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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.

17 Comments

17 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!

      • BC

        Mar 5, 2020 at 11:12 am

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

  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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Instruction

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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