Don’t Fight the Wind

Wherever you play your golf, the wind makes the game a lot more difficult.

However, with experience and understanding of the principles involved, you can learn to be less affected by a breezy day.

If your course is by the sea, or on top of a hill, then this chapter is especially important to your score, but all courses play windy from time to time.

The wind will not only affect your ball but also your balance and your concentration. The wind howling around your ears and flapping at your trousers when you putt can be equally as disruptive as it can be to your ball flight from the tee.

You can’t ignore the wind but you can learn to use it to your advantage, and, most importantly, learn not to fight it.


Basic Rules


The first rule of thumb is to keep the ball low to the ground. Once your ball gets up high into the air it is at the mercy of every gust of wind. It will be buffeted offline and the distance it travels severely impaired.

Even if you are playing downwind (wind directly behind), your ball can be ‘knocked down’ out of the air and not fly as far as you might have executed (although the ball will still go further than usual as it won’t stop very quickly when it lands).

YOU will also be affected by the wind. Your balance and concentration will be affected greatly and it is all too easy to lose your cool and give up too soon.

However, remember that the wind will affect everyone playing that day, and the scores are likely to be much higher than on a calm day … so, stay patient and make the best of every shot you play.




Wind Direction


Whichever direction the wind is coming from there are some basic concepts that we should bear in mind.

  • Your balance will be affected … so widen your stance.
  • Your swing will be affected … so shorten it slightly.
  • Your mind will be affected and you are likely to become irritated … so stay calm.
  • Sometimes, a bogey is a really good score on a difficult hole on a windy day, so you won’t have lost anything to ‘the field’.
  • In match-play, you may even win the hole with a bogey or worse!

There are, essentially, three wind directions to be concerned with … into the wind, downwind, and across the wind (with almost infinite combinations thereof).

First, and foremost, you must know where the wind is coming from … but how can you tell for sure?

You might simply look at the flag, or throw some grass in the air to see which way it blows. However, the wind at ground level can be confusing.

The flag (and/or the grass) may both blow in the same direction, but the wind higher up (where your ball is going to be) may be completely different. The wind at ground level is affected by trees and other significant objects such as; banks, sand dunes, and even buildings close by.

There are other ways, however, of determining where the wind is coming from.


Be constantly aware 


You will probably be mindful of the wind direction when you start your round as there is often a large flagpole near the clubhouse, or a practice area with multiple flagsticks, to indicate this.

This knowledge may help you as you go around the course, as long as you can orientate yourself with each hole as you play.

For instance, if the first hole is playing into the wind and the second hole runs in the opposite direction, you know already know where the wind is before you play the second hole.

This gets harder as you go around the course with each twist and turn you make (especially if you don’t know the course very well).

Also, be aware that the wind direction can change throughout the course of a four-hour round … especially on seaside courses as the wind changes with the tide.


Flags on other greens


The teeing ground of the hole you are currently playing may be sheltered from the wind. Likewise, the flagstick you are playing towards may be protected by trees or mounds surrounding it and may not seem affected at all by the wind.

So, be observant as you walk around the course and check the flags of adjacent holes as you pass by (especially ones in more open locations). Constantly keeping abreast of the wind direction can save much confusion.


The clouds


Assuming there are some on the day you play, keep looking up at them before you decide where the wind is coming from.

The clouds are unaffected by anything at ground level and will always give a true picture of the predominant wind direction.

The wind direction of the clouds may contradict other information you are observing … but go with the clouds if you are in any doubt.


Watch your fellow players


Of course, on some days the wind is gusting, unpredictable, and hard to know for sure where it is coming from.

One final clue, however, is to watch the ball flight of your opponent’s shot. You may not know the exact club they have used but, when all else fails, it may just give you some insight into wind strength and direction.


Playing into the wind


This is generally the most disruptive wind direction.

Not only will it cause the hole, or shot, to play longer, this wind direction will increase the effects of any side spin you create … making it more difficult to control direction (especially if you slice … one of the most common problems).

Your instinct, when playing into the wind, may entice you to hit AT the ball harder than you would normally; especially with your driver off the tee.

However, the harder you hit AT the ball the more backspin you will impart; this will cause the ball to ‘balloon up’ and stall in the wind. Subsequently, this higher than normal ball-flight will exaggerate the loss of distance further still.

