How to Deal with a Headwind

Controlling your golf ball in the wind is one of golf's greatest challenges. For quite a while now I have been asking my junior players to hit a 140 yard approach shot directly into whatever wind might be blowing that day and none of them have ever reached the flag! Now, part of this is ego and another part inexperience, but being a curious coach I wanted to do what I could to help them play these headwind shots effectively. At Savannah Harbor we have a double sided range and in the spring we can experience some strong winds. The double sided range means that I can hit shots into and down the same wind. Having TrackMan is a huge help here as it tracks the ball accurately throughout it's flight. Watch...

After quite a bit of testing on and off the golf course I have found that this formula produces positive results. Please keep in mind that hitting any shot in the wind is not exact science and there will always be a subjective side to selecting the appropriate club and shot.

  1. Determine how many MPH of wind are blowing in your face
  2. If its 12 MPH then add 12 yards per 100 yards of distance required
  3. Determine what club you would need to hit the ball that distance
  4. Take one additional club and play a knockdown type shot

Example scenario: For a 140 yard shot into a 20 MPH headwind. I would add 28 yards (20 yards per 100) to 140 to get to 168 which is a full 7 iron for me. I would thus take a 6 iron and hit a knockdown for this scenario.

You might wonder how you'd come to recognize the wind speed...? Experience certainly helps, but there's nothing against checking a weather app on your phone prior to going out to play to help you gauge wind speed. And remember - there is no such thing as a one club wind!

Thanks for reading and I hope this information helps you better control your ball in challenging windy conditions.

How to Practice: 2. SKILL

Boys are typically much better chippers than girls! And it's not because they're more creative or the fact that they're stronger physically which allows them to hit a broader variety of shots. It's because they love to practice 'dumb' and crazy shots! Boys continually strive to outdo one another and I believe it's via this innate behavior that they learn to hit those amazing and skillful shots around the green. Ever seen a female trick shot artist? Hmmm...

My approach to developing skill is that we take this 'outside the lines' approach to practicing the shortgame and apply it to every element of golf. From driving to putting we can develop our skill and our ability to control the golf ball by spending time purposefully hitting 'abnormal' golf shots. Watch...

When practicing to develop your skill challenge yourself to become better at intentionally controlling the following elements of a golf shots:

  • Distance
  • Launch direction
  • Peak height
  • Curvature of the ball flight
  • Where you strike the ball on the face

When practicing 'outside the lines' change your intent after every second shot. Use a variety of clubs, targets and lies. Keep in mind it's really easy and fun to practice these elements when you have a TrackMan, but they are entirely doable without any technology. Here are a few ideas:

The 3 Ball Strike Point Challenge

The 3 Ball Strike Point Challenge

This drill is great fun for golfers of all abilities and ages. All you need is a can of Dr. Scholl's Odor X foot spray. I firmly believe we become better at completing any task when we learn to complete it a variety of different ways. Shot 1 is outside the vertical line, shot 2 inside it and shot 3 is on the line.

The Spin Axis Challenge

The Spin Axis Challenge

When taking on this challenge you want to use a 6 iron and try to hit the biggest hook or slice possible for your opening shot. From there the objective is to progressively reduce the amount of curvature until you get to a straight shot. If you can get 9 shots, as in the example above, you're doing very well.

When practicing to develop skill I cannot encourage you enough be creative, have fun and think outside the box. You can even hit one-handed or one-legged shots! Close your eyes, change your grip, hit it out of divots - anything goes. Come up with your very own, out of the ordinary practice session. Now get out there and start spending some time practicing like a teenage boy...

Here is the first article in my series on how to practice:

How to Practice: 1. SWING — Andrew Rice Golf

Spin Rate and the Driver

I was recently teaching an accomplished senior golf professional and he happened to hit three very interesting consecutive shots. They are illustrated in the image above starting from the orange circle and working up to the blue circle.

