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How to shoot better scores in windy conditions

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As we start to move into the tropical storm season in my home state of Florida, I want to go through the research I’ve done on the data on the PGA Tour with regards to performance in windy conditions. I feel that all golfers can use this information to perform better when the wind starts to blow harder.

First, I had to determine how I wanted to measure the data. What I discovered early on is that, speaking generally, the better player will tend to perform better in different conditions. So Rory McIlroy will tend to shoot better scores than say, renowned wind player Stuart Appleby. McIlroy is simply a better player than Appleby. However, that does not mean that we should follow McIlroy’s example of how to play in the wind.

Instead, I wanted to see what players on Tour improve and what golfers improve in performance when the wind starts to pick up. I used the Adjusted Scoring Average method (defined below) in order to measure this level of improvement.

[quote_box_center]Adjusted Scoring Average: A formula that subtracts the average score for the round from par. Then that difference is added to the golfer’s score. For example, if a golfer shoots 66 on a par-72 course and the average score was a 74.5 for the day, the golfer’s score would be adjusted to 63.5.[/quote_box_center]

For this study, I needed to look at the wind speeds for the morning versus afternoon rounds and adjust the scores accordingly. As we know, most of the time there is much less wind in the morning than in the afternoon. So I had to figure out the scoring average of the morning group versus the afternoon groups.

From there, I wanted to see what players had the largest change in their Adjusted Scoring Average rankings in “windy” versus “non-windy” conditions.

Windy vs. Non-Windy Conditions

With measuring wind speed, there is the average wind speed and there are maximum wind gusts. Sometimes the average wind speed does not give an accurate depiction of how windy it was that day. When combining the average wind speed with the wind gusts, I started to see a more accurate picture. Wind gusts are defined as a peak speed of wind that usually lasts less than 20 seconds. If the average wind speed was the same on two different rounds, the day with the larger wind gusts would produce higher scores.

I used a simple formula that took the average of the average wind speed and wind gust speed and I called it Wind Velocity. Here’s an example:

(5 mph average wind speed + 10 mph wind gust)/2 = 7.5 wind velocity

The wind velocity on Tour ranges from 5 to 25 mph. But the range of Wind Velocity that is most frequent is 9 to 12 mph. Perhaps the most interesting finding was that the Tour started to see a noticeable increase in scores as a whole when the Wind Velocity was greater than 12 mph.

My interpretation? Once the Wind Velocity is at 12 mph, it can make at least a one-club difference on an into-the-wind approach shot. And as we know, the tailwind in golf does not benefit the golfer at the same equivalent of how much a headwind hurts a golfer.

In the end, I measured the rounds as:

  1. Windy conditions having a Wind Velocity of greater than 12 mph
  2. Non-windy conditions having a Wind Velocity at 12 mph or less.

Common Traits of the Best Wind Players

Here’s a list of players with the largest improvement and the players with the largest regression in “windy” conditions compared to “non-windy” conditions over the past five seasons on the PGA Tour:

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.06.18 PM

When looking at the entire list of players and their level of improvement/regression when the Wind Velocity was more than 12 mph, I started to see the following commonalities in their metrics:

  • The most improved players tend to be more conservative off the tee, in general, laying up off the tee and not using driver.
  • The most improved players tend to be less aggressive on par-5s, by laying up instead of going for the green in two shots.
  • The players with the largest regression tend to be poor from the Green Zone (approach shots from 75-125 yards).
  • The players with the largest regression tend to be poor on short game shots from inside 20 yards around the green.
  • The most improved players appear to hit the driver with a downward attack angle.

A trend that appears to exist, but on a smaller level, is that the most improved players tend to be less effective drivers of the ball in general.

The trends are certainly open to interpretation. My feeling is that there is a psychology to being comfortable with laying up off the tee and on par-5s. When playing in windy conditions, players are more apt to have to lay up because the wind will throw the ball offline. The players that lay up often in non-windy conditions are now more comfortable with having to lay-up when the wind picks up.

The downward attack angle with the driver makes perfect sense. You’re trying to flight the ball lower so the wind does not throw it offline. Players that have a pronounced upward attack angle like Bubba, Keegan and Kyle Stanley are going to have more difficulty keeping the ball out of the wind.

As for the Short Game shots around the green, when the conditions become windy the greens in regulation percentage drops and therefore the golfer has to be able to convert scrambling opportunities. But what surprised me a bit is that the most improved players had a trend of being better from the Green Zone (75-125 yards).

My guess why is twofold:

  1. In windy conditions, the players are not likely able to go for par-5s in two shots, therefore they have to lay up to that Green Zone range.
  2. In windy conditions, the players are more likely to hit their drives offline and then have to hit a rescue shot instead of being able to go for the green, so they have to save par from the Green Zone.

For those using this at home, I would recommend using your smart phone weather app to see what the wind speed is and where the wind is coming from. Since it is now legal to use a compass during a round of golf, more diligent golfers can use it to determine where the wind is coming from when the wind starts to swirl a bit. And if the wind speeds are faster than 12 mph, golfers may want to focus on being a bit more conservative in strategy off the tee and on par-5s while working on their wedges before they go out to play.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at ProGolfSynopsis@yahoo.com or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Scott

    May 28, 2015 at 9:18 am

    This is a very interesting article. I have improved my wind play by mentally accepting the conditions instead of worrying or complaining. A week at Bandon Dunes changed my idea of what wind really is. I look at it as another hazard that has to be negotiated.

