Interview with Dan Rogers, Golf Coach, Carnegie Mellon on Golf Simulators
Posted on November 29th, 2020 by Herb Rubenstein
I was referred to the thirty-eight year-old, Coach Dan Rogers, by Coach Peter Gyscek of Washington and Lee University. Carnegie-Mellon had just won the men’s and women’s sections of the Savannah Invitational with its top-ranked Women’s Golf Team in Division III and its ninth-ranked Men’s Golf Team. I told Coach Gyscek that employer, Golf Pro Delivered, had just been selected to help teach at the Consistent Golf Summit on the following topic: “How to learn golf and how to teach golf in a simulator.” Golf Pro Delivered gave 10,000 lessons last year in our mobile golf simulators. I told Coach Gyscek that I had already discovered many ways that training in a golf simulator was great for all levels of golfers, especially beginners, and wanted to learn even more ways that learning golf in a golf simulator could help great golfers become more competitive in high level high pressures golf tournaments like college and professional golf tournaments.
Coach Gyscek told me I should talk to Coach Dan Rogers, whose teams had not played on a golf course all winter prior to the Savannah Invitational. (Note: Carnegie-Mellon University is located in Pittsburgh, where Dan Rogers grew up and where winters are harsh. Carnegie-Mellon University is world-renowned for its technology and education center and for breakthroughs in computer-assisted learning in general.
I contacted Dan Rogers by phone and email and he agreed to an interview. Prior to the interview, I sent him the questions below. Rather than go through each question one by one, we had a general conversation about how he maximizes the value of coaching and instructing his golf teams relying very heavily on golf simulators. This interview, and the great success of Carnegie-Mellon’s teams at Savannah, show that golf simulators not only can help beginners and average golfers, but they can be instrumental in helping elite, competitive golfers improve and be more competitive as they prepare for actual tournament conditions.
This write-up is my summary of what Coach Rogers said and includes comments I made during the conversation. I note my own personal comments with the preface – “HR said.” I have not tried to quote Coach Rogers verbatim, but to catch the essence of what he said. Also, note that we did not discuss use of “pressure” or “weight measuring plates” that can be used with golf simulators, nor did we discuss the use of devices that track wrist angles during golf swings that can also be used with simulators.
The Questions Presented In Advance
- What can you teach more quickly, more effectively, and more easily in a golf simulator when working with members of a golf team in a simulator than you could teach on a golf course, outdoor practice area, or driving range?
- What elements and data generated in a simulator technology are the most important for helping golfers improve in a way that sticks with them?
- Why is teaching in the winter in a simulator better than making golf team members go out into the cold and wet conditions and play golf on the course?
- How long is the ideal length of a session for a golf team member working hard to improve in a golf simulator?
- What are the factors you focus on using a simulator in “short game” training?
- How do you teach “course management” and tournament golf strategy in a golf simulator?
- How do teach a golf team member how to deal with “competitive pressure” in a golf simulator?
- What else would you like to share about the benefits of golf training in a simulator for the tournament player, the average golfer, and for the beginner?
This is the sixth year of existence for the women’s golf team at CMU. The men’s golf has a long history at CMU. The team worked exclusively in simulators from January through early March in the Pittsburgh winter to get ready for the March 9-10th tournament. There were many elements of the golf simulator experience that helped the women’s and men’s team be “competitively ready” for the tournament and win. They include:
- The teams did not work outdoors in the cold, wind, rain, snow of the Pittsburgh winter and always had “perfect conditions for golf with the indoor simulator.” They were well rested, refreshed, and “ready to walk outside” to test their skills and were ready to see what was going to happen in Savannah.”
- In a simulator, “time” goes by faster than on a golf course for practice, for drills, for playing simulated rounds, and for playing “pressure packed games with scoring systems developed by the coach and the golf simulator industry (to be discussed below).