I thought there was some valuable information to learn from each of these three shots. Here is some TrackMan data to ponder:

Orange Strike

Spin Rate - 3252 Launch Angle - 7.5 Total Distance - 256.5 Club Speed - 103.6

Green Strike

Spin Rate - 2623 Launch Angle - 9.6 Total Distance - 269.5 Club Speed - 102.9

Blue Strike

Spin Rate - 1928 Launch Angle - 10.9 Total Distance - 274.6 Club Speed - 103.1

My experience has shown that golfers tend to be fairly consistent when it comes to club speed and this illustration shows us just that - there was a change of less than 1 mph between the golfers slowest and fastest swings. Nothing new there...

What is interesting is that where the ball was struck on the face, influenced the spin, launch and ultimately the distance that the shot traveled. You may have heard that with a driver you want to launch the ball high and spin it low. The purpose of this article is to get you to start believing it! 

Stay tuned as this is the stuff that can make a tangible difference in your game...

Launch Angle

The clubface is curved from top to bottom and this is called roll. If you have a 9.5 degree driver that means (assuming the manufacturer is correct) that your club has 9.5 degrees of loft in the center (picture the "equator") of the clubface. If you strike the ball lower on the face your club effectively has less loft and vice versa for a higher strike point. well hitting the ball higher on the clubface introduces more loft to the ball and it will thus launch higher - bingo! We've got the higher launch taken care of. As you can see the ball launched more than 3 degrees higher by elevating the strike point.

Spin Rate

But what about the spin rate? How do you get that down and what is ideal? I have great news, as this is a two for one deal. When you strike the ball higher on the face the "off-center" hit causes the clubhead to twist slightly during impact and this leads to vertical gear effect and a strike above the equator will have less spin than a strike below it. I prefer to see a spin rate somewhere between 1900 and 2400 rpm's if you're looking to really make the ball go. It's amazing what a strike point that's about 1/2" above the equator will do towards getting you into that optimal spin rate range.

If you're wondering where to strike the ball on the face the above photo is just about perfect - a touch above center for higher launch and less spin and a touch towards the toe for a hint of gear effect draw. Who wouldn't want to hit high launching, low spinning, baby draws that go 20 yards longer with the exact same club speed?

TrackMan Exposes Golf Myths

It has been an enlightening experience using TrackMan in almost every lesson for a year now.  There are so many widespread 'philosophies' (see: fallacies) that we, as golfers, have heard so many times we simply accept them to be truth. TrackMan says - hold on a minute!

Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • You've got to "Release the Club through Impact"
The collision between club and ball lasts less than 1/2000th of a second and it simply is not possible to "release" or consciously alter the face angle during that very narrow time frame.  The face is what it is by the time impact happens.  For example - in 2012, by the time Bubba Watson teed it up in the Masters, his ball had not been on his clubface in competition for even one second! The only element that can alter the face during impact is an off center hit and that's far from conscious.
  • "Draws Must be Hit with a Closed Clubface"
Or vice versa, fades are hit with an open face.  Draws are really good if they start to the right (for righties) - agreed?  TrackMan shows that the clubface is primarily responsible for the launch direction of the ball and thus for a good draw the face should be to the right of the target with the clubpath (which primarily causes curve) being further to the right. When that, along with a centered hit occur, voila - we have a lovely push draw!  This also dispels the myth that the ball launches in the direction of the swing/clubpath.  Clubface (primarily) = launch.
  • "That Drive Had Tons of Sidespin..."
The vast majority of balls that are hit in the air have backspin.  If a golfball has backspin it cannot possibly also have sidespin.  Think about it - two types of spin on one ball at the same time?  So what makes it curve?  TrackMan shows that all shots that curve do so due to backspin on an axis (spin axis) that is tilted either left or right.  Curve is purely caused by backspin that is tilted to one side or another.
  • "My Divots Point Left so I Must Be Over the Top"
Because divots ideally occur after the collision between face and ball, the clubpath has a window of opportunity to start arcing back inside the target line.  I have seen anything from push fades, to hooks, to push draws from leftward pointing divots.  Divots do not tell us as much as we think, because they do not (and should not) occur at the moment of impact.
  • "That Ball Faded - I Must Have Cut Across It"
A very important factor in determining shot shape is not only the clubface relative to the clubpath, but also where the ball is struck on the face relative to the sweetspot.   For regular golfers off center hits occur on the majority of shots hit.  Balls hit off the toe of a club will always have a tendency to draw or fade/slice less and balls hit off the heel will always fade or draw/hook less.  Even one dimple on either side of the sweetspot will make a difference.  This means it is possible to swing for a draw and hit/strike for a fade.
  • "My Instructor Showed Me My Club Path on Video"
Ehhh....no!   Trust me on this one - what you see on video is a  2D version of a 3D event and the only way you can accurately know what your real clubpath is to be aware of your attack angle, which with video this is not possible either.  On video you will see the direction you are swinging in relative to the target, but there is no way to know your clubpath (which is what creates a good portion of ball flight).
  • "Hitting Down Always Leads to More Backspin"
Spin is created by many factors, but a steeply descending blow on its own will not alter spin.  When a golfer hits down aggressively they often also reduce the loft on the clubface, and a lesser lofted face will do nothing to increase backspin.
  • "Draws Are Much Longer and Spin Less Than Fades"
This is a good one!  With everything else kept the same a ball that spins on a left leaning axis has no reason to go further than a ball with a right leaning spin axis.  Now, keep in mind it's very difficult to keep everything the same (thus draws tend to be longer), but in a controlled environment both shots go the same distance.   Just be aware that a properly struck fade will most often go just as far as its draw side counterpart.

