The first in a series of skill-based posts aimed at the mid to high handicapper.
Why do genuine low-markers smile when the wind gets up? It may have a lot to do with the mid to high-marker’s ball control becoming a lottery in windy conditions. Many low-markers will, when windy conditions prevail, reassess the competition as being limited to their fellow low-markers. Instead of setting out to beat a field of, say, twenty, the low-marker will believe he’s competing in a field as small as five or less. He’s smiling because a podium finish beckons.
Yet with a little knowledge and a bit of practise, this imbalance need not prevail. Let’s see if we can redress the situation.
A previous post – Caddies & How Best to Manage – stressed the importance of knowing how far you hit a golf ball – through the air. This information is a basic pre-requisite to playing golf in windy conditions. In fact it’s a pre-requisite for playing competition golf, period, and applies to most clubs in your bag.
Wind, like most of golf’s challenges, can never be beaten but it can be embraced. Understanding wind and its effect on ball flight is part of the challenge. Correct adjustments, such as your club selection, your swing, and ball position relative to your stance, are another. The final part is practise. Get these three factors right, or even partly right, and expect to see a marked reduction in the number of shots you take when playing in windy conditions.
Understanding Wind – Some Basic Principles:
- Hitting the ball harder will likely increase spin – backspin or sidespin – especially so when hitting into a headwind or strong side wind.
- This will account for many shots, especially approach shots, coming up two or three clubs short, or more. Badly hit side wind shots don’t just go wide, they travel way off course, perhaps OB or lost in jungle.
- Far less common is the reverse – when sidespin matches the direction of the wind – resulting in an overshoot. But best we leave this for another time.
- Clubs with greater loft – eight and nine irons, wedges, will impart more backspin. Clubs with less loft, six and five irons and lower, especially driver, will impart more sidespin. This is why the higher-lofted clubs are easier to hit straight – due to the backspin imparted by their increased loft being more dominant than sidespin.
- Hybrids tend to hit the ball higher than their iron equivalents.
- The strength of the wind halfway towards the target area and beyond is far more relevant than the strength of the wind around where you are standing. Look at the trees near your target area. If there aren’t any, look at the flag. If you can’t see it, ask your caddie.
- The strength of the wind, some thirty yards up in the air, will tend to be far stronger than at ground level.
If you get the impression that reducing ball spin and using bigger clubs are keys to this challenge, you are part way there. The next step is to realise the differences associated with wind direction, and how to make the necessary adjustments. It is important to note that the following guidelines assume your ball has a flat lie. Uneven lies will be the subject of a future post.
Understand this; hitting the ball harder into a headwind is the very thing you shouldn’t do. The wind’s grip on the dimples of a high-spinning ball, rotating in the opposite direction, is marked. A ball hit harder will spin more. This is not what you want.
Use far more club than you would ordinarily need. Place the ball back in your stance, grip down the shaft and swing with three-quarter speed. Practise will eventually tell you whether it is a two or three-club wind. Practise will also confirm where in your stance the ball should be. Remember the aim is to hit the ball with less power, thus reducing the spin thereby preventing the ball from ballooning. Using a three-quarter swing at three-quarter power, the extra club, hit with good timing, will get the ball out further than you realise, at a lower trajectory and with more control.
Teeing off with the driver is slightly different as this club will not impart backspin. But you will still want to keep the ball-flight low. Sidespin is a greater concern. Tee the ball back and swing smoothly. The aim is to stay on the short stuff.
Using the driver off the deck, like a fairway wood, providing the lie is reasonable, is a lot easier than many imagine. Grip down and set the ball back in your stance. Align left of target as this shot, unless you are extremely good at drawing the ball, will vary between a fade, which is fine, and a slice, which is not. A low fade with a driver from the fairway, or rough if the lie permits, can be a great stroke saver into the wind. I repeat it is a lot easier than many think.
When hitting downwind, the amount of adjustment in club selection is far less than for headwind shots. This is due to the spin factor being minimal.
For approach shots beware the ball will not stop on the green as quickly, so apart from clubbing down, you may need to play it short and have the ball run on to the green.
When teeing off, if you don’t hit your driver very high, consider using a three or five-wood as this should get the ball higher into the air, thus promote a greater down-wind “ride”.
This particular subject warrants its own space, which it will receive under some future post titled Shot-shaping. In the meantime, suffice to say for the average golfer they should try to ride the wind, not spin against it. This means playing the side of the wind that favours your natural shot – which for 80% of us amateurs is a slice.
For a right-handed golfer whose normal shot is between a fade and slice, let’s assume wind direction is left-to-right, the same as your normal ball flight. Not only does the wind direction match your natural ball-flight, but it is also in sync with the clockwise rotation your slice imparts on the ball. This will mean your ball will not only fly further, but also have more run on landing. Club accordingly.
