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Congratulations Team Lowry!

It’s apt that at the time of writing, the Golf world is revelling in the astonishing Performance of Shane Lowry in the 148th Edition of The Open Championship at Royal Portrush. His (and his Caddy, Bo Martin’s) ability to deal with not only the grandeur of the occasion but the elements is something I’m unsure we’ll see the like of again. Hat’s of Gentleman, what a delight it was to witness!

Among many other things, what these Men clearly illustrated was a titanic understanding of the Environment i.e. how it influences the Ball’s Flight and how to adapt your Course Management/Tactics accordingly. So let’s use their Performance as a vessel to explore The Environments influence on Ball flight to assist you in developing the same level of understanding…


Following on from Part 1 and Part 2 of my 5 Week Series on Course Management, where I highlighted:

1. The importance of a good understanding of your Skill Set, and

2. Setting an appropriate Scoring Goal is for each hole (Personal Par)

Now comes the time where you need to start formulating your Strategy/Tactics. However, before we dive into the detail I believe a good understanding on how the Environment influences Ball Flight is vital.

So, for your benefit I headed over to the TrackMan University Website (if you haven’t signed up to the  TrackMan University, you really should, it’s awesome and it’s FREE!) and formulated a (fairly) brief overview of the main aspects that make up the Environment:

  • Rain

  • Wind

  • Altitude

  • Air Density

Here’s what I found:


Rain

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The forecast for the final round at Portrush called for “outbreaks of heavy rain”. Well, the Northern Irish Coast didn’t disappoint as the Rain arrived on schedule to turn the final round into a torrential test of wills. It was a test most didn’t pass. Sunday’s scoring average was the best indication of how difficult the conditions were. The final-round average was 73.23, compared to 71.06 for Round 3 which was largely played in benign conditions.

So what considerations should we take when playing in the Rain (additional to the obvious challenges it provides like attempting to swing in Rain gear, keeping hold of your new found eel skin grips and temper a flailing umbrella!)? How does it actually influence the Balls behavior?

When playing in the Rain there’s several factors that influence the Balls travel:

  1. The associated increased Humidity, Wind, sometimes drop in Temperature (I’ll discuss their influence later)

  2. Wet Fairways and Greens reduce Roll

  3. Water on the Clubface and Ball reduce the friction the Ball experiences off the face, creating a higher launch, less spin, a steeper landing angle and less Roll.

  4. Mud often get’s on the Ball when it Rains. Mud on the right of the Ball makes it curve left, Mud on the left makes it curve right. Mud on top increases Spin and reduces Distance. Mud on the back and bottom reduces Distance due to a reduction in energy transfer (Smash Factor). Mud on the front also reduces energy transfer as it is accelerating the Mud and the Ball vs simply the Ball (Mud increases Ball weight & Drag - more on this later). Lean more about Mud Balls from Paul Wood via Golf WRX HERE.

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When hitting shots in the rain, particularly the Driver, many players think hitting the Ball higher and maximizing carry Distance is the thing to do. Actually, hitting the Ball lower will create a shallower landing angle, provide more roll (decreasing the chance of the ball to picking up mud) and also counteract the higher launch/lower spin created by the reduced friction due to the presence of water on the Clubface/Ball.

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Accommodate for the reduced Roll on and around the Greens by hitting your Putts firmer and choosing higher trajectory Short Game options (water on the Clubface/Ball causes a Higher Launch/less Spin and negates the influence of surface moisture on Roll)

Left = Dry / More Roll, Right = Wet / Less Roll

Left = Dry / More Roll, Right = Wet / Less Roll

It’s also easier to hit the Ball straight when hitting it lower (especially when Wind is present), which helps your shots find the Fairway and avoid the Rough, which is even tougher to hit out of in the Rain (due to the water increasing the grass’ density).

If you have Mud on your Ball, take an extra club (maybe even a couple of extra clubs if there’s a lot of it) and accommodate for the curve: aim left if there’s Mud on the left & aim right if there’s Mud on the right.

If it’s raining hard enough to have a more significant affect on your Ball than the above then it’s time to settle the match on the 19th 😉.