- Consistency is easier to achieve in a simulator than practicing at a driving range or on a course as one can have precise goals and have precise feedback from each shot on the simulator screen, and recorded for future analysis, for such things as:
- Carry distance for each club.
- Setting a range of, for example, “X” yards from one’s average distance for say a 7 iron as the measure of “excellent,” “good,” “acceptable”, “not good,” and “terrible.”
- Setting precise targets for maximum acceptable distance left or right of the target for each club and measuring each shot, with each club and understanding your tendencies to miss right or left more often (acceptable dispersion as measured in “yards off line”). Note, it is also good feedback to learn the full width of the dispersion of 20 shots with a club so you learn something about how one should approach and aim regarding the target landing area, especially one with penalty areas near the target landing area.
- Understanding which clubs a golfer is more likely to miss right or miss left in order to help develop proper alignment on a golf course (note there is more on alignment below).
- Measure and seek to achieve an optimal launch angle for each club and for each type of shot with each club (full shot, low or high trajectory, draw, fade, punch shot, etc.
- Measure and seek to achieve an optimal spin rate for the ball with each club (backspin and sidespin) for each type of shot
- Assess centeredness of contact and exact location of contact on your club (of course, one can use face tape to do this in rudimentary manner, but no permanent record is kept by face tape and it is more difficult to assess this in a rigorous way for each “type of golf shot” on the range or on the course.
- Measure and seek to achieve an optimal swing path for each club for each type of golf shot
- Measure and seek to achieve an optimal angle of attack for each club for each type of golf shot
- Measure and seek to achieve an optimal maximum height or trajectory for ball flight with each club for each type of golf shot
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer identify how to learn the best approaches for each player when dealing with a front left, front right, back left, back right pin or a pin near a hazard, given the player’s “miss tendencies” with the club the player would use with that specific approach shot.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer become more mechanically correct as so many things about the swing (input) and the ball flight (results) are measured instantly, with exact feedback to the coach/player.
- Simulators promote experimenting by a golfer with immediate feedback on whether the “change” in the swing, posture, weight distribution, or any other variable in the golf swing the player was “trying” to change had the desired effect or did not.
- Simulators can also help a golfer achieve better emotional control in the learning process for three reasons. First, on the course a “quick hook” or any terrible shot is often emotionally draining and deflating, and can even tire out or discourage a golfer. In the simulator it is easy to respond to such a shot as just another data point to analyze and figure out quickly why the quick hook occurred. (HR note: A simulator promotes what Dr. Bob Rotella recommends as “reacting indifferently” to every shot, good or bad, as the emotionally most superior way to respond immediately to a golf shot).
- Simulated golf courses that one can “see” on the screen provide an easy opportunity to repeat “shots” over and over which is not allowed on golf courses. Thus, while attempting a shot to a golf hole in a simulator, it is easier to try many different types of golf shots (different clubs, trajectories, different swings) to see how each different shot works or does not work in that exact situation offered by the golf course on the simulator.
- Coach Rogers mentioned Scott Fawcett’s “Decade System” which is a Stats and Math Based Golf Course Management Training Protocol that works well in golf simulators as a way to learn golf course management and golf strategy for each golfer at each stage in their golf ability.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer hear the sounds created by the impact of the golf club and the ball, the matt, and the air (swoosh). This also helps a golfer and instructor to use this audible sound to analyze impact quality and diagnose the cause of the problem with the golf swing. (Herb mentioned he would include this information in his forthcoming article for the Hearing Loss Association titled, Hearing Aids Can Improve Your Golf Game and Golf Experience.”
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer deploy shorter time frames for practice sessions due to ability to hit shots quickly, yet allow enough time between the shots to reflect and learn from the experience of the shot. There is no time lost walking between shots, looking for balls, picking up balls, etc. which occurs on a golf course, driving range or practice area.
- Coach Rogers explained how on occasion he would turn off the projector that shows the ball flight results visually and by the numbers so the player cannot see the ball flight or data, and has to “guess” the result of the shot, while the coach on an IPAD can view the exact ball flight, club and ball data. One can also dim or even turn the lights off and computer can still generate data on each shot.
