Three Opinions: Keys For Playing in the Wind

Last Friday, the 50,000-pound Space Shuttle Enterprise made its final flight, piggybacking atop a Boeing 747, which soared over the Hudson River on its way to landing at JFK. Some concerns about 30 mph winds buffeting the giant cargo proved to be unfounded. (See video below, and listen to the wind as the Enterprise sails overhead.)

If only our golf balls could bore through the wind with such grace and ease. But of course, 30 mph winds can play havoc with our dimpled little friends that weigh only 1.68 ounces. So how do you play when the wind is howling outside, as it tends to do in many parts of the country at this time of year? Here are three tips, from three of the game’s all-time great wind players:

Tom Watson: Watson didn’t win five British Opens, all in Scotland, without a keen understanding of playing great in the wind. He says he learned early on that the key to handling British Open venues on windswept links is to feel as if you’re hitting long chip shots around the course. You rarely want to swing full bore in high winds, Watson says. Swinging all-out only makes the ball spin more, which causes it to balloon and be affected by higher velocities and gusts. By thinking of hitting long chip shots you reduce backspin so the ball stays lower, where it’s less affected by the wind. In windy conditions, a ball rolling along the ground is generally easier to control than one that flies high through the air.

Payne Stewart: Before he passed away, the three-time major champion and Ryder Cup star wrote an article for Golf Digest about playing in poor conditions. Stewart advocated riding the wind with the driver to get maximum carry and distance, but to curve the ball into the wind on iron shots and other approaches for better control. For example, if he were teeing off in a strong left-right wind, Stewart would intentionally aim left and play a power fade. The ball would curve in the same direction as the wind was blowing, thereby allowing the wind to carry it for optimum distance. However, on an approach with, say, a left-to-right wind, he would intentionally aim to the right and play a draw that curved into the wind. The wind served as a backdrop to “hold” the ball on the green. Likewise, he would intentionally fade his approaches into a right-to-left wind.

Paul Azinger: Paul’s strong grip and strong turn resulted in an ability to hit very low shots, even with his wedges and short irons. Paul would play the ball back of center in his stance and hit knockdown shots where he limited his follow-through. “Finish low to hit it low,” he often said. Another secret Paul revealed to me years ago was to hit the ball lower, not higher, when playing iron shots downwind. The conventional wisdom is to hit the ball high downwind to take advantage of the breeze. But Paul contended that doing so caused you to lose control of the shot’s distance. By hitting a low knockdown, you keep the ball under the wind so the ball is less affected, and therefore you can better control your distance on approach shots.