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Wind

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As well as torrential Rain, the final Round delivered wind gusts of up to 35 mph, making this edition of the Championship arguably the most authentic in years. Many of us will empathise, recognising the havoc Wind can have on the Golf Ball, but how many of us truly understand it’s influence? This is particularly essential when choosing the appropriate Club to hit at a particular moment. The below will help:

You probably know that you have to use more club into the Wind vs down Wind and the ball travels further down Wind than into but did you know that a Headwind hurts more than a Tailwind helps? At higher Wind speeds a Headwind hurt’s almost twice as much as a Tailwind helps!

Here’s some general Principles:

Compared to a Shot hit in Calm conditions/No Wind:

  • Hitting into a Headwind = Ball Flies Higher, Lands Steeper & Carry’s Shorter

  • Hitting into a Tailwind = Ball Flies Lower, Lands Flatter & Carry’s Further


This is due to ‘Lift & Drag’ (Lift = Makes the Ball Rise, Drag = What Slows the Ball Down):

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  • In Calm conditions air moves into the Ball at the same Speed the Ball is travelling (Airflow same ~ Ball Speed)

  • With a Tailwind, the Ball is travelling Faster than the Air is moving into it (aka Reduced Airflow, so Ball Speed > Airflow)

  • With a Headwind, the Ball is travelling Slower than the Air is moving into it (aka Increased Airflow, so Ball Speed < Airflow)



It’s important to highlight that the Ball doesn’t Spin more when hitting into a Headwind, it’s the increased Lift & Drag, caused by the added Airflow that causes the Ball to Ballon. Although more Spin does create more Lift & Drag.

  • Increased Airflow = Increased Lift & Drag

  • Decreased Airflow = Decreased Lift & Drag

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Into a Headwind, Spin is the enemy. Don’t hit the Ball harder! This likely creates more Spin due to the likely increase in Clubhead Speed (all things being equal).

When hitting into a Headwind use less Loft to optimise Distance, this will reduce Spin Loft (learn more about this HERE) and Spin Rate. 

Adversely, a Ball with too little Spin will turn the Ballooning Shot into one that drops out if the sky because Lift also keeps the Ball in the air. 

When hitting in a Tailwind use less Club (hitting a 9 Iron vs a 7 Iron) to Optimise Distance using Spin, however the best strategy is to launch the Ball higher to make the Ball land steeper and stop faster (caused by Less Roll).

As with most things in Golf - Experiment with different strategies to Optimise your Distance Control in Windy conditions and remember Lift & Drag don’t behave linearly to Airflow (More Airflow = More Lift & Drag) - a Headwind hurts more than a Tailwind helps!

Learn more by watching this short Video on how Wind influences Ball Flight from TrackMan University below:


Altitude

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There’s not much altitude at Portrush, but the nature of the various Professional Tours means Players have to adapt to new venues on a Weekly basis. Meaning they often have to play at significantly different altitudes from one week to the next. The most recent notable example of this being in February where the PGA Tour went from Mexico City (7,382ft) to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (16ft). But what influence does Altitude really have on Ball Flight? Let’s fins out:

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The Ball flies further in High Altitudes, mainly due to the change in Air Density (which I’ll discuss further in the next section), which decreases as elevation increases. Less Dense air exerts less Drag on the Ball, so it moves more easily through the Air (doesn't cause the Ball to slow down as quickly as it flies), resulting in more Distance.

SIDE NOTE: Gravity also Decreases the further we move away from the Earth's centre (Higher Altitude), but the gravitational change is too small to have any significant effect on the Ball.

You can calculate the Distance gain you will experience (compared to Sea Level) by multiplying the Elevation (in feet) by .00116. e.g. if you're playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the Increase is around 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally Drive the Ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.

So, as a General rule: A 5000 ft Change in elevation Increases/Decreases Carry by roughly 6% for the Average Male Amateur (less for those with Slower Clubhead speeds and can be up to 10% for those with faster Clubhead speeds)

The Ball doesn’t Spin less at High Elevation. However, because the Air Density is lower it imparts less force on the Ball, and Lift is also Lower. The Ball will also fly Lower, Flatter, Land Shallower and Roll more.

As the Air is less dense at Higher Altitudes and imparts less force on the Ball, it won't Curve (Slice or Hook) as much, which makes it harder to shape shots - that might be a good thing for some ;).

The Shorter the Shot, the Slower the Ball moves through the air, so the effect Elevation has on the Ball is reduced. This means on Short approaches and green-side shots, you don't have to adjust for Elevation.