- With video recording that is excellent in a simulator with properly set up golf simulator, it is easier to show the golfer the swing they just took and analyze with stop motion or slow motion each point in the swing to isolate corrective actions.
- Simulators can also help assist the golfer go through a structured transition from swinging very slowly in a repeated manner to swinging more quickly and learning how to “smooth” it, and learn how their swing performs and how the ball performs for each club at precisely measured intervals of club head speed. For example, a golfer can repeatedly hit shots at 70%, 80%, 90% and 100% levels of effort/speed and see the quality of the results for each level of effort in order to develop a rhythm for the optimal level of speed and effort for each club. (HR note: Ben Hogan in his book Power Golf on p. 17 did something somewhat similar with his chart showing the short, average, and long distances that he was comfortable hitting each club).
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer work on “speed,” both control and how to maximize speed in golf since ball speed, and clubhead speed are measured precisely. (HR note – ball speed incorporates or is the precise result of the combination of clubhead speed and quality of ball contact with the clubhead).
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer set up “random” testing where the target/goal is changed for each shot in terms of distance, trajectory (high/low/fade/draw) and one can identify strengths and weaknesses of each player for each five or ten yard distance increment starting at 15 yards and going through the driver (for example over 200 yards for women and 250 yards for men).
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer set up proficiency tests with precision and not allow a golfer to move on to the next higher level of proficiency testing until the golfer passes the easier test. A permanent record of test results can be created, stored and analyzed to chart the progress of a golfer in many different categories of proficiency.
- Using a simulator compared to a driving range or golf course experience promotes better and much more detailed record keeping of a golfer’s technical progress with each club and with each type of shot, with data from every shot or cluster or shots or proficiency test results.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer promote “feel” or “touch” when the goal is to hit a wedge (or any club) an exact distance (carry distance) and helps promote strategies to take this learning onto the course so that when a shot that has been practiced in a simulator is called for on a golf course, the golfer can use their “motor memory” and can call forth the required shot. In the simulator, there is no “depth perception” (one only sees the screen a few feet ahead of you) so one has to rely completely on “feel” to hit the ball 30 yards vs 35 yards vs 40 yards.
- Once you set a specific goal for a shot, in a simulator, it is easier to see instantly whether you are achieving the goal with exact data on the results of the shot and therefore it allows a golfer and coach/instructor more quickly to make changes in the swing, ball position, etc. to achieve the desired results. And, like on a golf course or driving range, one can set any type of goal for any shot in the simulator and try the shot over and over. However, often on driving ranges we hit without a precise target line or target distance, which are easier to set mentally in a simulator.
- Similar to golf courses, one is able to set alignment sticks in a simulator learn how to adapt and optimize their feet, torso, and shoulder alignment for each club and each type of shot. Once one gets used to doing this in a simulator, one is more likely to do this every time one hits balls than on a golf course. (HR note: Terry Koehler, former President of the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company says the best tip he ever got in any golf lesson he ever took was when one practices to have an alignment stick down for every single shot a golfer hits).
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer set up shots with penalty areas on one side of the green, or the other side, or short or long, including difficult areas near the green to penalize “short siding.” One can use the quick results from hitting shots under such scenarios with the penalty areas being very clear in order to formulate how far “away” from the pin/penalty area one should hit to minimize incurring a significant penalty while maximizing the likelihood of a par or birdie.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer realize that one can have a different tendency with each one of their clubs, even from the same set of clubs. Note, one might “pull” a 7 iron (hit it often to the left of the target), but not “pull” their 8 or 6 iron. In simulators it is easier to learn these tendencies from hitting a lot of balls in a simulator. Once you know you have a tendency to “pull a 7 iron or 3 wood” for example, this knowledge can guide a golfer on where to aim the shot. This can help significantly with “course management.” (HR note – of course the goal is to stop “pulling” the 7 iron or 3 wood, but often in the day or days before a golf tournament, one cannot fix this problem and it is best to understand this tendency and take action during the tournament or round of golf where score counts to minimize the damage such a “pull” can create. HR second note: On most golf courses, there are more penalty areas on the left side of the fairway and greens, and greater penalties for going long than being short. But, there are many holes and golf courses that are exceptions to the “left” and “long” extra penalty areas on the golf course).
