Mud Balls

Bringing you insights from the PING Proving Grounds, where our talented team of engineers, researchers, fitting experts and data scientists design and develop the newest product and fitting technologies to help you play better. Using the most advanced tools available, we’ll explain and explore the science behind golf-equipment performance. We’ll separate fact from fiction with the goal of helping you make informed decisions when choosing the PING equipment best suited for maximizing your performance.





The Science of Mud Balls

(and predicting their flight)

By Paul Wood

I imagine most of you have experienced walking up to your ball on the course and seeing a big patch of mud on it. After bemoaning your bad luck, you may start to think about how to make the best of the situation. What does mud on the ball actually do?  Is the effect random or is it predictable?  This is the story of the science of “mud balls”.

One of our engineers had encountered a significant amount of mud on the right side of his ball in a tournament earlier this year. Unsure what the effect on ball flight would be, he aimed for the middle of the green and watched his ball fly into the rough, well left of the green. This spurred a debate as to whether the effect of mud on ball flight could be consistently predicted.


The Aerodynamics of a Mud Ball
The Aerodynamics of a Mud Ball illustration of a golf ball with particles of mud and the forces acting upon it while traveling through the air golf ball arrows representing turbulent air flow lines representing airflow around golf ball symbols representing force vectors affecting golf ball Velocity Lift Force Drag Force Downward-deflected turbulent wake Low pressure region High pressure region Streamlines
Figure 1: A golf ball experiences complex aerodynamic forces broken down into Lift and Drag components.

We used our knowledge library to conduct some theoretical analysis, which led to a prediction that mud on the right side of the ball should almost always cause the resultant ball flight to curve to the left. The answer lies in the physics of aerodynamics –during flight air flows around the ball causing lift and drag forces which both slow the ball down and create curvature in the flight (see Figure 1). Our analysis predicts that mud in the dimples will affect the air flow, causing the turbulent wake to be bent toward the mud side. This in turn will cause the ball to curve in the opposite direction. The big question is – in the real world, with a chunk of mud on the ball, is this effect measurable and repeatable?

Our analysis predicts that mud in the dimples will affect the air flow, causing the turbulent wake to be bent toward the mud side. This in turn will cause the ball to curve in the opposite direction.
 

To test our hypothesis, we set up a 4-iron on our PING Man robot and set the swing characteristics to mimic a fast swing-speed player. The club speed prior to impact was set to 95 mph, leading to center hits carrying a little over 220 yards. We then teed up several balls with mud caked on different areas. Some had mud covering the entire surface of the ball, while others had mud applied to one area – either the front, back, top, bottom, left or right side of the ball.

series of still-frames from high speed camera of iron prior to impact with ball caked with mud Figure 2: Setup images of mud on the golf ball before impact. From left to right: mud on the right side; mud on the back; mud on the front.

For our testing, we used a lot of mud to try to maximize the effect and get the most measurable results (Figure 2). However, our high-speed video analysis of impact showed that much of the mud fell off the ball immediately, regardless of how much mud we applied (Figure 3) so we have confidence that our results will hold for smaller amounts of mud.

series of still-frames from high speed camera of iron impacting a golf ball caked with mud
Figure 3: During impact, almost all of the mud was shaken off the ball, leaving just a small amount visibly attached to the ball during flight.
our high-speed video analysis of impact showed that much of the mud fell off the ball immediately, regardless of how much mud we applied

Our PING Man robot is extremely consistent when delivering the club. With no mud on the ball, the variation in carry and offline distance is not much more than 1 yard from shot to shot. This is reflected in the “error bars” in the charts below. The bars themselves represent the average values from all the shots taken, while the error bars give a visual representation of the consistency of the data.
 

Does mud on the right of the ball cause it to bend consistently in one direction?


Offline Distance - PING Man 4-Iron
Offline Distance - PING Man 4-Iron chart showing the offline distance results of shots hit with a 4-iron; mud was added to the ball on the right side, the left side, all over, and compared to shots hit with a clean ball. chart background x-axis -40y left -30y -20y -10y 0 10y 20y 30y 40y right Distance Offline y-axis Right Left All Over Clean Mud Location bar representing clean ball; miss range is 2 to 4 yards right of target, with an average of 3 yards right bar representing mud all over ball; miss range is 16 left to 8 yards right of target, with an average of 4 yards left bar representing mud location on left side of ball; miss range is 21 to 34 yards right of target, with an average of 28 yards right bar representing mud location on right side of ball; miss range is 17 to 35 yards left of target, with an average of 26 yards left
Figure 4: The average offline distance for a clean ball, a ball covered in mud, and balls with mud on the left or right.


The answer is categorically yes. Figure 4. shows that balls with mud on the right side landed around 25 yards left of the target on average but with much wider variation in results. Likewise, with mud on the left, the ball landed almost 30 yards right of the target. With mud all over, the balls went mostly straight but with a similarly wide variation in results. The mud is making the ball flight less consistent, which is no surprise. However, the take home message is that if you find your ball on the fairway with mud on the right side, aim right of your target and you can be confident that the ball will curve a long way to the left. This was tested by one of our engineers in competition not long after we conducted the test and he was able to aim right with confidence and find the middle of the green.
 

Does mud on the ball cause it to fly shorter?
Carry Distance - PING Man 4-Iron
Carry Distance - PING Man 4-Iron chart showing average carry distance for a range of different mud conditions when compared with a clean ball. chart background y-axis labels Carry Distance 120y 140y 160y 180y 200y 220y 240y x-axis labels Mud Location Clean All Over Back Front Bottom Top Left Right bar representing mud on right side of ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 194 yards bar representing mud on left side of ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 199 yards bar representing mud on top of ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 204 yards bar representing mud on bottom of ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 160 yards bar representing mud on front of ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 204 yards bar representing mud on back of ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 152 yards bar representing mud all over ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 141 yards bar representing mud clean ball with average 4-iron carry distance of 224 yards
Figure 5: Average carry distance for a range of different mud conditions when compared with a clean ball.

Figure 5. shows the carry distance of all the configurations we tested. There was a significant drop in distance for all the mud balls, but the most dramatic drop by far occurred when mud interfered with the club-ball interaction. With mud on the back or bottom of the ball, the club impacts mud before the ball and — no surprise — mud is not great for energy transfer. Even when mud does not get in the way of the club, ball speed is lower, which is a result of some of the energy in the club head going towards accelerating mud rather than the ball. The message here is: mud on your ball can lead to a loss of carry distance, depending on how much mud gets between the club and ball, so take an extra club, or two, if there is a lot of mud on the ball. Our test shows the extreme case because we used a lot of mud, but the effect will exist whenever there is an impediment on the ball.

Take an extra club, or two, if there is a lot of mud on the ball.

This kind of little experiment reminds me how fortunate I am to work in an engineering department where if we have a question based on observations during a round, we have all the tools at our disposal to answer that question in a systematic and reliable way. I hope this helps shed a little light on what you can do if you’re unfortunate enough to find mud on your ball during a round.

 


Paul Wood, PhD
Vice President of Engineering

Paul coordinates a department responsible for club design, product development, innovation, testing, prototyping and manufacturing engineering. He joined PING in 2005 after completing a PhD in Applied Mathematics at St. Andrews University, Scotland. He began his career as a research engineer, studying the physics of ball flight, the club-ball impact and many other aspects of golf science. He was part of the team that created both the iPING and nFlight fitting tools.

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