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Weather - Wind

Wind adds a special challenge to golf and has even helped make some particular courses and holes famous.  The par 3, 12th hole at Augusta over Rae’s Creek, though only 155 yards long, is considered one of golf’s toughest partly because its wind patterns are unusually difficult to read.  Revered St. Andrews on first look appears to be a modest challenge as players blithely trek outward on the front nine.  It is a different story when they turn the corner to fight the wind coming inward.


Like uneven lies, the wind has four general directions.


1.                    against

2.                    following

3.                    across from let to right

4.                    across from right to left


Quartering winds and varying velocities further test the player’s judgment on windy days.  The basic four-wind patterns and the needed adjustments to be taught to golf students are as follows:


Wind Against

“When it’s breezy, swing easy” is one of those golf sayings that has a simple but emphatic message: play within oneself in windy weather. 


But this is not easy to do, particularly when the wind is against the player.  Every human instinct pleads for the player to swing harder, but this response only courts disaster.  Harder swings produce more chance for error, and errors made into wind are severely compounded.  Attempting to hit harder usually results in: 1) an early hit with the right hand at a steep approach angle causing more than normal backspin and a high (rather than low) shot, 2) too much tension in the right side of the body inhibiting release and producing a push-slice (disaster when played into a strong wind).  So, rule number one is:  Instead of trying to hit harder and farther into the wind, the student should learn to swing with normal effort, or even shorten the grip and swing more conservatively.


There are those who recommend that the ball be teed lower on a driver shot into the wind.  This advice has some inherent danger.  1) When the ball is teed lower it encourages a more descending blow which adds backspin.  A ball teed low makes it more difficult to square the clubface.  The tendency is to leave the face open, resulting in a push slice.  It is better to tee the ball at a height which encourages a shallow or level angle of approach to the ball.  Descent causes additional backspin, while ascent adds more loft.  The student wants neither.  Therefore, the most effective tee height is that which allows the player to square the face with a more level approach angle.


Another option when playing from the tee into a stiff wind is to play the ball three to four inches further back in the stance.  This position closes the left shoulder, presents less loft on the face, and encourages a slight in-to-out path, for a lower running draw.  When students tee the ball too far forward, the opposite, a high slice, is often the result.


One of the most frequent errors made by all golfers, professionals included, is leaving the approach shot to the green short when playing into the wind.  Wind is universally an underestimated force.  Keeping the ball flight low is fundamental to playing effectively in windy conditions.  A simple way to create a lower trajectory for an iron shot is:


1.                    If the shot is normally a #7 iron distance but now is against the wind, choose a stronger club like a #5 iron and choke down the grip from one to two inches.  Each inch down produces about one club shorter in distance.


2.                    Move the ball two ball widths farther back in the stance.  The grip end is now more advanced toward the target past the clubhead.  This decreases clubface loft.


3.                    Take a ¾ length backswing with normal rhythm.  This will also produce a ¾ finish with the upper body finishing a bit more vertical.


4.                    In the forward swing return to the ball with the hands and clubhead address relationship (hands well-advanced of the clubhead) still intact.  Make a normally passed swing, but one that is shorter.  This is not necessarily a downward punch.  The player should be trying to minimize backspin so the ball doesn’t “upshot.”  The shot should be an abbreviated version of the normal swing with an adjusted set-up.  The reason this is not described here as a “punch shot” is the word “punch” connotes a sharp, steep blow that causes additional backspin.


On wood shots and long irons, special effort should be made not to “rush” to get the shot “over with.”  Use a normal pace into the wind.  Also on wood shots a widened stance will lower the center of gravity to help maintain balance and will level the angle of approach.


Downwind Shots


When the wind is following it will not only help propel the ball forward in the air but also reduce the backspin.  So, when the ball lands it will roll farther.  This may be an advantage on the drive.  However, it may pose a problem on the shot to the green.  Unless the downwind approach shot has a very high trajectory and/or an unusual amount of backspin, the ball should be played short, bounced onto the green and rolled to the flag, in the terrain allows.  If the ball has to carry a hazard, the player may play the ball a bit more forward, open the face slightly and take a longer, slower swing to produce a high fade that falls softly.


On the downwind tee shot, there is some difference of opinion on strategy.  The following is a sampling of these opinions:


1.                    Tee the ball higher.  Stay behind it in the swing to get greater height in the shot and take advantage of the wind for length.  Be careful not to exaggerate the changes.


2.                    Hit a normal shot rather than risk trying to do something different that can cause trouble off the tee.  The wind will make the ball go farther.


3.                    Use a #3 wood to get a higher trajectory for distance while also having good directional control.


All three approaches have certain advantages.  The choice will be influenced by hole length, tightness of the fairway and potential problems of an errant shot.  What seems most teachable is to stay with the normal shot downwind and accept the added distance as a bonus.  If the driver is inconsistent, go with the #3 wood.


Side Winds


On the tee with either a left-to-right or right-to-left wind, stand closer to the side from where the wind is coming and aim down that portion of the fairway.  Let the ball ride the wind, not fight it, to maximize distance.  Some players try to fade the ball with a left-to-right wind or draw it with a right-to-left wind in order to get more distance on a tee shot.  Assess the risk before attempting this.  The fade can turn into a slice; the draw, a hook; and with the winds help, the ball can go totally out of control.  That is the key work in wind conditions, control.  Basically, advise students to keep the ball at normal or lower trajectory, swing within themselves, take extra club when necessary, and remember that the wind will probably affect the shot more than the player expects.


Finally, one of the most subtly astute comments ever made about playing in wind came from PGA Hall of Famer “Chick” Harbert.  He said, “When playing into the wind – just try and make your very best swing and solid contact.  When playing downwind – just try and make your very best swing and solid contact.”  Need we say more?




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