- Work in the simulator led some of the CMU golfers to aim closer to the middle of the green for approach shots where a pin was on either the right or left side of the green near the edge of the green, and be less aggressive in going for pins. This helped “course management” during tournaments.
- With a simulator, one can learn exact information about the dispersion pattern (left to right) with each club so this can guide you when on the course you know the width of the fairway, or how far it is from penalty area or OB on one side of the landing area, to penalty area on other side of the fairway. If one hits 20 full drives and the farthest one to the left is 60 yards to the left of the farthest one to the right, and the non-penalty “landing area” for a fairway is only 40 yards, then one knows not to hit a full drive because there is clearly more than a five percent chance one would hit it in a penalty area. One cannot gather this “dispersion data” with precision for each club on the golf course, driving range or practice area. Having this dispersion data helps one decide intelligently which club to hit off the tee or for a lay-up shot. (HR note: I was playing with a golfer who hit a driving iron off the tee often at the Ocean Course in Kiawa and I asked him why he did not hit a “hybrid” off the tee. He told me that his dispersion with a hybrid off a tee was 15 yards left to right (the farthest he hit his most left shots from his most right shots from a tee with in 20 hybrid shots), but his dispersion was only 8 yards left to right with a driving iron/3 iron. He then said his dispersion with a hybrid without a tee was only 10 yards, so he stopped hitting hybrids from the tee, but did keep a hybrid in his bag for hitting shots from the fairway. I realized, without exact data, that my dispersion of the hybrid off the tee when I used a tee was greater than my dispersion from the fairway when I did not use a tee, and I immediately bought a driving iron and in a simulator got a smaller dispersion from the driving iron off the tee than from the hybrid).
- Simulators are great for block practice or repeatable drills especially when one is seeking to achieve an exact target distance or super tight dispersion result or repeat shots like fades, draws, high, low and other types of shots.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer set and measure each shot against precise targets or goals for short shots like “+ or – 2 yards” and keep track.
- Some players on the CMU golf team love to play outdoors and did not at first want to use the simulator. Coach Rogers found ways to work with these types of people including making “games” and competitions through simulator experience, have proficiency tests, etc.
- There is a similar difference between golfers who love to play on the course, but do not want to do drills or hit on the driving range or work repetitively in the short game area. For those who “don’t like practice,” a coach/instructor can make hitting balls and attempting certain shots and seeking improvement in the simulator “play,” and not viewed as “work” by the golfer. For example, one can set a “score” for each shot and tally a score such as a 60 yard wedge setting a score of 3 for within 10 feet of the hole, 2 or 11-15 feet, and 1 for 15 – 25 feet, and 0 for greater than 25 feet. When one repeats the “game” one can track progress or lack of progress, and one can test different clubs (60 degree all the way to 44 degree club) to see with which club one does the best on the “test” or “game.”
- Golf courses in the simulator give golfers the opportunity to “see” a situation that will occur on the golf course and develop a strategy on how to plan and execute the shot that will optimize their expected results. This can help significantly with “course management.”
- It is essential to warm up before hitting shots at full speed in the simulator in order to avoid injury and be sure that the data generated from shots reflects being fully ready to hit the shot with a warmed-up body and muscles.
- The mat in the simulator must be very high quality as poor mats will make it appear that a shot has been hit well even though the clubhead hit the mat behind the ball. Some mats will inflate stats, so Coach Rogers got a gel filled set of mats for his simulators that produce results with no more than a 3% difference from actual distances on the course at sea level.