And while it's not a myth, even though PGA Tour golfers average out with a downward attack angle on the driver, TrackMan has more than done it's share to prove how maximum efficiency and distance can be achieved by hitting up with the driver.

Feel free to share your thoughts or questions.....

Evolution of a Golf Ball

Four Generations of Titleist
Four Generations of Titleist

I was recently handed a pristine collection of older model  golf balls. It included a dozen Tour Balata 100's, a dozen Professional 90's and a dozen early model Pro V1's.  There is no arguing that Titleist has held the upper hand in golf balls for almost 30 years and if you have played golf long enough you have no doubt had the pleasure of maneuvering one or all of these models around the course at some point.  After a second of thought, the golf geek in me wanted to take them out for a test drive - see how far they go and what they might feel like.  After all, it's been a long time since I had dented a Tour Balata.

Thankfully, wisdom prevailed and I decided to get some real numbers on the balls with the help of TrackMan.  I realized that, including the most recent model of the Pro V1, I had access to four generations of Titleist golf balls.  I had balls from the '80's, '90's, 2000's and today and  I wanted to experience first hand what the differences might be.

I needed a very consistent driver of the golf ball and the best man at hand was Zack Brady from Atlantic Golf Club.  Zack is an exceptional golf professional who can really play.  He also happens to be one of the better drivers I've seen.  I sacrificed six balls from each generation and had him hit them on a rotating basis going Balata, Professional, Pro V1 and new Pro V1.  I did this to negate the effect of any changes in swing or weather.  Zack hit twenty four shots on the Trackman and the average from the six shots with each model was calculated.  Here are the results with each set of balls:

titleist golf balls
titleist golf balls

Tour Balata 100

titleist tour balata
titleist tour balata
  • Total Distance 261.6 yds
  • Carry 224.7 yds
  • Clubhead Speed 110.1 mph
  • Ball Speed 160.7 mph
  • Smash Factor 1.46
  • Attack Angle -0.4 degrees
  • Spin Loft 9.0 degrees
  • Launch Angle 6.5 degrees
  • Spin 2789 rpm

Professional 90

titleist professional 90
titleist professional 90
  • Total Distance 262.1 yds
  • Carry 231.9 yds
  • Clubhead Speed 110.6 mph
  • Ball Speed 161.4 mph
  • Smash Factor 1.45
  • Attack Angle -1.1 degrees
  • Spin Loft 6.9 degrees
  • Launch Angle 6.5 degrees
  • Spin 2915 rpm

Pro V1 - 392

early titleist pro V1 392
early titleist pro V1 392
  • Total Distance 286.4 yds
  • Carry 251.9 yds
  • Clubhead Speed 110.1 mph
  • Ball Speed 164.7 mph
  • Smash Factor 1.50
  • Attack Angle -3.0 degrees
  • Spin Loft 10.8 degrees
  • Launch Angle 6.5 degrees
  • Spin 2739 rpm

