heading, "Shot", is the most widely used and is helps the operator quickly zero in on a golfer's unique swing and the resulting ball flight parameters. Every golfer's swing is like a footprint or a fingerprint. It is unique to that golfer's ability because each golfer's combination of club speed, ball speed, launch angle and spin rates must be captured then analysed prior to making equipment recommendations to achieve the accepted optimum parameters.

One of the next software releases planned by Zelocity and actually currently in testing is the ability for the launch monitor operator to capture the actual shot hit by the golfer then automatically run a series of analysis that will display the optimum launch angle and spin rate for that individual player. Once this data is known, selecting the correct club loft and shaft and correct golf ball becomes easier through science. A competent club fitter is still a critical component of the process.

The third heading, "All Shots", records the collection of all shots hit with each different golf club or golf ball. It can also be used to track different students. The screen is helpful when determining if all of the shots should be used when determining overall averages and deviations by club or ball. Poor shots can be deleted from the mix if desired.

All the shots can be mapped on a trajectory screen or individual shots or groups of shots. What the launch monitor operator is trying to determine is which combination of shaft, club head, club weight and other factors are the best combination for the golfer to easily use and control.

The fourth heading, "Dashboard", currently provides all of the information that can be found on the "Shot" screen. Additionally, it used a calculation to estimate the total distance the shot would have carried. Upcoming releases of the PureLaunch software will add items to the "Dashboard" screen. These items are expected to include club speed prior to and after impact, flight time of the shot, shot efficiency and more.

The fifth heading, "Trajectory", is a visual side view of the ball flight based on the launch angle, spin and ball speed that the golfer produced with their swing. One shot, a group of shots or all shots can be displayed. The screen also contains the averages for all clubs hit so the operator can easily switch from one club to another and explain the differences to the golfer.

Q: The PureLaunch then records the ball rather than the face angles of the club and the clubhead speed. So the PL does not really care if you have a driver or 5 iron in your hand?

Ken Starr: The beauty of radar based systems it that a golfer can hit a 60 degree wedge then a driver then a 4 iron without any changes to the system. Radar does not care what club is being hit because it looks at each club uniquely and locks onto the golf ball as it is headed down the fairway. During ball flight the radar is recording 100,000 readings per second on how the ball is behaving in whatever weather environment exists that moment.

Camera systems unfortunately need to make adjustments for each club hit because the camera system sees a ball on a tee differently than one on the ground. This is because the camera must be lowered to capture the ball on the ground.

Q: I can see how you would use a Launch monitor for driver fitting. How do these stack up in fitting irons or wedges for instance?

Ken Starr: Launch monitors can be a valuable tool to correctly fit a golfer for irons, hybrids and wedges. Some golfers may want to purchase wedges that provide a lot of spin to stop the ball on the green whereas a professional golfer or low handicap player may want far less spin. A launch monitor can assist with determining what wedges produce the desired spin numbers.

Q: Do many pros use these for practicing with? What do you consider their best use in practice as?

Ken Starr: Yes, tour players' do use launch monitors for practicing. One tour pro who is a customer of ours uses his PureLaunch at each tour stop to determine which driver they will use in competition that day or that week. For example, the professional may want a higher launch angle with less roll when playing in an event that has extremely difficult rough if the shot flies off the fairway. The same player may then chose to have a low launch angle with more roll if the tournament is being played at a course with hard fairways and no rough.

The best use for a launch monitor when practicing is to really understand the level at which you are the most consistent. A player who can swing at a certain speed, square the club and maintain the same trajectory of a shot has thus established their 'baseline' numbers. Once a player knows these numbers they can then experiment with different equipment, swing speeds, launch angles, other golf balls and more to add more distance and perhaps increase consistency.

The Pure Launch is marketed in Australia and New Zealand by:
Morpower Golf
Brisbane Market
61 7 3277 6577
1800 636 320

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