- For every simulator “session,” a golfer, with or without an instructor, should have a specific goal for that session and collect, store, and later analyze, the data generated from the golf shots hit during that session.
- Coach Rogers says there is no need to hit every club every day in a simulator; can focus on one and one type of shot, or a few clubs and a few different shots.
- When one creates games and competitions in a simulator environment, one can create “high stakes” games (can’t leave until you have accomplished X or Y, or if you do X, do 20 pushups, different sets of rewards – positive and negative, etc. – can only do the things you can do “legally” in a golf coaching environment!). Herb suggested having an electronic scorecard or scoreboard and record results from games, sessions, just like the ones at tournaments that golfers love to look at.
- Simulators can also help a coach/instructor can create safe situations to “distract” a golfer to help them improve their concentration such as making a loud or distracting noise during a swing, or even “throwing things at them” during a swing or having things move around them during their swing.
- When using a golf course built into the simulator, one can set it up with high winds, long distances, little run in the fairway, etc. to make the experience filled with hitting very long shots into par 4’s, very long par 3’s, etc. This gets competitive golfers used to very tough “conditions” and demanding golf courses.
- We did not discuss how to improve one’s putting using a simulator.
- One key issue about playing outdoors in the winter in Pittsburg in addition to the cold, is the wind. If a golfer regularly draws the ball, but is hitting on a range where the wind is blowing hard left to right, the golfer will likely only see fades, and this will erode their confidence, and possible encourage them to adjust their swing in a less than optimal way to see draws. and deal with the “negative wind conditions.”
- The focus of golf training in simulators for golfers at every golf level should first be on learning what is necessary in a golf swing to create solid “contact” with the ball. This should proceed such fine tuning as trying to exact a little fade or little draw or change the trajectory of a golf shot by a small amount. Solid contact with the golf ball will produce a reasonable distance shot, a reasonable trajectory, and will likely be in reasonable alignment with the target.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer teach rhythm in the golf swing since their precise measurements can assess whether the swing speed is consistent from shot to shot.
- Simulators can also promote golfers on a team helping each other by hitting together in a simulator, alternating shots, and discussing what they see the other golfer doing.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer pinpoint specific problems a golfer is having that could likely lead to a big problem on a golf course and double and triple bogeys that ruin a competitive golf score.
- Simulators can also help a coach/golfer identify how each of their different clubs performs. (HR note: When I was hitting my irons in a simulator three times in one week, I notices my 8 iron was carrying an average distance of 143 and my 7 iron was carrying 164. I took the clubs, which were fairly new, custom fitted P790 TaylorMade irons, back to my club fitter and when he measured them my 8 iron was one degree off spec weak or too lofted and my 7 iron was one degree too strong, or one degree less lofted than spec. Clubs, especially forged clubs, and apparently especially P790 TaylorMade irons do “move” when used repeatedly on mats, and this 21yard discrepancy in distance between clubs would have been very difficult, if not impossible to pinpoint precisely on a driving range or on a golf course. I then had all of my irons bent one degree strong not only because I wanted the extra distance, I liked the “feel” of the one degree strong 7 iron much better than the one degree weak 8 iron).
- Coach Rogers can also look at the data generated by each player when the player is studying at the rigorous CMU. The students there have a tough academic school and have NCAA limitations on the number of hours they can participate in formal practice. So, time is very important to college students and if they can improve faster with a simulator that is a very good thing. (HR note: There are no NCAA regulations as to how many hours a golf coach per week can study the films and stats generated by a golf team member in a simulator. Simulator generated data when painstakingly analyzed by a golf coach/instructor, while the student/golf team member is studying to ace a test, can find issues and things for the student/college golfer to work on and fix during their limited official time at a golf team practice session.
Many thanks to Coach Rogers for his key insights. I wish him continued and even greater success as CMU’s golf coach, and thanks to Coach Peter Gyscek who told me “I had talk with Coach Rogers.” Coach Gyscek was right.