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Tiger Woods lofting up for thin air? Examining the switch and what happens when you play at altitude

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It’s not very often a Tiger Woods equipment change flies under the radar, but for one of the world’s most recognizable golfers, a little fairway wood switch should have some big impacts. Per the Darrell Survey and some insider information, the Big Cat has switched from a 13-degree TaylorMade M5 Ti fairway to the same model in 15 degrees (Woods is sticking with the same Mitsubishi Diamana D+ White 80TX shaft).

In his press conference at the Genesis Open Tiger said

“I’ve always been pretty good at taking spin off, but I’m trying to get the ball up for this week and trying to hit the ball high. I knew that that was going to be one of the things I needed to do. And also getting ready if I was going to play Mexico, it was going to be two weeks of trying to get that ball up because obviously it’s at altitude next week and the ball doesn’t spin a lot. So to be able to send that ball up in the air and have it pretty soft when it lands I thought was important.”

It’s an interesting point by Tiger, and this also gives us another reason to pay a little extra attention to the shots hit with that club over the next couple weeks. Also, it’s not every day I get to explain, or in this case, help correct, a misunderstanding in a Tiger Woods quote.

Here is the part of the statement “it was going to be two weeks of trying to get that ball up because obviously it’s at altitude next week and the ball doesn’t spin a lot.” 

Let me explain: The golf ball in an inanimate object has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an effect on how much the ball will actually spin. YES increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin (so Woods’ switch is the right one, from that standpoint) but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude does have effects. Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur.
  • Less resistance also means that it harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (like they need the help – eye roll)
  • Less force = less lift, the the ball will also fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some fun math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. THATS A BIG DEAL! That makes this 7,341 yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

We often see the question of what would happen is pros played “my” course, and in the case of the WGC in Mexico City we might have a pretty good idea, owing to the effective yardage.

As for the fairway wood switch, the lofted-up TaylorMade M5 should help Woods navigate the tight, tree-lined fairways at Club de Golf Chapultepec, and potentially help him add to his impressive list of WGC titles.

 

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Ryan Barath is a writer & the Digital Content Creation Lead for GolfWRX. He also hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on GolfWRX Radio discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club fitter & master club builder who has more than 16 years experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour professionals. He studied business and marketing at the Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop in Hamilton and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers, including True Temper. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, from course architecture to physics, and share his passion for club building, and wedge grinding.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. gery katona

    Feb 18, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    I wonder if club-head speed is also greater with less resistance?

  2. Henry Adam

    Feb 18, 2019 at 11:36 am

    Friction between a spinning ball and the air causes the spin rate to decrease as the ball travels through the air. I have no idea how big this effect is, or how much it changes with different densities of air. However, it is the case that given a particular spin at launch, a ball stuck in thinner air should have a higher spin rate on landing than one struck in denser air. It will therefore also have a higher average spin rate throughout its flight. So thinner air will not allow a given spin to cause the ball to rise after launch as much as it would do in denser air, but that will be compensated to some (unknown) extent by the higher overall average spin rate. Any comment Bryson? 🙂

  3. Reid Sheftall MD

    Feb 18, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Actually Tiger (who thinks the ball will spin less at altitude) AND the author (who thinks the thinner air will have no effect) are both wrong. The ball spins MORE at altitude because of less drag. Take extreme examples: In a vacuum (the thinnest air possible because there is none) the ball will spin “forever” . Spin the ball under water (the thickest air…) and it will come to a halt very quickly.. Therefore, the thicker the air, the less the spin. signed, an M.I.T. physics major, pro golfer in Asia and the author of an upcoming book dispelling this and many other myths of golf that have been passed down through the generations. I also introduce a mathematical model that will help all golfers make the most of their practice time from tour pros to beginners… coming in the summer of 2019 I hope…

    • Reid Sheftall MD

      Feb 20, 2019 at 12:42 am

      Actually Tiger (who thinks the ball will spin less at altitude) AND the author (who thinks the thinner air will have no effect) are both wrong. The ball spins MORE at altitude because of less drag. Take extreme examples: In a vacuum (the thinnest air possible because there is none) the ball will spin “forever” . Spin the ball under water (the thickest air…) and it will come to a halt very quickly.. Therefore, the thicker the air, the less the spin.I am writing a book dispelling this and many other myths of golf that have been passed down through the generations. I also introduce a mathematical model that will help all golfers make the most of their practice time from tour pros to beginners… coming in the summer of 2019 I hope…

    • Reid Sheftall MD

      Feb 20, 2019 at 12:47 am

      I apologize to all readers of my response for acting like a jerk. I have tried to delete it or at least part of it but I can’t seem to be able to do it. Please forgive me!