For the same golfer, when facing wind from the opposite direction, club up, say two clubs stronger. Align as you would normally ie. assuming no wind, and swing at three-quarter power. The aim here is to have the wind negate your normal left-to-right flight path. It will do this providing your ball is not spinning flat-out with its normal slice-generated clockwise rotation. This is why we limit our swing to three-quarter power.
Let’s imagine this same golfer is teeing off on C1 at Khao Kheow – the par five with water left of the fairway all the way to the green, and OB right – a hole feared by many. On this day a breeze is blowing left-to-right. What do you do?
Simple; you are going to align over the water’s edge, or further out if your fade is more of a slice. Why are you confident that the ball will finish on the fairway? Because that is what you do – slice or fade the ball, and today the wind is going to help. You know this because you have been practising this very shot. You are then going to repeat the process for the next two shots or until you reach the green. That’s right, keep aiming over the water, or the water’s edge, until your ball lands on the green. Remember, if your approach shot requires a lofted club, side spin may be replaced by backspin, causing the ball to fly straight. Adjust accordingly.
In windy conditions it is critical to maintain your balance. If required, widen your stance to promote stability when putting. You may need to adjust for your slightly lower centre of gravity by lowering your grip on the putter handle, maybe one or two centimetres.
Sometimes the ball can oscillate in windy conditions. Provided it doesn’t actually come to rest in another position, it is deemed not to have moved. If you stand over your putt, with your putter hovering just above the putting surface, you are deemed not to have taken your stance. Many players practise putting in windy conditions by not grounding their putters. Therefore, if the wind causes the ball to move, they may replace it without penalty. This is not so if it moves once you have taken your stance – ie grounded your putter. Tip; most find this uncomfortable, so try gripping down the shaft, just for this type of putt.
Sufficient wind, especially gusting wind, is nigh-on impossible to read or allow for when putting. Accept that it will affect everyone, not just you, and get on with it. No one, but no one, is good at putting in gusting side-winds on fast greens. In short, don’t let it get to you.
The Open Championship; St Andrews Old Course, 2000:
This major rather famously became part of the “Tiger Slam” a 12 month stretch where Tiger held all four major championships at the same time. This particular win represented a master-class in playing on a wind-exposed course. The Old Course at St Andrews has 112 bunkers, pot bunkers mainly, of which many are placed on or about the landing areas of many tee shots. I think I’m right in saying Tiger did not hit his driver during the entire tournament, preferring to hit his 2-iron “stinger” off most tees. Tiger positions his so-called stinger ball rear of centre in his stance. His back-swing is limited as is his follow-through. He grips down the shaft. When aligning his shot he expects and plays for extra roll. This is doing what has been written above. This is taking the wind out of play.
This links course is noted for many things, not least being the significance of wind and its influence on scoring. Tiger won The Open Championship by eight shots that year. But more telling was the number of times his ball went into one of those 112 bunkers……..448 if taken over the four rounds. Not once, not a single time! It was arguably the greatest display of controlled shot-making witnessed in the modern era. And this from an American who normally plays target golf on park-like courses, far removed from the vagaries of links golf.
Not for a minute am I proposing we copy Tiger. Apart from being a physical impossibility, it is not necessary. What I am suggesting is that with a little understanding and practise, you can easily improve on your wind-playing ability. One final point; when the wind is up, expect the winning scores to be higher than normal. So don’t get down on yourself following a blob, as others will be having similar experiences.
Old adage born eons ago on wind-exposed Scottish links – when it’s breezy, swing it easy. Follow this as it won’t take much “wind practise” to wipe that smile off the low-marker’s face.
Question: Who were the top five earning golfers for 2012?
This is not a trick question. I suspect many of you will come up with the names occupying positions one, two and five, but suggest you will struggle to pick the two occupying third and fourth. To assist you in your deliberations, here is how the answer was arrived at – courtesy of Golf Digest:
- On-course income: This includes money earned on all six tours – PGA, European, Japanese, Australasian, Asian and Southern Africa Tours – the Champions Tour and the three ladies tours – LPGA, European and Japan LPGAs. Unofficial money won in non-tour events was also included.
- Off-course income: Estimates of non-playing income earned from business that capitalises on the golfer’s present or past player status. Includes income from such things as course architecture (prominent in Pattaya), books and instructional videos, clothing and endorsements generally. Added to this were estimates of income from appearance fees, licensing fees (for various products such as video games, teaching aids, etc), speaking engagements, corporate outings and bonuses of various types.
Answer next week.