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How the wind affects your golf ball

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The wind had really picked up on the back nine. My friend and I were nearing the end of the round, and were about to hit our third shots into a par-5. I had played with my friend dozens of times, and I knew his distances just as well as my own. He used to play professionally, so it surprised me when he hit a full 8-iron from 125 yards. That club usually went 160 yards, but this time it landed within 2 feet of the hole. I would have never taken that much club from such a distance, and that’s also why my shot finished short of the green.

That round took place a few years before I started working with TrackMan, and it’s one of those moments on the golf course that has stuck with me. The good news is that you don’t need to play with a professional golfer to fully understand the effects of wind on the golf ball. Chances are that there’s a Trackman somewhere near you, and it measures the entire ball flight to help golfers understand what wind does to their shots.

If that’s not a possibility for you, here are a few important things that I have learned after playing with the data and running the calculations:

  • The effects of wind are not linear. Unfortunately, there is not a simple equation such as “1 mph equals 1 yard” that golfers can use to calculate how far the ball will fly in the wind. Different clubs, due to their different launch conditions and different ball flight, will be affected differently.
  • A headwind hurts more than a tailwind helps. In fact, at higher wind speeds, a headwind will hurt more than twice as much as a tailwind helps.
  • Headwinds and tailwinds can significantly impact how much bounce and roll you see, and must be taken into account when picking your landing spot.

A great example of how wind affects bounce and roll was seen at the World Long Drive Championship a few years ago. The wind was blowing from behind the players and they were hitting drives that were going 450 yards or more. Yes, they were seeing more carry due to the wind, but they were also seeing a lot of bounce and roll. When I looked at the data, I noticed that not only was the landing angle of the ball shallower, but the landing speed of the ball was significantly higher. A normal drive will typically land at around 65-70 mph, but some of these shots were landing at nearly 100 mph. Because the downwind was reducing the amount of drag the golf ball was experiencing, the ball was hitting the ground faster and at a flatter angle.

The following is an example of a PGA and LPGA Tour 6-iron shot under different wind conditions. You can see how the distance gained or lost is different for the same amount of tailwind or headwind. Notice how much the landing angle changes as well.

PGA TOUR 6-iron

LPGA Tour 6-iron

Since there isn’t a hard rule for how wind affects all shots, I would encourage you to find a certified TrackMan professional and play around on a windy day. He or she will be able to use the normalization feature in TrackMan to show you how far the ball would have carried under calm conditions, as well as show you real-time data of what the ball did in the conditions that day.

Over time you will start to build a knowledge base for how different winds and conditions truly affect your ball flight. Trust that knowledge on the golf course, and you will be much better off.

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Justin Padjen, business development for TrackMan, has worked with more than 200 PGA and LPGA Tour professionals, including multiple world No. 1's. His knowledge of the science of golf has led to audiences with the top players, coaches, universities, and manufacturers in the world. Justin studied Electrical Engineering at North Carolina State University before earning a Master’s in Sports Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University. His current focus is TrackMan University, which is revolutionizing the way golf is taught and understood.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: D-Plane Golf | The DIY Golfer

  2. Pingback: Wind | Nur Golf

  3. Antoine Gehlhausen

    Sep 4, 2015 at 5:41 am

    This may seem like a good idea and certainly gives you the general direction of the wind, but unless you re going to hit the ball at your height it really means very little. There has been very little published on wind and how it affects the golf ball, you have to look at the sailing industry to really understand wind.

  4. Mike

    Aug 12, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    first time I got such an informative data. definitely will me the next time I play in the windy condition. Thanks!

  5. Tom Duckworth

    Aug 11, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Great read very good information. Even without a Trackman this gives me a good starting point. Have you ever looked a numbers when it’s a side wind? That would be a great follow up story to this one.

    • Justin Padjen

      Aug 12, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Yes we have. That would be a good follow-up article. I will see about covering that topic in the future. Thanks.

      • TinCup

        Aug 19, 2015 at 7:57 am

        +1 for the side-wind article. Especially on “quartering” winds

  6. Nick

    Aug 11, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Are there any charts or rules of thumb like this for elevation from tee to green? I don’t mean elevation as in ‘sea level vs playing in Denver’. I mean, for example, “If I’m on a tee box that’s elevated 50 feet from the green, roughly how much shorter does it play?”

    • Justin Padjen

      Aug 12, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      We have a similar animated video on “Ups & Downs”, but it has not been released publicly yet. Stay tuned for more from TrackMan University!

  7. Zeta

    Aug 11, 2015 at 5:42 am

    Made a chart with meters: http://i.imgur.com/eQJhaft.png

  8. B C

    Aug 10, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    I use the wind speed as the percentage that it will affect to ball when hitting into a headwind. So your 150 club will go 135 into a 10 mph wind. And 120 into 20. The percent goes up slightly with more lofted clubs. But if you apply that “formula” to the chart above its pretty close.

    Most people way underestimate the effect of a headwind. It’s hard mentally to make a full 8 iron swing from 120 yards though if you normally hit it 150. If the wind dies then the ball is WAY deep. Better to learn a knockdown shot to reduce spin and height.

    Think of it this way. The longer the ball is in the air the more effect wind has on the shot. Keep it lower and it will get there faster and be less affected.

  9. Philip

    Aug 10, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    I can tell by feel what 1/2/3/4 club wind is and I’m always tweaking it as i play. I personally think this is better than simulating on a trackman as you do not have access to wind speeds during play – you can only feel the wind and look at tree tops (which I keep forgetting to do). That being said, the last few times I played I was beginning to realize that a tailwind is approximately half of a headwind and this article just confirms it – thanks.

  10. other paul

    Aug 10, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    I would have really appreciated a formula ????

  11. Mat

    Aug 10, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    I sure would like to see more of these Trackman U videos. Anyone have a site address?

    • Justin Padjen

      Aug 12, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      Thank you. We are currently hard at work on the “new” TrackMan University. In the meantime, please check out our blog and YouTube page for more content. The links are available in my profile.

  12. WP

    Aug 10, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Good read – thanks. The basic concept is more or less intuitive but I would have underestimated the difference.

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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