  4. Tiger Noods

    Feb 17, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    Altitude: vertical distance between an object and the local surface of the Earth.

    Elevation: vertical distance between the local surface of the Earth and global sea level. The local surface of the Earth will be either land or water surface.

    Also, “altitude” within aviation is a combination of these… vertical distance between current location and global sea level.

    Elevation + Altitude = Aviation Altitude.

    Not intended to be anything other than clarification with the way these words often are used interchangeably.

  5. A

    Feb 17, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Yeah but is that actually turning the hosel, or is he actually switching heads from an actual 13 to an actual 15? I doubt he’s going to just dial the adaptor on the 13 closer to the 15 because the face will shut too much and he’d be pulling it, so I’m presuming it’ll be a 15 degree with a face angle he likes

    • KB

      Feb 17, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      I think it’s safe to assume Tiger uses a glued hosel over the off the shelf adjustables we all get.

    • Needles

      Feb 17, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      Why not get a new head that sets up just how he wants? Makes sense. He has the entire company at his disposal.
      .
      I also doubt he’s just changing the adapter.

    • Chris

      Feb 18, 2019 at 2:12 pm

      That’s not how it works. Changing the loft does change the face angle but it’s relative to where it was at the neutral setting. If you line up the face square at address on a club that has its loft increased it’s not going to magically shut on the down swing.

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Tour News

Tour Rundown: Magical stuff on three tours

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Something happened this weekend. Something quite large in the world of professional sport. An athlete with a hearing impediment claimed victory on the world’s stage. Diksha Dagar, former world deaf championship winner and silver medalist in Deaflympics golf, chased down a victory on the Ladies European Tour. In this writer’s mind, the winners of the Players Championship and the Kenya Open, while deserving of praise, take a rightful backseat to a standard bearer.

Ladies European Tour – South African Open goes to Indonesia’s Diksha Dagar

Diksha began the week with a double bogey, and closed it with a trophy in hand. Not the traditional manner of claiming a first, major professional victory, but certainly one for a unique record book. The young Indonesian golfer totaled 76 that first day, but dropped 10 strokes on day two with 66, sitting just two behind the leader. Her only trouble was, the leader was home-country pro Lee-Anne Pace, in search of a 10th Euro Tour win, and first in five years.

On day three, Pace looked every bit a champion, and Dagar, equal parts runner-up. Scotland’s Michele Thomson and Germany’s Esther Henseleit were in the mix as well, ultimately tying for thrid spot at 3 under. As for the challengers? Pace stumbled with bogeys at 13 and 17, to finish at 4 under on the week. Dagar, in Pace’s words, played flawless golf and closed with birdies at 15 and 16, the later on a holed chip shot, to reach 5 under and claim victory. On this occasion, flawless was the diamond.

PGA Tour – The Players Championship has fitting champion on St. Patrick’s Day

At 2:20 EST, 18 golfers were within 2 shots of the lead at TPC Sawgrass. The leaders were in the throes of McIlrahmoid Fever, that wretched illness that strikes most golfers when much is on the line. Even thought it’s not an official major, the Players has every trapping of that august status: a course waiting to bite you on every shot, money, exempt status, peer respect, and P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E. In the end, only four golfers were within two shots of the lead, and two of them didn’t figure until late. Confused? Understandable.

In a nutshell: Jim Furyk made a run for the old guys, but came up one stroke shy. Jon Rahm hoped to claim that first big win of his professional career, but a wretched closing stretch did him in. Tommy Fleetwood, Jason Day, Brian Harman and others all tap-danced their way into, then out, of contention. In the end, it was the leprechaun himself, Rory McIlroy, who recovered from an early double bogey with 33 on the inward half, to raise the trophy of many faces. McIlroy, birdied 11, 12, 15 and 16 on his way to 16-under par. The title certainly cements him as a potential favorite to finish the career grand slam next month at Augusta.

