QA Wind Effects and the Moon

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Editor's Note: This is the latest in a weekly Q&A feature from GOLF CHANNEL's Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com
 
Dear Frank,
All golfers have there own way of adjusting to the force and direction of the wind when playing a shot. On TV a player may miss a green by a large distance and the announcer will say something about how the breeze just came up.
 
Has anyone ever done an in depth scientific study about the effect that wind speed has on a golf ball? For instance: Has anyone ever determined the difference in yards between 2 identical 7 irons, one hit with no wind and the second hit into a 20 mph wind. I realize there are many, many variables - but I've never even heard anybody mention an approximation. They say, 'about a one club breeze'. . . there's got to be more science than that? God, we went to the moon!
 
Really like your column Thanks for your time
--Jim

 
Jim,
Because of the lack of wind on the moon, there was no need to study the effect of the wind when Alan Shepard hit his golf shot using an iron head that snapped into the end of an extension pole used to collect moon dust samples. Soon after he donated this club to the USGA, he and I were huddled under an umbrella having been caught in a rain storm at a US Open, when he asked me if this club conformed to the Rules of Golf. My answer was, 'The equipment rules do not apply on the moon.'
 
With today's sophisticated trajectory simulation programs, it is relatively easy to understand the effect of wind from any direction. As rule of thumb, a head wind will hurt you a little more than a tail wind will help.
 
For guidance purposes taking a 250 yard drive as an example; a 2 mph tail wind will help you gain about 2 yards whereas the same speed head wind will hurt by about 2 yards.
 
When you increase the wind to 10 mph the tail wind will help increase the distance (all else being equal) by about 9 yards but the 10 mph headwind will hurt by 13 yards.
 
The trick for a golfer is first to get a good reading on the wind direction and the speed. This is not easy as the surface wind where he tosses up some blades of grass is not necessarily the same as the wind speed or direction 50 to 100 feet up off the surface that the ball sees.
 
Wind turbulence causing eddies are real and are hard to read or take into account when planning for a short iron shot. There might be a head wind when you launch the ball but when the ball reaches its peak 3 to 5 seconds later, it may experience a tailwind condition. I think that the 17th at the TPC and 12th at Augusta are made additionally difficult just because of turbulence in the wind and quirky wind gusts.
 
Jim, the real problem is not that aerodynamicists are unable to calculate the effects of wind but rather we golfers find it difficult to determine the wind speed and direction correctly. It is generally a good idea to keep an eye on the treetops while you are playing or the flag under the blimp if it is floating low around your foursome. Only if you are out in the open will tossing some grass help give you a general idea of wind direction and speed where you are.
 
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Hope this helps
Frank
 
Hi Frank,
I play with a Cobra 380 cc driver that is probably three years old. I like it and hit it pretty well. I am just wondering if a newer 460cc driver would add distance to my drives or are they designed more to straighten out tee shots? Thanks, Frank.
--Scott

 
Scott,
Whenever you make a good friend consider yourself very fortunate. Friends, true friends, are hard to come by so hang on as long as you can. Do not let your Cobra 380 know that you are even thinking about getting a new driver. You may be asking for trouble and never know how it will react.
 
If you are hitting the ball well with the 380 and the launch conditions are in the right ball park (to see a guideline to optimum launch conditions click here ) then don't change a thing. Matching another club to your liking and swing style may take some time and may not yield any measurable increase in distance. If you hit the ball on the sweet spot and the launch conditions are good then the only thing a new 460 will give you is the comfort in knowing that you have a little bigger sweet spot but you will not get any more distance from pure impact.
 
The 460 driver has a higher MOI (Moment of Inertia) than your 380, but may not have any more spring like effect from a sweet spot impact. So ball speed should be about the same. Unfortunately, most of us don't always hit the sweet spot every time so the extra little bit of forgiveness we get from a 460 may be helpful but not at the expense of losing the confidence you have developed in the 380.
 
It is becoming harder to design really significant performance improvements into drivers, and even though the changes being made are moving in the right direction they are not going to make a significant difference and especially if you are close to optimum conditions with your existing driver.
 
An intangible factor, which is more important than almost any other, is confidence. If you have confidence now, don't do anything to detrimentally affect it by getting another driver.
 
If you decide to try another driver, which is not a bad idea, if only to find out how lucky you really are with what you have, please dont do it in front of your 380.
 
If you don't tell, I won't.
Frank
 
Frank:
In your recent newsletter I thought you had a great assessment of the EMD (Electronic Measuring Devices) subject and nice overview of the options in the market. If we play this game with pro type ambitions, why should we be denied similar opportunities to know where we are on the golf course and what we have in front of us? I have yet to hear someone make a comment that a pro or an amateur or whoever played well or won for any reason other than they played the shots required. You still have to make the play, knowing what you need to do is an opportunity we should all enjoy.
 
Thanks for a great Q & A.
-- Doug

 
Doug,
Thanks for your comments.
 
With regard to my newsletter concerning EMDs (Electronic Measuring Devices), (Click here to read), I am pleased to advise you that the USGA adopted a LOCAL RULE allowing the use of these devices as of Jan. 2006 (see below).
 
The Local Rule allowing the use of distance-measuring devices will be available for use by Committees beginning Jan. 1, 2006. Decision 14-3/0.5 Local Rule Permitting Use of Distance-Measuring Device allows a Committee to establish a Local Rule permitting players to use devices that measure distance only.
 
The concern is that this has been limited to events out with USGA competitions and qualifying rounds
 
Even though the USGA will not adopt this Local Rule in its championships in 2006, it recognizes that state and local golf associations, tournament committees and individual golf courses may choose to adopt it.
 
The question I raised is; If the exact same distance information is available to participants in USGA championships and PGA TOUR events, by other means, why should use of such electronic devices not be permitted? Is the method alone, by which the competitor obtains the distance information important?
 
Certainly, EMDs do have the potential to speed up play and if this is realized then use of these devices may be very important to the game.
 
The good news is that the USGA has stated that; However, the Association will review the matter annually.
 
Therefore, the question to my readers, which can be answer at the conclusion of the newsletter, is: Should the USGA, R&A, PGA of America and the PGA TOUR permit the use of Electronic Measuring Devices (EMDs) -- which provide the same information the players already get -- in competition?
 
Your input and a summary of your comments will be sent to those who can effect a change.
 
Doug, for you it has been done, but for the superstar, they or their caddie still need to pace things out. Hope this helps give you a better insight as to how well the USGA is progressing.
 
Frank
 
Click to purchase the Frog PutterFrank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf, a company dedicated to Helping Golfers. Frank is Chief Technical Advisor to The Golf Channel and Golf Digest. He served as Technical Director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN System and introduced the Stimpmeter to the world of golf. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email letsbefrank@franklygolf.com