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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Against the Wind

Wind is a big part of the game.  In fact, for the famous links courses in the British Isles, and particularly the Old Course, the wind is the main source of protection against the top pros going real low.  The wind also adds interest to a golf course that you may play regularly, because a strong wind, or a different wind, changes the way each hole plays.

While cross winds are probably the most difficult winds to play, the average golfer tends to get in trouble playing against the wind.  Bobby Jones, as always, provided some excellent insight into playing against the wind in his book Bobby Jones on Golf.  I know, as I get older, I find myself wondering whether I'm not always playing against the wind. Some days it seems every hole is into the wind for me.

Bobby Jones wrote:

There is probably no shot in the game that bothers the average golfer so much as any shot into a head wind, where distance is of importance.  Of all the hazards likely to be encountered on a golf course, wind is the most formidible for nine-tenths of those who play the game, because of its disturbing effect upon the mind.  It is simply impossible, and understandably so, for an inexperienced player to maintain his mental equilibrium in the face of a strong wind.

Two things are most natural to do in this situation; one, to press the shot in order to make up the distance the wind takes away; the other to try to hit the ball low so that it will escape the effect of the wind.  The first of these, pressing, is, of course, fatal; the second is all right for the expert, but usually bad for the ordinary player, because he does not know how to accomplish his aim.

Now let's just stop and look at the thing for a moment.  There is no way for me or anyone else to tell a man how he can hit a golf ball as far against the wind as he can with it, or in calm air; it simply cannot be done; so let's not consider this as a possibility.  If we suppose that a certain player, at his ultimate, can reach a four-hundred-yard hole in two shots when there is no wind, then if the wind against takes ten yards off each shot, his limit will be reduced to 380 yards, and the four-hundred-yard hole will be beyond his reach.  Most likely, if the hole actually measured twenty yards more than his limit, in calm air, he would not worry about reaching it; then let him regard the wind as adding just so many yards to the hole.

I prefer to regard the wind hazard in just this way--to treat it as part of the golf course--and to direct my efforts toward doing the best I can with respect to it.  The main thing I think about is holding the ball on line.  I try to get as much distance as I possibly can, with safety, but I never try to do more than I can.  Direction is always of the first importance, and since an opposing wind magnifies errors in striking, it allows fewer liberties than could be taken at other times."

Bobby goes on to advise us, as the saying goes, to swing easy when it's breezy.  He writes:

"I think the best advice, when hitting a shot into a breeze, is to take things even a bit more quietly than usual, the very opposite of pressing.  Primarily, of course, the reason for this is to give better direction, but it will also be found, surprisingly perhaps, that in this way the actual loss of distance will be lessened."

Bobby goes on to advise against efforts to hit the ball down, or punch it, when playing into the wind, explaining that these efforts, at least when made by the average player, more often than not result in a shot that may start low, but tends to baloon up into the wind because of the added spin. He noted that what we really want is a shot that bores into the wind and keeps going forward when it lands. When talking about that shot, he tells us:

"This sort of flight is not accomplished by hitting the ball down.  The best stroke is one that takes the ball almost squarely in the back, while the club head is moving just about parallel to the ground; it applies only a very little backspin to the ball; and the more it can be made a sweep, instead of a sharp hit, the better."

This is great advice for the average player for every shot, not just for into the wind.  I was interested to learn that Tom Watson, who knew a little something about playing in the wind, to which his five Open Championships attest, didn't bother with changing his swing, or altering his trajectory, when playing in the wind.  He simply took more club where required to do so and made his normal swing.  That would seem to be a great idea to follow.  Why try something fancy, when taking one or two more clubs and making your normal swing will suffice?  Golf is difficult enough without complicating things, or trying to get fancy.

I like playing in the wind.  As the Scots are quick to point out, nae wind, nae golf.