Anybody who has ever played golf is well aware of one of the game’s most troublesome variables – wind. There are many options on how to play golf in windy conditions. For example, Tom Watson, one of the greatest wind players ever, never changed his ball flight when playing in the wind. He simply adjusted his aim and club selection. Tiger Woods, another of golf’s best wind players, planned the flight of the golf ball into the wind according to what he thought the situation called for. After evaluating all variables, he played what he determined was the highest percentage shot.
Playing to the best of our abilities in windy conditions depends on what works for the individual golfer, and the only way for anybody to find out what works is through experimentation. Our concentration today is how we can best handle play when encountering the variable called wind. Obviously, we can’t control the wind, so my first piece of advice is to avoid checking out mentally when playing in windy conditions and concentrating on what worked to our advantage and what didn’t. If we misjudged the shot and results were less than expected, we have to evaluate what the wind did or did not do to the golf ball, compared to how we thought the wind would affect the golf ball. This will help on future shots later in the round.
Golfers who can mentally handle windy conditions often prefer playing in events where wind is a factor, because they know the rest of the field will most likely be frustrated with a variable they cannot control. In situations like that, the mentally strong have an advantage before they tee off. In short, don’t get mad at the wind; get even by playing your shots with confidence under windy conditions.
So, how do we approach developing our skill at handling play under windy conditions? The first step is to develop the skill of hitting the golf ball at different heights. This is something that should be worked on in every practice session. We can try different ball positions, deliver the club with different lofts at impact, choose different clubs, and the many other variables we can control that affect the trajectory of the golf ball. If a golfer can have a good idea of how high the golf ball will fly then they will be better off playing in the wind. Even though Tom Watson was successful by never changing the ball’s flight, the average golfer, or even most professionals, do not hit the golf ball as purely as Tom did.
We know that the average golfer tends to underestimate how the wind affects their shots. That will vary for each of us. But we can learn something via research done on the effect of head winds and tail windson shots hit by tour players. The attached chart shows that a player hitting a six-iron is losing 40 yards in a 20 mph head wind, while gaining only 20 yards in a 20 mph tail wind. Most golfers will find similar percentages of increased and decreased distances when hitting into a given wind. However, all golfers flight the ball differently, so the graph should not be interpreted as what any given golfer can expect to achieve when they are playing. By way of example, for a golfer who hits the golf ball really high, with a lot of backspin, the wind will affect the shot more than for a golfer who hits the ball 20 feet of the ground with every club.
I’m sure all readers are looking for some practical solution to problems encountered when playing in the wind. I do not have any specific answers that all players could try and have success with. However, in my experience golfers do not hit enough different clubs into the wind. Try different clubs; try hitting the ball lower, higher, etc. Evaluate the results, and then try it again. Experimentation is the only way to discover what is best for you. Evaluate the results in the wind and adjust with no insecurities of how far you hit the golf ball with each golf club. If 130 yards is usually 8 iron distance, do not be ashamed to hit a gentle 5 iron into a strong wind from 130 yards. Make every decision based on the fact…will or will this not help me get the ball in the hole faster.
The variables we have discussed in this six-part series, such as lies, wind and slopes, will continue with discussion in future articles of how to develop skills. My biggest motivation in this series of skill development articles is to inspire golfers to work on their skills and develop their techniques from this type of training, rather than working on technique with no purpose involved. Golfers who are looking for that one feel or technical change that is going to instantly change their game for the better tend to never improve over a period of time. They may hit a few good shots one round, because it “feels” good, but quickly lose that feel, and are lost in how to get the ball around the course at their present skill level. Chasing that one technical feel all the time is a downward spiral to never reaching a golfer’s full potential. The truth is that getting better at developing skills takes a lot of hard work, and progression is not linear. Sorry, no secret potion.
Todd Elliott is the Head Golf Professional at Hideaway Beach Club on Marco Island, Florida. Todd is a PGA and CMAA member. Todd is Titleist Performance Institute Level 3 Golf Certified. To contact Todd email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @elliottgolfpro.