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…Against the wind
Playing in the wind is a skill all golfers need in order to be successful.
This is especially true in the Midwest and Southwest, where the flat terrain makes for many a windswept afternoon on the links. The ability to control your golf ball in all conditions separates the good players from bad, the great players from the merely average.
Rather than letting yourself be frustrated by a day of less than ideal conditions, a player is best served by embracing the challenge the course offers, making the most of the opportunity to improve.
Tiger Woods, in his amateur days, was once found by a reporter standing on an empty driving range, hitting balls in a torrential downpour with howling winds. When asked why he was outside fighting the elements, Woods responded that working when no one else is working was the only way to get better than everyone else. Every round, every shot is an opportunity to learn, work and improve.
However, there are some basics to playing in heavy winds that will make your life a little easier. First and foremost, accept what you can and cannot do. Standing 250 yards away with a 30 mph headwind blasting you in the face? Unless you have the kind of Herculean strength most players can only dream of, you’re probably not reaching that green.
Play smart, manage your game, and accept the reality of the course before you and lay up to your favorite position.
Along these same lines, it’s important to accept that bad breaks will happen. A gust of wind may kick up just as you tee off that knocks your ball down 20 yards short of the green and into the pond guarding it. Or the wind could power it 30 yards past the green and into the woods. These things will happen, and you cannot control them. All you can control is the way you react to them.
If you can keep your cool while your competitors are losing theirs, and realize that everyone will be subject to the same or similar lousy luck, you have a powerful advantage. That’s because your decision-making will not be influenced by frustration or panic, but by the course management plan established at the start of your day.
This segues nicely into my next point: have a plan.
Especially if you’re playing a course you’re familiar with, think about the general direction the wind is blowing and plot out the path you want to take through the golf course. Decide where you want each shot to end up in an ideal world and, more importantly, the places you can afford to miss and still recover. Rare is the golf hole that requires a player to hit an absolutely perfect shot, but every hole has at least one place your ball cannot go without resulting in a round-destroying number.
Especially in unfavorable conditions, it’s important to help understand your game, where your ball goes when you don’t make a perfect swing and how to make sure that when your shot isn’t perfect all is not lost.
If there is a big pond down the left side of a hole with the wind howling towards it, and you’re battling a snap-hook that seems destined to send your tee shot exploding towards a watery grave, think about how you can be smarter than the elements.
Can you hit an intentional fade to fight the wind’s will?
Do you have more confidence in your 3-wood or a long iron to hit the fairway?
Fight your ego and play to your strengths, and you’ll surprise yourself with how effectively you avoid double bogeys and worse.
Finally, play the ball a bit back in your stance, and swing with better tempo and more control. In part, this will help lower the trajectory of your ball flight, keeping it under the wind and allowing it to fly on a truer path. But more importantly, playing the ball back in your stance and swinging within yourself will result in crisper, more solid contact, which is the biggest thing you can do to play well in difficult conditions.
An off-center hit will halfheartedly drift along your general target line, wobbly and easily influenced by the whims of a buffeting wind. A center-face strike will fly with purpose and intent, much more resistant to elemental charms.
Sounds simple, right? Keep your cool, accept what you can and cannot do, and play within yourself. Master these three rules, and you’ll find success even when the elements are most against you. It’s easier said than done, but certainly not impossible — and something anyone can do with enough focus, mental toughness, calm and practice.