Pro V1 New

titleist pro V1
titleist pro V1
  • Total Distance 298.4 yds
  • Carry 271.1 yds
  • Clubhead Speed 110.8 mph
  • Ball Speed 167.2 mph
  • Smash Factor 1.51
  • Attack Angle -3.1 degrees
  • Spin Loft 11.7 degrees
  • Launch Angle 7 degrees
  • Spin 2850 rpm

Things you should be aware of:  The numbers listed above are an average of the six shots struck with each ball.  Each ball was only hit once.  The golf balls, while all pristine and "new" are very different age wise.  The balata balls have been waiting in their sleeve for more than twenty years for someone to play with.  The balls had all been stored in an air-conditioned space and were stored together.  The weather was a crisp 74 degrees with a slight left to right breeze blowing - lovely for August!  Zack used a Titleist D3 9.5 driver with a Diamana 'ahina X shaft by Titleist.

Points of Interest:

  • Obviously the distance gaps were what interested me most and there were no real surprises there, other than the "upgrade" from the early Pro V1 to the newer model - almost a 5% increase!
  • The huge leap in distance off the tee on the PGATour in 2000 is due to only one thing - the introduction of the Pro V1.  An increase in distance of almost 10% over the scuff resistant Professional.
  • I thought the spin rate on the wound balls (Balata and Professional) would be through the roof.  Not so!  The balls sounded very soft off the face and seemed to struggle to get into the air - almost as if they were unhappy to be put into play this late in the game!  Zack said it felt like he was hitting ping pong balls.
  • I was very interested in the fact that the smash factor was lower with the two softer balls.  It almost seemed as if it was more difficult to get the smash factor up due to the softness/compression of the ball.  BTW, smash factor (generally speaking) is the ball speed divided by the clubhead speed and it measures the efficiency/quality of the strike.
  • The older/softer balls definitely curved more than the more modern models.  This was noticeable even to the untrained eye.
  • Since the study I have gone back and weighed each model of golf ball measured.  I have long been under the impression that all golf balls weighed 46 grams.  The Tour Balata (43gr) and the Professional (42gr) were much lighter than the others (46gr).  Not sure if a ball can "lose weight" or were they made at that weight?

On a side note: I also had Zack hit six older model Pro V1X - 332 balls. I kept this data out of the study as I wanted to key in on four separate generations of Titleist balls and this model was a relative of the early model Pro V1 we studied.  Interestingly enough this was the ball that traveled the furthest - a whopping 307.3 yds!  (All the additional clubhead numbers were similar to the other models). I took from this that it is important to play a golf ball that fits your clubhead speed/game. With a driver speed in the vicinity of PGATour average (112mph), Zack currently plays the new Pro V1X and this study confirmed that the X is the right ball for him.

The moral of the story is that when it comes to golf balls, new technology fitted to the appropriate golfer makes a real difference. Take the time to chat with a teacher or professional you respect and get some sound advice as to which ball might make a difference for you.  Oh, and that pristine logo-ed dozen you've been saving for that special course, remember the one your buddy bought back from Augusta for you in '78 - eh...not so good.

Distance: How to get more of it!

There are three factors that go into making a quality golf shot; the distance the ball travels, the accuracy of the ball flight and the quality of the strike on the ball. Very often golfers are striking the ball well enough and hitting it straight enough, yet there is a definite lack of distance. In this case there is a need for speed. Jamie Sadlowski is the current World Long Drive Champion. He weighs in at 165 pounds and his longest drive in competition is 419 yards. He generates 140 mph of clubhead speed which equates to almost 200 mph of ball speed! I believe that hitting the golf ball further has very little to do with strength and everything to do with speed - and Jamie is certainly testament to that.

When running backs in the NFL train, they are often hooked up to wind resistance chutes behind them. They then run as hard as they can in an effort to overcome the wind resistance. This exercise gets them to run "stronger" but not necessarily faster. Sprinters on the other hand are hooked up to a device on the track that actually tows them down the track at a faster rate than they are accustomed to, thus getting their limbs to move faster than they are used to. This is the formula we need to apply to golfers who are in search of a few extra yards - and we all could do with that!

Try this drill consistently over the course of a month:

During each practice session count out 12 balls (and only 12

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