The secret here is to take a much longer club than usual, from any given distance, and actually swing more softly … we call this a knockdown shot.

This shot will allow the ball to fly lower than usual and with reduced backspin, therefore, providing a more penetrating ball flight.

The knock-down shot is useful for all wind directions (and escaping from underneath trees!), so, here’s how to play it.


The Knockdown Shot


The main objective of this shot is to keep the ball lower than it would normally fly with the club you have chosen.

When playing into the wind, this club should be one, two, or even three, or more clubs longer than you would use from that distance on a calm day (think Rory’s 2-iron instead of 7 iron from 201 yards).

A longer, lower lofted club will, quite simply, hit the ball lower … but not if you swing harder. This will only increase backspin and make the ball climb higher into the wind.

There are three key factors involved in playing this shot.

  • Play the ball further back in your stance, allowing your hands to hang naturally and slightly forward (i.e. towards the target) of the ball than usual: the shaft angle will also lean forward toward the target.
  • By setting up in this position, your chosen club will have even less loft than usual and, therefore, will ensure that the ball flies lower (provided that this position is maintained through impact).
  • This is the key to a successful knockdown shot. This hands-ahead position at set-up must be maintained through impact and into the follow-through. If your club head overtakes your hands too soon, the loft that you are so desperately trying to reduce will be added back on again at impact and your ball will fly too high.
  • Finally, ensure that you swing very much within your normal full-power effort. Feel that you don’t swing back quite as much as usual and that your follow-through is also slightly restricted.
  • This shot requires a developed feel through practice and a reasonable skill level, to begin with. If you don’t believe you have the necessary skill just yet, make sure that, at the very least, you take a much longer club than usual and swing it a little easier than normal.


Playing with the wind


When playing downwind the situation is much easier.

Being able to reach your target is not so much of an issue and any side-spin, imparted accidentally, is also negated somewhat … however, there are still pitfalls to be aware of.

The main one is that your ball is unlikely to stop quickly when it lands … which is further magnified when the ground is firm.

Your ball will, of course, fly a little further through the air with the wind behind and you can afford to play a slightly shorter, more lofted, club, but unless the greens are very soft your ball will take a big first bounce.

Therefore, be wary, if you are attempting to carry your ball over a hazard, as you may get into more trouble behind the green if your ball won’t stop.




A well-struck shot will barely be affected by light to moderate wind, but a shot that slices or hooks in the same direction as the wind is blowing can be exaggerated by any strength of the wind.

A strong wind, however, will affect all golf shots and you will need to allow for its effects.

If your ball naturally curves in the opposite direction to the wind direction then your ball flight may not be affected very much.

If your natural ball flight curves the way the wind IS blowing, however, you need to be careful, as sometimes you cannot aim far enough ‘off-target’ (due to trees, for example) to allow the ball to curve back.

It would be useful, therefore, to learn how to fade or draw the ball into the prevailing wind direction for these circumstances (especially if you regularly play on windy courses). We call this ‘holding the ball up against the wind’.

If you are right-handed and the wind direction is left to right, a draw-shaped shot (in this case, right to left) will ‘hold’ the ball straighter in the wind.

If you are left-handed with the same wind direction then you would require a fade shot and vice versa.


Putting in the wind


A brief word about putting in the wind.

You may not be aware of how much a substantial wind can affect this part of your game.

The wind will, at a minimum, test your patience and concentration with its constant noise in your ears and fluttering of your clothing.

It will also affect your balance so you will need to improvise your usual set-up to incorporate a wider, more stable, stance.

A strong wind will also affect your ball as it rolls … especially on fast greens.

Uphill and downhill putts will be affected the most, but if the wind is blowing in the same direction as the break on your putt your ball will curve even more than usual.

If you stroke your ball just a little too fiercely on downhill putts with the wind behind, you could easily putt the ball straight off the green.

Conversely, on uphill putts, you may need to strike the ball appreciably harder than you think (though you should guard against going too far past the hole as you don’t want a four-foot, downhill, downwind putt for your next one.

As always, if you would like to learn more about any of these issues, please get in touch.

Rich Coffin – PGA Professional


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