Learn more by watching this short Video about how Altitude influences Ball Flight from TrackMan University below:


Air Density

Whilst there was a significant difference in the Weather (Wind and Rain) the Players experienced at The Open 2019, there wasn’t much variability with regards to Air Density to factor in. What’s that? Keep reading 😉:

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Although Wind and Altitude have much larger affects on Distance, changes in Air Density (aka Weather) can result in Distance gains and losses.

Air Density is made up of 3 fundamental Components: 

  1. Temperature

  2. Humidity

  3. Air Pressure

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Denser Air creates more resistance for the Ball. The greater the Air Density, the more Lift & Drag:

  • More Air Density = Ball Flies Higher, Lands Steeper and Carry’s Shorter

  • Less Air Density = Ball Flies Lower, Lands Flatter and Carry’s Further

Learn more about how Air Density influences Ball Flight by watching this short Video from TrackMan University and reading my summary below:

1. Temperature 

Of the 3 elements highlighted that contribute to Air Density (Temperature, Humidity and Air Pressure), this has the greatest influence.

All things equal, a Temperature change of 48°F/4°C to 100°F/38°C results in a 8 yard gain in 6 Iron Distance & a 9 yard gain with the Driver so basically:

  • Warmer = Further

  • Colder = Shorter 

Shock 😉!

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As General Rule: A change of 10°F / 5.5°C = A little more than 1 yard of difference

It’s important to state that the above is Temperature alone. Temperature influences other factors such a Clothing changes due to Weather (less garments = easier to Swing faster/Increase Club Head Speed) and Ball elasticity (Warmer = Increased Ball Elasticity/Increased Ball Speed) an result in even bigger increases in Distance.

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2. Humidity 

Humidity’s influence is minimal (but important to consider) so it’s unlikely to make noticeable differences to your Ball Flight (no more than 2 Yards of Difference).

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  • Higher Humidity = Decreases Air Density, Ball Flies Further

  • Lower Humidity = Increases Air Density, Ball Flies Shorter

3. Air Pressure

As elevation Increases, Air Pressure Decreases, so:

  • High Pressure Weather Systems Increase Air Density

  • Low Pressure Weather Systems Decrease Air Density

Although the Changes are small and are unlikely to make noticeable differences to your Ball Flight (no more than 2 Yards of Difference).

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Air Density Summary:

  • Low Air Pressure, High Humidity & Higher Temperatures Decrease Air Density so make the Ball fly Lower & Further

  • High Air Pressure, Low Humidity & Lower Temperatures Increase Air Density so make the Ball fly Higher & Shorter

  • Even in extreme cases, changes in Air Density won’t result in more than an 1 extra/less Club of Distance


Reflection

Hopefully the above further illustrates the quality of what Team Lowry managed to achieve. Contending with the elements of itself takes real skill, let alone the ability to deal with the pressures of the occasion AND the technical abilities involved to execute the required shots!

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I understand much of this info might be more prevalent to Golfers at the higher end of the Skill spectrum, but I believe a good understanding of the Environments influence removes a Key Performance Inhibitor. Ignorance is sometimes bliss, but not when it comes to your Golf Game 😉. Either way I hope you enjoyed it/found it useful?

Here’s a short Summary of my Key findings:

  • Wet Fairways and Greens reduce Roll

  • Strive to hit the Ball lower in the Rain

  • Mud on the Ball reduces Distance. Take an extra club (maybe even a couple of extra clubs if there’s a lot of it) and accommodate for the curve: aim left if there’s Mud on the left & aim right if there’s Mud on the right.

  • Hitting into a Headwind = Ball Flies Higher, Lands Steeper & Carry’s Shorter

  • Hitting into a Tailwind = Ball Flies Lower, Lands Flatter & Carry’s Further

  • A 5000 ft Change in elevation Increases/Decreases Carry by roughly 6% for the Average Male Amateur (less for those with Slower Clubhead speeds and can be up to 10% for those with faster Clubhead speeds)

  • Low Air Pressure, High Humidity & Higher Temperatures Decrease Air Density so make the Ball fly Lower & Further

  • High Air Pressure, Low Humidity & Lower Temperatures Increase Air Density so make the Ball fly Higher & Shorter

  • Even in extreme cases, changes in Air Density won’t result in more than an 1 extra/less Club of Distance

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part 4: Go Zones!

Kind regards,

Oliver C. Morton

www.TheLeadingEdgeGolfCompany.com