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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, 2018 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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TG2: So Jack has 21 majors now? Tiger at 17?

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Fred Couples has 5 majors? The Golf Hall Of Fame lists The Players, and a few more obscure tournaments, wins as majors? So does this now mean Jack has 21 and Tiger is at 17? What is going on there?

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 2

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

Following on from Part 1 of this article, we examine reasons 4, 5 and 6 for why golfers suffer from low back pain.

Reason 4: Weak Core Muscles

Before we make start making exercise recommendations for this complicated area of the body, it’s worth asking—what is the core exactly? There is considerable debate about this often misunderstood region. Back pain expert Professor Stuart McGill, explains it as follows:

‘The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators’

In a golf context, there is a common myth that the core muscles are our main source of power in the swing. In reality, the main role of the core is to provide stiffness and stable support for force/power transfer from our legs to our upper body

If we can create stiffness and stability in our core, we can help protect our spine and surrounding structures from unnecessary strain whilst also improving swing efficiency—pretty sweet combo!

Due to a combination of perpetual sitting, poor posture and other detrimental lifestyle factors, our cores tend to lose this ability to provide stiffness and stability. We can combat and correct this with a solid core conditioning program. Below are examples of some of our favorite exercises.

Dead Bug with Fitball – the combination of squeezing the fitball whilst extending arm and leg delivers all sorts of great stimulus for the core muscles.

Bird Dog – great for glute, core and back strength

Pallof Press – fantastic anti-rotation exercise. Good for strengthening the core whilst using the ground efficiently

Reason 5 – Not Warming up Properly/Not Warming up at All!

As we’ve explained above, mechanical back pain arises from too much stress and strain placed on the back. During the game of golf, we treat our spines terribly—expecting them to twist, turn and contort with the aim of producing decent golf shots!

If we don’t prepare our bodies for an activity like golf and just go out cold, we significantly increase the chances for strain and stress being placed on the lumbar area.

I’m sure many of you have had the experience of throwing a ball or a stick hard without warming up, and received a nasty sharp pain in your shoulder. Now, if you were to warm up before doing that; stretching your shoulder, making a few practice throws etc, you’d likely avoid strain altogether. Same goes for the low back and the golf swing – without a decent warm-up, there’s every possibility of a strain when trying to rip driver down the first!

By incorporating a warm-up into your pre-golf routine, you can significantly reduce the risk for injury AND help avoid that card wrecking double-double start! As a side bonus, warming up regularly can help your general health, fitness, and wellbeing too.

We know that most amateurs don’t warm up; a study done by Fradkin et. al showed that around 70 percent of amateur golfers seldom warm-up, with only 3.8% reporting warming up on every occasion!

A decent warm isn’t hard and doesn’t have to take ages to complete; research shows that a warm-up of 10-20 minutes is sufficient. In the video below, Marnus gives a thorough guide to a solid warm up sequence.

Reason 6 – Swing Faults

Let’s not forget the golf swing. One of the most common reasons I see golfers struggle with low back pain is that they are unable to “get to their lead side” and “get stuck” on the downswing. This causes the aforementioned excessive side bend and rotation from the low back, which we need to avoid! 

“Getting stuck” on the trail side

Now we aren’t golf coaches and therefore don’t deliver swing advice. However, there are some fundamental movement patterns that most golfers could benefit from practicing. In the videos below, one of our favorite body orientated swing coaches, Richard Woodhouse, is using one of our favorite training tools, the GravityFit TPro, to help teach an efficient movement pattern. The aim is to develop a strong connection between arms and body, using the hips and thorax to rotate, thereby helping to avoid “getting stuck.”

Summary

The absolute best practice for a healthy golfing lower back is working with a golf swing instructor and also a health/fitness professional that understands the body and swing connection. As a team, they would be able to identify and improve your individual swing faults, movement pattern dysfunctions, range of motion deficiencies, muscle weakness, imbalances, and alignment issues.

If you don’t have access to such expertise locally, you may want to check out the online services offered by Marnus and Nick here:

Marnus – https://www.marnusmarais.com

Nick – https://www.golffitpro.net/

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