This Q&A was excerpted from Dear Frank…Answers to 100 of Your Golf Equipment Questions
All golfers have their 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
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 ½ 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.
At The Open Championship this week at Royal Birkdale, winds are forecast to be anywhere between 10-18 mph which is not enough to blow out your umbrella which will be an essential part of the player’s equipment this week.
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.
A simple guideline to measure the speed of the wind was given to me by my good friend Nick Price who told me that at 10 miles per hour the treetops will move, at 20 mph your pant legs will rustle, and at 30 mph you won’t be able to keep your hat on.
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. I am glad you are enjoying the column.
One rule of thumb I worked out for myself. Playing into par 3’s with normal middle to short iron distances, a two or three club headwind will make it typically five clubs from front to back! So don’t fuss too much about club selection; any of the five will be pretty much “OK” for ordinary humans.
wonder if each fairway could have a helium balloon with small flags every ten feet or so to give golfers a better idea what the wind was doing? longer holes could have several. Might be nice for Tour events.
it is incredible the possible details one may or may not keep in mind while playing a round of golf, or in preparation to play. I’m amazed (or is it amused?) at the precision required by professional golfers for the distance to the hole, when I’m happy to have hit the ball in the general direction of the green and not had it stopped by a bunker.
So why don’t they have on each fairway what every car dealer used to have: one or more helium filled balloons, 100 feet high, held down by a rope with multiple silk flags, perhaps every ten feet, so players can gauge wind speed and direction more accurately?