Researchers hit the links for science

Tony Luczak with MSU's Institute of Golf, left, and Tom Lacy, aerospace engineering interim department head, stop for a photo on the course. PHOTO: Megan Bean | Public Affairs

From identifying the best golf clubs to improving individual swings, Mississippi State researchers are using science to make golfers' games better.

For the fourth consecutive year, university professor Tom Lacy was selected by Golf Digest to review more than 250 clubs for the magazine's "2014 Hot List" edition. He is one of six experts listed in the magazine's February edition.

Lacy said making time to play golf can be difficult. In addition to serving as the aerospace engineering department's interim head, he teaches graduate courses and fulfills other campus research and administrative duties.

Though testing golf clubs for the October 2013 Hot List Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., is not funded by the magazine, Lacy said he appreciated the opportunity to "indulge my natural curiosity" and "work with researchers from around the globe."

The aerodynamic principles that apply to club heads moving through the air are the same as theories behind flight vehicle construction, Lacy explained. Structural configurations should be thin-walled and lightweight to improve speed and flight, whether the structure is a rocket ship or a golf ball.

"A minor, incremental improvement in impact-mechanics technology can result in a huge payoff for a company," he continued. "By designing club configurations that minimize drag, they can increase the club-head speed and the momentum from the club to the ball."

As part of his on-campus golf research, Lacy works closely with Tony Luczak, who directs MSU's Institute of Golf, the 18-hole, par-72 course located three miles east of campus on state Highway 182.

They, along with aerospace engineering professor Keith Koenig, conduct experiments in the institute's Swing Lab. Luczak also leads the Golf Science Working Group, a team of campus scientists, including Koenig and Lacy, that study how science can improve players' golf games.

"Sometimes, Golf Digest will contact me to conduct separate studies in addition to the Hot List. For example, the editor emailed me and said there was a Wall Street Journal article about drivers cheating with cooking spray," Lacy said.

The request resulted in a Swing Lab investigation of various cooking sprays. Researchers found that golf balls covered in oil travel 25 percent farther inside the lab, but in 100 degree-plus temperatures outside, the treated balls become aerodynamically unstable.

Results of that study appeared in Golf Digest's September 2011 edition.

Lacy said other golf research leaders at MSU include Sandra Harpole, director of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Technology, and Teena Garrison, Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems assistant research professor, among others.

"We continue to present our research results at a number of conferences," Lacy said. "It's great fun, good science, and there's a lot more scientific meat to it than you might think."

To learn more about the MSU Institute of Golf, see

Leah Barbour | Public Affairs

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