Taming the Wind
The past weekend, my partner in EIDOLON, Ralph Thompson, came to Texas on a business trip, so we, as always, teed it up three times. Well, a fresh “norther”, as we call them down here, greeted us Saturday with wind of 20-25, gusting to 35, and Sunday only slightly better. So it seemed timely to address the question from Tim Heithaus about hitting wedges on days like this. Tim asked:

“When the wind is swirling it is extremely hard to aim for the correct distance and direction. I have tried playing punch shots, but with fast greens it is very hard to hold the greens because of a lack of backspin. Any tips for getting closer to the hole so I can start making some birdies?”

Well, Tim, let me start by saying that anything more than a mild breeze is the most challenging thing in golf. Even on the PGA Tour, watch what happens when the wind blows – these guys hate it as much as any of us.

But growing up close to the Texas coast, playing in a stiff breeze is part of golf, so we learn how to deal with it early. My father used to pound into me, “when it’s breezy, swing it easy”. Your goal in the wind is to make the most solid contact you can, and an easier swing allows that. Wind will affect every shot, but will not blow up those that are hit really solid, so that should be your goal. My own keys to windy days are simple – grip down an inch on every club, and take one more than I think necessary. And SWING EASY!

Tim, I assume you were talking specifically about hitting good wedge shots into the wind, so let’s address that. First of all, I’m thinking that your definition of “punch shot” might not be the same as mine, because of your lack of spin. But let’s not get caught up in semantics here.

When you face a wedge shot into the wind, here’s what I like to do, and I think it makes it very simple.

First, select a club that will deliver a lower ball flight for you. For example, if you have a “textbook” sand wedge shot, take your gap wedge instead, possibly even your pitching wedge. Grip down an inch to make up for the reduced loft.

In your set up, place the ball slightly farther back in your stance, but don’t overdo this. When we talk about moving the ball back, an inch or so is a good move. Remember that you do not want to do anything that dramatically changes your swing path. One of my keys, which I’ve said here many times, is to set up to the forward edge of the ball, and focus your eyes on the forward edge during the swing, so that you ensure crisp contact.

The only swing thought I think you should try to process is that you want to take the club away on a lower arc so that your swing gets wider and you deliver a less descending blow to the ball, which also helps deliver a lower trajectory. Keep your grip very light and make sure you drive the body and arms through the impact zone, leading the hands and finally the clubhead. It has to get there last.

And DON’T try to do anything seriously out of the ordinary with your swing. I see many golfers just totally abandon their swing when trying to hit into the wind. DON’T DO IT! "Dance with who brung you", as they say in Texas.

I’ll add that I like to hit this same shot downwind, as it keeps the ball lower and the reduced spin makes it less likely that the ball will get “knocked down”. On Saturday, we saw several shots downwind just get slammed out of the sky by the knockdown effect of a strong tailwind.

And finally, when playing in strong winds, adjust your expectations. Unless you are a scratch player, there are no “birdie holes” on days like this. In fact, even as a low handicap player, in my world, I try not to think “birdie” until I’ve hit my approach shot into makeable putt range, but that seems to be an idea for another column. Watch for it Friday.
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[ comments ]
Tim Horan says:
I am reminded of a quip from an old pro...talking about the effect of wind on the short game. To a great extent it is true...The wind affects the player more than the shot. Select the right club, see the shot and envisage what the wind will do to it and swing at normal tempo. If you envisage having to batter the ball to get it there you have the wrong club in your hand.
3/3/09
 
wonshort says:
I am a firm believer that playing in any adverse weather conditions you need to be mentally strong and rather than beat yourself up about how difficult and GǣunfairGǥ it is realise that it is the same for everyone. However prepare yourself mentally and this will give you the confidence that you can cope better than most! A few good thoughts areGǪ
Swing better and not harder.
Try to use the wind as your friend rather than fight it.
DO NOT try to make up for things or be too aggressive playing down wind. In a strong wind and on a firm running golf course this is a recipe for disaster.
3/3/09
 
jerdman says:
This is a great column. Strong winds add at least 10 shots to my score. I tend to fight it to the point I'm swinging out of my shoes when hitting into the wind. I'm still trying to break out of that ego and take the extra club.
3/4/09
 
onedollarwed says:
I used to play at Tony Lema in Oakland CA - now Monaech Bay by 1PM a consistent 10-15mph wind comes off the bay onto this unsheltered course. The wind was almost always perpendicular to the holes which run N-S almost exclusively. In this case, the tee shots were a pain in the butt! - at the time I played a slight fade.
Other than this unusual example, remember that the wind can be you ally. Use it to take trouble out of play - not just with the driver, but with irons and wedges. 150 yds and a following wind? - good if you're going over a bunker to a pin in the back. Into the wind? - good if trouble is behind the green.
A buddy once played in Scotland (and he had to because of a short vacation) in 70mph winds. He said into it a drive went about 100yds and down wind about 400yds. There are holes when that could come in real handy!
Anyway, you need to know when the wind can help and when to play like your grandpa.
3/4/09
 
onedollarwed says:
That was Monarch Bay
3/4/09
 
falcon50driver says:
I've told you a million times, don't exaggerate..Played golf in 70 mph wind? I don't think so.
3/5/09
 
onedollarwed says:
I didn't, it was this buddy... yeah...
3/5/09
 
onedollarwed says:
Q: Under what conditions would you play in those conditions?
A: Last day of vacation in Scotland!
3/5/09
 
Jake Bogardus says:
Do you know how fast 70mph winds are. You can't hit a golf ball like that. The wind would blow you all over every swing. You would likely whiff or mishit everything. And it would be impossible to putt. Just this year at the ATandT the two commentators (Mccord and someone) tried to play a 3 hole exhibition on a day that it was gusting to 55 and they didn't finish 3 holes because they couldn't hit the ball. Stop lying
3/5/09
 
Tim Horan says:
Does it really matter how strong the wind was one day in Scotland. Get back to the point. If you don't have anything constructive to say go on Facebook or paint your toenails.
3/6/09
 
wonshort says:
I live in the UK and regularly play links golf. One of my real favourites is a course called Machrihanish in Scotland. Great course with a famous 1st hole with a drive over the Atlantic (look it up on the net). The first time I played was a still summer's day...drive, wedge to 6 ft...birdie...what is all the fuss about? The next day...into a really strong wind... a well struck drive, good 3 wood and still a few yards short. It can really blow in Scotland...especially on exposed links courses...
3/6/09
 
GolfSmith7 says:
My favorite wind story... it was only 23 mph (weather bug iphone app tells you the wind speed) down wind hit a smooth driver, barely swung it, wanted to make sure I hit it solid. 365 yards. My average drives are around 250 top out about 280, so to see one fly 365 yards was sweet. I got to the par 5 in two and then went on to three putt for par, bummer. I still remember the drive though :-)
3/7/09
 
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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