As I sit here typing this post, I am holed up in my house as Hurricane Sandy comes through with lots of rain and big gusts of wind. Watching the branches of the trees go back and forth reminds me of being in Ireland and Scotland, and how tough it is to play in windy conditions. It’s a skill that takes some practice, but to be good at playing in the wind you must first have a clear understanding of what to do and what not to do.
The first and most important thing you must know about playing in the wind: you HAVE to hit the ball solid to be a great wind player. Players that strike the ball very solidly always play great in the wind, as their ball flight has a penetrating trajectory that can hold up to the wind. Tom Watson won 5 British Open championships (and nearly a 6th at age 59) because he kept a smooth tempo, never tried to hit the ball too hard, and always struck it solidly. A ball that is not hit properly will get knocked around by the wind immediately, and distance and direction will suffer. So work on your impact fundamentals to make sure you are compressing the ball to the fullest extent. Your hands must be in front of the ball at impact, the club must be striking slightly downward into the ball, and your chest must be more over the ball – these are keys to a proper impact position.
In addition, you have to be willing to adjust; by that I mean that the basics of ball position and club selection disappear when playing in the wind. Be prepared to play the ball back in your stance to bring the flight down, and if the shot calls for a 5 iron from 100 yards, then hit that shot! The key is to strike the ball solidly with good rhythm; don’t attempt to hit the ball too hard or you will see the ball spin way too much and get knocked down by the wind. Understand that swinging harder can bring in two issues: a ball not hit solidly, and a ball that spins too much. Both of these are DEATH in the wind. Take more club, play it back, and swing with smooth acceleration into the wind.
Another area that is important but often left out is the finish. Watch a great wind player and you will notice that they will finish lower after the shot takes off toward the target. What does the finish matter, you ask? A LOT in my opinion! A short finish with your arms extended toward the target tells me that you swung in control rather than all out, therefore controlling your strike through the ball and the subsequent ball flight. Finishing high and fully on a shot where you need to keep it down usually means you swung too hard, and most likely hit the shot too high with too much spin – DEATH in the wind, as I said earlier.
Finally, it’s all about attitude. Many players immediately fold and don’t play well in the wind because they dislike it. Here’s a tip: NO ONE likes playing in the wind. But if you can accept it and relish the challenge of wind and even rain, you will be a better player. If you understand that everyone has to play in those conditions and you have practiced for them, that improved attitude and the practice time will lead to great results. Embrace the challenge.
So I’m not suggesting you go out in the yard right now while Hurricane Sandy comes through, but next time you are at the range, spend some time playing with ball position, club selection, distances, and trajectory. Try keeping the ball down, hitting your 175 club to a target at 125 to see what it takes. It’s a challenge at first, especially to hit the ball solidly, but keep at it. Your game in the wind will improve immensely, and while the rest of the players will be struggling and complaining about the wind, you will be loving life.