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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.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Pingback: What Is a Birdie in Golf? Meaning and How to Earn One - Coaching Kidz

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

  3. Pingback: Wind | Nur Golf

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. 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!

      • BC

        Mar 5, 2020 at 11:12 am

        Very informative, thank you. Is there a similar chart showing the impacts of temperature on distance?

  8. Zeta

    Aug 11, 2015 at 5:42 am

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. other paul

    Aug 10, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    I would have really appreciated a formula ????

  12. 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.

  13. 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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Instruction

Kelley: How to easily find your ideal impact position

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If you look at any sport, the greats seem to do more with less. Whether it be a swimmer gliding through the water or a quarterback throwing a pass, they make it look it easy and effortless.

In golf, there are a variety of distinct swing patterns to get into a dynamic impact position. I believe in efficiency to find that impact position for effortless power and center contact. Efficiency is defined as “the ability to produce something with a minimum amount of effort.” This can easily apply to the golf swing.

It all starts with the address position. The closer we can set up to an impact position, the less we have to do to get back there. Think of it like throwing a ball. If your body is already in a throwing position, you can simply make the throw without repositioning your body for accuracy. This throwing motion is also similar to an efficient direction of turn in the golf swing.

Once you set up to the ball with your impact angles, if you retain your angles in the backswing, the downswing is just a more leveraged or dynamic version of your backswing. If you can take the club back correctly, the takeaway at hip-high level will mirror that position in the downswing (the desired pre-impact position). In the picture below, the body has become slightly more dynamic in the downswing due to speed, but the body levels have not changed from the takeaway position.

This stays true for halfway back in the backswing and halfway down in the downswing. Note how the body has never had to reposition or “recover” to find impact.

At the top of the swing, you will notice how the body has coiled around its original spine angle. There was no left-side bend or “titling” of the body. All the original address position angles were retained. From this position, the arms can simply return back down with speed, pulling the body through.

The key to an efficient swing lies in the setup. Luckily for players working on their swing, this is the easiest part to work on and control. If you can learn to start in an efficient position, all you need to do is hold the angles you started with. This is a simple and effective way to swing the golf club.

www.kelleygolf.com

Twitter: KKelley_golf

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Wedge Guy: Short iron challenges — and a little insight (hopefully!)

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In my experience, almost all golfers could benefit from better short iron play. The ability to hit it closer to where you are looking with your 8-, 9- and P-irons will do more for your scoring than most anything else you can do. So, why is it that so many golfers just don’t hit the quality shots with these clubs that they do and should expect?

I chose this topic in response to an email from Phillip S., who wrote:

“I’m hitting straight and consistent most of the time but I’ve got a big problem between my 8-iron and everything else below.  I can hit my 8-iron 140-145 fairly consistently every time.  I hit my 9-iron somewhere between 110-135.  My pitching wedge is a mystery….it varies between 85 -125 yards.  No matter how “hard” I swing, I can’t seem to hit my short irons consistent distances.  It’s maddening to hit a great drive followed by a pitching wedge short of the green from 110 yards away.  What am I doing wrong?

Well, Phillip, don’t feel alone, because this is one of the most common golf issues I observe. It seems that the lion’s share of technology applied to golf clubs is focused on the long stuff, with drivers and hybrids getting the press. But I firmly believe that the short irons in nearly all “game improvement” designs are ill-suited for precise distance control, hitting shots on the optimum trajectory or knocking flags down. I’ve written about this a number of times, so a little trip back in Wedge Guy history should be enlightening. But here are some facts of golf club performance as applied to short iron play:

Fact #1. Short irons are much more similar to wedges than your middle irons. But almost all iron sets feature a consistent back design for cosmetic appeal on the store racks. And while that deep cavity and perimeter weight distribution certainly help you hit higher and more consistent shots with your 3- or 4- through 7-iron, as the loft gets in the 40-degree range and higher, that weight distribution is not your friend. Regardless of your skill level, short irons should be designed much more similar to wedges than to your middle irons.

Fact #2. As loft increases, perimeter weighting is less effective. Missed shots off of higher lofted clubs have less directional deviation than off of lower-lofted clubs. This is proven time and again on “Iron Byron” robotic testers.

Fact #3. It takes mass behind the ball to deliver consistent distances. Even on dead center hits, cavity back, thin-face irons do not deliver tack-driver distance control like a blade design. In my post of a couple of years ago, “The Round Club Mindset,” I urged readers to borrow blade-style short irons from a friend or assistant pro and watch the difference in trajectories and shotmaking. Do it! You will be surprised, enlightened, and most likely pleased with the results.

Fact #4. The 4.5-degree difference between irons is part of the problem. The industry has built irons around this formula forever, but every golfer who knows his distances can tell you that the full swing distance gap gets larger as the iron number increases, i.e. your gap between your 8- and 9-iron is probably larger than that between your 4- and 5-iron. Could there be some club tweaking called for here?

Fact #5. Your irons do not have to “match.” If you find through experimentation that you get better results with the blade style short irons, get some and have your whole set re-shafted to match, along with lengths and lie angles. These are the keys to true “matching” anyway.

So, Phillip, without knowing your swing or what brand of irons you play, I’m betting that the solution to your problems lies in these facts. Oh, and one more thing – regardless of short iron design, the harder you swing, the higher and shorter the shot will tend to go. That’s because it becomes harder and harder to stay ahead of the club through impact. Keep short iron shots at 80-85 percent power, lead with your left side and watch everything improve.

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Clement: Easily find your perfect backswing plane with this drill

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When you get on one of these, magic will happen! You can’t come too far inside or outside in the backswing, and you can’t have arms too deep or shallow at the top of the backswing nor can you be too laid off or across the line either! SEAMLESS!!

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