Friday, March 4, 2011

Playing in the Wind

The Honda was brutal yesterday.  Only a handful of the best players in the world broke par.  If strong winds are this tough to handle for PGA Tour members, what does it do to you and your game?  Today we are going to talk about some ways to handle yourself and your game in the wind.  Notice I didn't mention how to handle the wind.  Forget that approach, because that will lead to trouble.  Instead, start out with a smart attitude.

These four strategies happen prior to stepping on the first tee.
  1. Figure out what your personal par will be today. The winds will drive scores up.  If you are an 8 handicap and usually shoot between 80 and 85, you might decide that your par for the day will be 85-90.  Some people feel like that is giving up right out of the chute, but I don't agree.  Instead, it gives you realistic expectations which will minimize your impatience, temper and give you clearer decision making.  
  2. Keep the word "fat" in your mind today.  Your goal is to hit fairways and greens and the best way to do that will be to aim to the widest spot of the fairway and the middle of the green. 
  3. Decide prior to the round that you won't "stand on" any shots.  The old adage of "when its breezy, swing easy" is a good one.  If you are between a 7 and 8 iron on your approach, hitting an 8 iron hard will usually put more spin on the shot and wind eats spin for breakfast.  
  4. This might be the most important mental decision you  make all day, commit to your reads on the putting green.  Putting in the wind is tough, especially if the wind is gusty.  It is made immeasurably tougher if you are doubting your read, second guessing what the wind is going to do to the ball and putting tentatively.  You will make some bad decisions on the greens, but if you aren't committed to what you are doing, you have no chance!

Those are some decisions you can make prior to teeing it up and all will help you.  Now, about your physical game.  Do you have a low shot?  If not, forget about it.  Today isn't the day to learn it.  Instead, keep these strategies in mind. 

  1. Understand your ball flight.  If you spin the ball from left to right, you will have to pay attention and play very defensively when you hit a shot with the wind blowing from left to right.  In a brisk wind, you can safely double the amount of movement you will have with your spin.  
  2. In addition to understanding the effect the wind will have on your spin, pay attention to what happens when your ball hits the ground.  If the ground is firm or sloped the same direction as the wind, the ball will take off when it hits.  If you are playing into a hook wind and there is water to the left, make sure you double the amount of aim to the right.  Great golf course designers understand prevailing winds and build hazards to penalize players who either don't pay attention or have no control.  Don't let them "get" you!
  3. Play the course and the conditions as they are given to you today.  In other words, let the wind take your ball and don't fight it.  Make a plan for your shot, visualize it and what the wind will do and let it go.  If you spend the day fighting the wind and working the ball against it or under it, you will have some double crosses and they will be costly.  This doesn't mean that you don't hit it low if you have the shot or hit a cut into a draw wind if that is your ball flight.  What it means is, play your game and plan for the wind.  Don't try to be a hero.  
  4. If you have a low shot, use it whenever you are heading into the wind or whenever your ball flight is the same as the wind.  This will minimize the effect somewhat.  Low shots don't work as well off the tee, to elevated greens, downwind, or to front hole locations.  These are times when you need to plan for the effect of the wind on your go to shot.
  5. When you are playing in high winds, it wears you out.  Make sure you relax between shots and let go of mistakes.  Everyone will be making them today.
Those are strategies designed to help you score as well as possible on a windy day.  It looks like today is another tough one at the Honda, so if you get a chance to watch the coverage tonight, see who is following these strategies. 

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