A Lesson Learned: Playing in the wind

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Dealing with the wind is a fact of life for golfers everywhere, not just in Hawaii.
By
Sara Dickson, PGA

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, January 12, 2014 | 10:01 p.m.

I love watching the PGA Tour in Hawaii. Even though the season technically started a few months ago, seeing the world's best players against the Hawaiian backdrop still signals to me the start of a new golf season. Well, not a new one to Jimmy Walker, who has now won twice this season in a matter of months (same season, but different year ... you know what I mean.)

Anyways, another reason I love watching the players play in Hawaii is because I learn so much – not just for my own game, but as a teacher helping others. For example, a "light breeze" in Hawaii (and there's always a "light breeze") is not unlike the type of golf you'll find here in Florida. One of the challenges I work with students on constantly is how to play golf in the wind. Watching the Tour players deal with the Hawaiian trade winds and still put up incredible scores shows all of us that wind doesn't have to wreck scores. Not at all.

More Wind Tips: Driving into the Wind

Some golfers will have to deal with wind when they play. And by some, I mean virtually everyone who picks up a club this year. It's part of the game. But it doesn't necessarily have to be a score-wrecking element. Here are a few tips on how to manage your game and the wind when you're out on the course.

When the wind is in your face:
Solid contact is critical. Though your instinct will be to swing a little harder, you'll want to actually do the opposite. Focus more on tempo and balance. Take a practice swing that feels about 75% of your normal tempo. Your backswing should be a bit abbreviated and your follow through will as well. When you're ready to hit, position the ball back in your stance a bit to hit a lower trajectory. Take at least one extra club (depending on the strength of the wind) to account for the shorter swing and the headwind.

Remember that wind blowing into you exacerbates curvature of the ball, so shots that have movement left and right will move even further in those directions. (That said, I encourage students not to aim anywhere where a straight shot will get you in trouble.) So find the line that can be safe whether straight or accounting for the wind and focus on the smooth, shorter swing to hit it there.

When the wind is with you:
The curvature of the ball will decrease, but you will also have to account for added carry distance and additional roll wiith all your shots. And though not true for the very best players, the vast majority of amatuers will find that your higher-lofted clubs will be affected more by the tailwind than other clubs – so what might be a two-club wind for your pitching wedge may only be a one-club wind for your 5-iron. Again, don't swing harder than normal to take advantage of the wind – a good smooth swing will do just fine and the wind will take care of the added yards. Obviously, take one less club (at least) to account for the additional carry and roll.

Crosswinds:
Probably the toughest wind to account for, I stand by the advice that most players (barring gale force winds) should not aim anywhere that a straight shot would get penalized. Different teachers will advise whether it's better to work the ball into the wind or with the wind. I also understand that many players may not have that option. In this instance, it's important to keep that "solid strike" mentality. One technique (to be applied to all shots, not just crosswind) is to keep your weight more forward in general to help make contact with the ball before you strike the ground. This will also help maintain good balance throughout the swing.

For all of these scenarios, being confident in your plan will be pivotal. I encourage you to spend time on the range working on the shorter "punch"-type swing and seeing how different ball positions affect your trajectory and ball movement. When you have a plan for any wind, you're going to be in good shape to take on the conditions and probably better prepared than others in your group.

Remember, golf is an outdoor game and playing within the elements is part of the challenge and joy. Don't hesitate because conditions aren't perfect (whatever perfect means in regard to golf weather.) Get out and enjoy the game! It's great, on calm or windy days. If you need more help, go see your local PGA Professional.

Sara Dickson is a PGA Certified Professional at The Stanwich Club (Greenwich, CT) and Stonebridge Country Club (Naples, FL). Sara studied Business Administration with a concentration in PGA Golf Management and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Methodist University (Fayetteville, NC) in 2009. While at Methodist, Sara was a CoSIDA ESPN Magazine All-Academic American member of the NCAA National Championship Women's Golf Team. You can follow Sara on Twitter at @Sara_PGA 


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