Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/188

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184
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
THE DYNAMICS OF A GOLF BALL[1]
BY Sir J. J. THOMSON
CAVENDISH PROFESSOR OF EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS, UNIVERSITY OR CAMBRIDGE, PROFESSOR OF NATURAL PHILOSOPHY, ROYAL INSTITUTION

THERE are so many dynamical problems connected with golf that a discussion of the whole of them would occupy far more time than is at my disposal this evening. I shall not attempt to deal with the many important questions which arise when we consider the impact of the club with the ball, but confine myself to the consideration of the flight of the ball after it has left the club. This problem is in any case a very interesting one, it would be even more interesting if we could accept the explanations of the behavior of the ball given by many contributors to the very voluminous literature which has collected round the game; if these were correct, I should have to bring before you this evening a new dynamics, and announce that matter when made up into golf balls obeys laws of an entirely different character from those governing its action when in any other condition.

If we could send off the ball from the club, as we might from a catapult, without spin, its behavior would be regular, but uninteresting; in the absence of wind its path would keep in a vertical plane, it would not deviate either to the right or to the left, and would fall to the ground after a comparatively short carry.

But a golf ball when it leaves the club is only in rare cases devoid of spin, and it is spin which gives the interest, variety and vivacity to the flight of the ball. It is spin which accounts for the behavior of a sliced or pulled ball, it is spin which makes the ball soar or "douk," or execute those wild flourishes which give the impression that the ball is endowed with an artistic temperament, and performs these eccentricities as an acrobat might throw in an extra somersault or two for the fun of the thing. This view, however, gives an entirely wrong impression of the temperament of a golf ball, which is in reality the most prosaic of things, knowing while in the air only one rule of conduct, which it obeys with unintelligent conscientiousness, that of always following its nose. This rule is the key to the behavior of all balls when in the air, whether they are golf balls, base balls, cricket balls or tennis balls. Let us, before entering into the reason for this rule, trace out some of its consequences. By the nose of the ball we mean the point on the ball furthest in front.

  1. A lecture given before the Royal Institution of Great Britain.