May 03, 2013

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Calculated Sports: Ian Poulter on the Science of Golf

Professional golfer Ian Poulter doesn’t attribute his success wholly to athleticism, he also gives credit to the roles math and science play in the game.

This week, we joined Poulter and members of a local Boys and Girls Club at the Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, North Carolina to learn about the science behind golf. Poulter shared that “there are thousands of numbers out there on the golf course that we’re always calculating.” From relying on distance metrics to see how far to hit a ball, to knowing how numbers correspond to birdies, pars and bogies, having a solid foundation of math is critical to staying competitive.

How else does math play a part in emerging victorious from 18 holes?  A few other nuggets that we took away from Poulter’s science of golf lesson included:

  • Math gets old school on the green; rather than using GPS devices to track their balls, pro golfers have to rely on yardage books and landmarks on each course
  • A golf ball has 300-400 dimples dotting its surface. This unique design, plus wind speed, impacts the rotation and speed of a ball as it comes off a driver’s club
  • Each golf club is engineered for a different outcome. Poulter owns 28 different clubs, each designed with a different loft, or degree, for hitting balls various distances.

Intrigued by nerdy knowledge of your favorite sport?  Keep an eye out for “STEM in Sports,” a campaign launching on in June that showcases science-inspired content from athletes like Victor Cruz, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Poulter and more.

*Note: my knowledge of golf is limited to watching Happy Gilmore on TV and tabloid coverage of Tiger Woods’ and Lindsay Vonn’s new relationship, so a big shout-out to my colleague Andy Benton for adding his golf savvy to this post.

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