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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 Photo Galleries

10 interesting photos from Tuesday & Wednesday at the U.S. Open

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links!

We have plenty of general galleries packed with a bundle of great photos in our forums, as well as specialized and WITB galleries for you to enjoy. Here are ten interesting photos from Tuesday and Wednesday to get you fired up ahead of today’s opening round!

Bernd Wiesberger testing the new Aldila Rip X proto shaft.

Checking out Paul Casey’s custom Mizuno irons.

New Mitsubishi iron shaft.

Tiger Woods’ famed and trusty Scotty.

Justin Rose rocking Nike’s Roshe G Tour shoes from their “No Denim Allowed” pack at Pebble this week.

Amateur Matt Parziale gaming the “old school” ProForce V2 shaft in his 3W.

Up-close and personal with Kodai Ichihara’s wedges.

Rickie Fowler showing off the Cobra x CRU’s Headcover from Puma’s U.S. Open Patriot Pack.

Brett Drewitt getting into the spirit of things this week with appropriate wedge stampings at Pebble Beach.

Austin Eckroat’s Ping Redwood flat-stick has been impressing our members in our forums.

Check out all of Tuesday’s photos in our forums.

Check out all of Wednesday’s photos in our forums.

 

 

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Tour Photo Galleries

Wednesday’s photos from the 2019 U.S. Open

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GolfWRX is live from famed Pebble Beach for the 2019 U.S. Open.

From Wednesday’s pre-tournament action on the Monterey Peninsula, we have four general galleries, a Renato Paratore WITB, and a very cool look at Paul Casey’s Mizuno irons.

Check out links to all our photos from Wednesday, below.

General galleries

Special galleries

See Monday’s photos here

See Tuesday’s photos here

See what GolfWRXers are saying about the shots from Pebble in the discussion thread.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Tuesday’s photos from the 2019 U.S. Open

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GolfWRX is live from famed Pebble Beach for the 2019 U.S. Open.

From Tuesday’s pre-tournament action on the Monterey Peninsula, we have four general galleries, a few WITBs (including Tiger Woods), additional looks at Titleist’s new 620 and T100 irons, and an intriguing new shaft from Mitsubishi.

Check out links to all our photos from Tuesday, below.

General galleries

Special galleries

See Monday’s photos here

See what GolfWRXers are saying about the shots from Pebble in the discussion thread.

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