European Tour – Magical Kenya Open ends up in the hands of Migliozzi

Don’t think that others didn’t try to claim the 2019 Magical Kenya Open trophy. The statue of the strutting rhinoceros would make other baubles pale in comparison. The final nine holes of this year’s event were as compelling as the majestic beast whose visage went home with Guido Migliozzi. The first-time champion on the European Tour took the lead early on Sunday, lost it, then found it again with a run of six pars to the finish. His birdies on 10 and 12 were enough to reclaim the top spot, and pars held his space atop the podium.

Last week’s winner, Justin Harding of South Africa, made four birdies and an eagle from holes 10 to 18. It was his unfortunate bogey at lucky No. 13 that kept him one shot behind the Italian. Countryman Louis De Jager also reached 15 under, closing with seven frustrating pars, while in search of the elusive bird to reach 16 under or better. Spaniard Adri Arnaus jumped into the lead with three mid-round birdies, but gave it back with bogey at the par-5 12th. One more birdie coming home was just enough to join the tie for second with the South Africans.

 

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Tour News

Tiger Woods working with putting coach Matt Killen at The Players

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Tiger Woods says he is fit and healthy ahead of this week’s Players Championship, and the 14-time major champion has putting coach Matt Killen alongside him at TPC Sawgrass as he seeks his third title at the event.

Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte broke the news on social media, and the move represents the first time Woods has had an instructor of any type since his split with Chris Como in 2017.

Woods struggled with the flat-stick at his last outing at the WGC-Mexico, where he three-putted six times. That event represented the first time that Woods has lost strokes to the field on the greens at a tournament since the Northern Trust back in August, and over his previous 24 rounds, the 43-year-old ranks 42nd in this week’s field for strokes gained putting.

Killen currently works with Justin Thomas, J.B. Holmes, Bud Cauley and Blayne Barber, and speaking to Golf Digest, the putting instructor stated on Monday that he likes what he sees in Woods’ stroke.

“His stroke looked good. His putting is better. I like what I see.”

Woods tees off on Thursday at 1.27 pm ET alongside Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed.

 

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Francesco Molinari joins Callaway tour staff; WITB details

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Callaway Golf has announced that the 2018 Open Champion, Francesco Molinari, has joined its tour professional staff.

Molinari will make his debut on the PGA Tour as a Callaway staffer this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he will game Callaway woods, irons, wedges, an Odyssey Putter, and a Chrome Soft Golf Ball, as well as a Callaway Staff Bag.

Regarding the announcement, the Italian had this to say

“I am joining Callaway because I’m so impressed by their equipment. More than anything, I’m looking forward to playing the new Epic Flash Driver and the Chrome Soft X Golf Ball. The ball speed gains that I’m getting from the driver are unbelievable. And this golf ball is the best one that I’ve ever played. The performance from tee-to-green, especially the feel and control, is exactly what I want.”

Speaking on the announcement, Callaway Senior VP of Global Sports marketing, Tim Reed stated

“We’re proud to welcome Francesco as our newest Callaway Staff Professional. We’re confident that he will play at an even higher level and enjoy many more great wins with Callaway equipment. He’s added ball speed off the driver with Flash Face Technology, and his performance on approach shots and around the greens has been spectacular with his new Callaway irons, wedges, and our Chrome Soft Ball.”

Currently in the Italian’s bag is an Odyssey Toulon Madison Putter which features a new Stroke Lab Shaft. Speaking on the putter which Molinari is presently using, Sean Toulon, SVP, Callaway Golf & GM, Odyssey Brand, said

“Francesco is a tremendous putter, and he really likes the milled performance he’s seeing from the Madison. And with the Stroke Lab Shaft he’s getting more consistency in the rhythm and the tempo of his stroke. It’s a combination that’s going to help him have a lot of success and make of a lot of big putts.”

Francesco Molinari WITB 2019

Driver: Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero (9 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei White 60 TX

Fairway wood: Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero (13.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei White 70 TX

Irons: Callaway Apex 19 (4-iron), Apex MB 18 Irons (5-PW)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold X 100

Wedges: Callaway Mack Daddy 4 (50, 56, 60 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold X 100

Putter: Odyssey Toulon Madison Stroke Lab

Ball: Callaway Chrome Soft X

 

 

 

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