  2. Roonster

    May 24, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Theres on dobt 12 mph is a significant number this means that a stratergy is needed soft hands ball back in stance and finishing loe ,find the middle of the club and accept what you get if you get it right then fine if not accept this it may not be your fault
    when chipping keep it low if you can try to keep it on the floor make it work for you as
    a stratergy its fun and you can learn the skills come to the uk and you will need those skills

  3. Steve

    May 23, 2015 at 9:40 am

    If you live/play in a area where windy conditions are normal, south florida. Texas etc . You learn to play in it through trial and error. If you live in a area where wind isnt a factor normally it will be harder for you. I grew up in the northeast where wind was a non factor so hitting high bombs was the play. Now i am in south florida and high bombs are death sentence here. So you change your game to fit. Which is mid piercing draws or low tee driver bullets. But it does take time to get use too

    • Regis

      May 27, 2015 at 9:55 am

      Totally agree. I’ve played most of my golf on Long Island . First 25 on an inland course. Last 2 on a course where the back nine abuts the water. Wind can be fierce. Learned by trial and error (mostly error). My favorite shot is hitting a tee shot into the wind coming off the bay and riding the wind into the center of the fairway . When it works

  4. Martin

    May 22, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    I have spent the last 7 years first on the Prairie where it was always windy and now near the Atlantic ocean where the same thing exists.

    Into the wind, or even worse an in my face coming a bit from the right I almost always hit a 3w. I still hit it hard but can hit it almost dead straight. Over the years I found extra club and hit the ball very straight with no fade or draw is the best way to play in windy conditions.

    My regular swing now except with a driver which is a fade is almost always dead straight, I gues I taught myself to keep the club sq

  5. Jonny B

    May 22, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Sergio hits down on the ball almost more than anyone else on tour. He takes mammoth divots with his 3 wood. Yet he’s on the bad wind player list… what gives? Kind of refutes your theory.

    • Richie Hunt

      May 23, 2015 at 10:16 am

      First, it’s trends, so it doesn’t mean that there will never be an exception to the rule. Secondly, Sergio over the years has not been that good from 75-125 yards and his Short Game play has been suspect at times.

  6. Desmond

    May 22, 2015 at 10:16 am

    So you’ re hitting down on the driver, placing more spin on the ball… okay, I assume the downward AOA must be slight for tour players.

    • Thomas Beckett

      May 22, 2015 at 11:12 am

      If a player decreases the angle of attack from say 2 degrees upward to 2 degrees downward with a driver or any club for that matter, and also decreases the loft by the same amount which in this case is 4, the spin loft remains the same so there would be ZERO increase or decrease in backspin. Hitting up more or down more is only one part to changing the spin rates.

      • Desmond

        May 22, 2015 at 11:17 am

        Thx. Yes, I thought you’d have to decrease left to minimize spin. Of course, I’ve also heard the old saw that in the wind, tee it high and let it fly … that seems defeating against the wind.

        With iron approaches, I’ve played with guys who take more club and keep it low, and guys who take more club, make a full swing, and let it fly – they let the wind balloon it and knock it down onto the green. That is interesting to watch and do …

    • Rich Hunt

      May 22, 2015 at 11:32 am

      I was just reporting what the data shows. Some players like Trevor Immelman (plays more effectively in the wind) have a very steep attack angle and high spin rates. But, he also hits the ball very low. However, I didn’t put that in the end of the article as something to do because I think changing your AoA and still hit the ball well is probably difficult to do.

  7. The dude

    May 22, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Most amateurs don’t use enough club….for them it’s too much to swallow a little pride and hit that 8 iron from 125….instead of muscling a wedge

    • Cliff

      May 22, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Agreed! Most amateurs think they can hit any club an extra 5-10 yards by swinging harder. This just isn’t the case. Take the extra club or 2 and swing easy.

    • Rich Hunt

      May 22, 2015 at 11:30 am

      Old Florida saying…’when it’s breezy, swing easy.’ There have been some YouTube videos showing people with Trackman and showing the numbers why hitting more club and swinging less forcefully is beneficial in the wind.

  8. Matt

    May 21, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Growing up in Oklahoma taught me a lot about how to play in the wind. The trick for me is to keep my grip light and swing easy. If you try to control the ball too much you’ll end up making a bad swing.

  9. Duncan Castles

    May 21, 2015 at 11:01 am

    Informative and helpful. As always…
    Thanks Rich.

  10. Tom Stickney

    May 21, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Brilliant

    • Jeez Utz

      May 23, 2015 at 8:32 am

      Like you would know

      • devilsadvocate

        May 23, 2015 at 11:55 am

        Actually yes he would… Tom is a class A PGA pro and director of instruction… Ooops! You may now remove your proverbial foot from your mouth

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Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
  • 32:50 — Advice to future recruits
  • 44:45 — The disadvantages of being tied to an OEM as a college golf team

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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