Balls in Orbit Trajectory Today

By Adam BarrJanuary 15, 2008, 5:00 pm
When I was growing up, trajectory was a word we usually heard Walter Cronkite applying to an Apollo spacecraft.

The lunar modules trajectory will carry it over the moons massive Sea of Tranquility, the most trusted man in America would intone, tranquilly yet authoritatively, and we would imagine the module, tinted gold by the sun, in a grand parabola of flight over the lunar grayness.

And thats the way it is. Or was. Nowadays, trajectory brings to my mind (and many others) the flight of something we all want to put into orbit: a golf ball.

What influences the vertical shape of the flight of a golf ball? Beyond raw distance, we all want to see a balls flight line take a certain shape, so it will roll out on drives and land obediently on iron shots. Of course, the clubhead matters. The shape, size, loft, resistance to twisting ' these all play a part that most of us know pretty well. But what about the other participants in this 500 microsecond physics experiment?

Lets begin with the pellet.

The overall construction of a golf ball usually impacts the initial launch, says Dean Snell, chief golf ball engineer at TaylorMade-adidas Golf. Softer compression balls will have a tendency to fly [at a] lower [angle] off the face. The trajectory is then determined a few key factors: first, the ball speed. The second is how much spin the ball has. Lower spin will not lift or carry higher, and higher spin will have a tendency to carry up higher.

So were in the familiar zone of each persons unique swing characteristics. Naturally, your particular launch habits, including how much spin you put on the ball, will help decide how your ball flies. But tell us more about the features on the ball itself. Those holes and bumps aint decoration.

The dimple shapes, depths and edge angles can control the trajectory all by themselves, Snell says. If you launch the two balls at the exact same spin, speed and launch, and have shallow dimples on one, and deep dimples on the other, they will have two completely different flights. The shallow dimples will fly much higher and not roll as much, while the deeper dimples fly much lower and will roll out more with shorter carry.

So, there are three influencers here, as Snell sees it.

Construction controls initial launch (and also helps control some of the spin), the player controls ball speed and spin, and the dimples and spin control the flight in the air.

Great. Now, if your game requires a change, the ball might be a good place to start. But do you run straight for the store? It might be a good idea to take a more measured approach.

For most consumers, todays balls all have very similar spin, so they dont have to worry about that anymore, Snell says. If they are looking for balls that launch higher, then the higher compression or firmer balls will help them do that. But if they truly want to be the best launch for their specific swing, then should get fit on a system to try to optimize trajectory that includes carry and roll. Getting your launch angle to 12-14 degrees and getting your spin to 2500-3000 rpm will help you achieve best carry and roll.

Fitting is more expensive than a new dozen, but is more likely to offer lasting results. But the analysis has just begun. What about shafts?

The flex profile of a shaft has the most profound effect on trajectory, says John Oldenburg, chief design engineer at shaft company Aldila. For a large majority of golfers, shafts with softer tips will give a higher launch with an increase in spin. The shaft effects trajectory by changing the actual loft (dynamic loft) of the head at the moment of impact. Softer tip shafts allow for a greater change in dynamic loft due to shaft bending being more concentrated in the lower end of the shaft closer to the head. Torque also can have an effect on trajectory and spin by its effect on face angle at impact.

So if a fitting tells you ' or you have the time, dollars and willingness to experiment ' could a new shaft be the ticket?

Yes, changing a shaft can definitely change trajectory, Oldenburg says. The player needs to remember that optimal launch conditions vary with relation to their ball speed. Higher ball speeds need a lower launch angle and lower spin to optimize performance. Slower ball speeds require a higher launch with more spin. So, when a player is seeking a trajectory change they need to make sure they choose a product that gives them an optimal combination of ball speed, launch angle, and spin rate. Sacrificing one of these three parameters to change one of the other two can have an adverse effect on performance.
So whats the intelligent way to go about making a change?

A good way for the consumer to choose is to determine the characteristics of their current shafts, most importantly tip stiffness. Oldenburg says. And then, to get accurate information on the shafts they are considering so they can make a valid comparison. If the consumer is looking increase the launch angle, they should shop for a product with a softer tip than they currently use, and vice versa. This information is typically available from professional clubmakers, and from shaft manufacturers websites, or by contacting the customer service department at the shaft manufacturer directly.

The absolute best way to tell how a shaft performs for your particular swing is to demo a product before buying, because no two golf swings are the same, so no one shaft will perform equally for any two players.

Viewed from one angle, trajectory is the result of a three-part machine (the golf club, with its head, shaft and grip) operating on a two-to-four-part machine (depending on the number of layers in the golf ball you choose). So its no surprise that the equation is complex. But as far as your game is concerned, it could be very rewarding to do the math ' especially with some of the equipment innovations coming over the development horizon.

Trajectory management is really finding the combination of clubhead, shaft, and golf ball that optimize the launch conditions for your particular swing, Oldenburg says. All three of those components can have profound effects on performance, and they must be looked at in combination with each other, not as separate entities.

The future of trajectory management might well be found in the new ruling from the USGA on interchangeability of golf clubs. This will enable the player to obtain several heads and shafts that they can combine in a wide array of combinations to fit their swing and performance needs. Players swings and the conditions they play in constantly change, so having the ability to change your shaft/head/ball combination on any given day will really allow a player to manage their trajectory on a day-by-day, round-by-round basis.

And thats the way it is in the modern game.
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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.