How to hit successful shots in windy conditions.
Erik Wait, Director of Instruction, Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Manager
As if playing golf isn’t already hard enough, it’s inevitable that Mother Nature will add an element to one or more of your rounds this year. In terms of difficulty, playing golf in moderate-to-high winds is one of the most challenging elements to contend with when you’re trying to hit the shots needed to close out your buddy on Saturday afternoon. From a gentle breeze to 40 mph gusting winds, the ability to hit successful shots in the wind is something that every golfer must develop. Fortunately, there are a few specific keys to playing in the wind that make it easier to control your golf ball.
Playing with the wind
Playing a golf shot downwind typically makes the ball travel further, but in some cases it can also make the ball drop out of the air more quickly. In order to get the most out of hitting a ball downwind, you need to get the ball up in the air and spinning. If you are between clubs and wanting to ride the wind, play the club that requires you to make a full swing. A less than full swing typically makes the ball launch lower and spin less—resulting in a shot that could be “knocked down” by a tail wind and not carry the distance you had hoped for. With a driver in your hand, you can maximize your downwind shots by making a few small adjustments at address. First, tee your ball slightly higher than your normal tee height so that you can increase your launch angle. Next, tee your ball slightly farther forward of center, towards your big toe, to ensure that you are swinging more “level” through the impact position. Lastly, “Grip it and rip it”…even slightly miss-hit shots will travel longer and straighter downwind than your average drive!
Playing against the wind
The shot most golfers dread hitting in the wind is when the wind is straight in your face and it feels like you are standing behind a Boeing 747 that’s ready for takeoff! In order to hit quality shots into the wind, you need to be able to control your swing length, launch angle and spin. With the British Open in July, we are bound to see some of the best players in the world hitting 8-irons from 120 yards and making a swing that looks like a big chip shot to get it there. Tom Watson (Five-time British Open Winner) said “I learned early on that the key to handling British Open venues on windswept links is to feel as if you’re hitting long chip shots around the course.” A good rule of thumb for hitting shots in windy conditions is to take one more club for every 10 mph that you are hitting into, and if you are a high ball hitter, you may want to take 1 ½ clubs more. For example, if you normally hit an 8-iron 135 yards and you are in a 20 mph wind, you need to play either your 5 or 6-iron.
In order to achieve a flatter shot trajectory when playing into the wind, you need to make a few adjustments to your normal address position and swing. First, start by playing the ball back further in your stance with a little more of your weight on your front foot. Both of these adjustments will help decrease the loft of your club at impact and result in a flatter launch angle. Second, you need to make a swing that will produce a slightly lower trajectory and reduce the amount of backspin you put on the ball. Ideally, your backswing will stop near chest-high and your follow through will stop at approximately the same level. This “L to L” swing will increase your control of the club and the ball when hitting shots into the wind. Remember the saying, “When it’s breezy swing easy”. You took plenty of club and now you just need to make a smooth swing!
Putting on a windy day
Lastly, wind can affect your putting too. It’s considerably harder to predict how the wind may affect your putting, but there are a few things you can learn to look for that will help you putt better in the wind. First, if your ball is shaking more than your hands when you’re over a 4-foot birdie putt, the wind might have an effect on how the ball rolls. When you are approaching a green, try to do a quick scan of the surrounding area to see if the green is protected or out in the open. If the greens are really smooth and quicker than average you are more likely to have to adjust for windy conditions. Wind typically has a greater effect on downwind and into the wind putts and effects the distance your ball rolls. Second, with windy conditions, your body is likely to act like a sail and blow you around, making it difficult to hit solid putts. To stabilize your body’s position, adjust your set-up by taking a wider stance. A wider stand will keep you closer to the ground and give you a larger base to help stay stable.