Gusty conditions affect short shots more than you think -- here's how to work with the wind
Tour players know that the toughest conditions for scoring are when the wind is blowing. As the breeze kicks up, elite golfers must assess, estimate and play for the effects of wind on every swing, including short-game shots and even putts.
Amateurs, on the other hand, seem to adjust for the wind only when it’s blowing hard toward obvious trouble. Even then, they often fail to consider how it affects wedge shots. You know this is you if you’ve ever looked up and seen what should have been an easy sand wedge into the green track toward the pin but fall short into a bunker. It happens both in severe wind and in pleasant, 7 mph breezes.
In my work with more than 200 PGA and LP GA Tour pros over the years, I’ve measured wedge distances in cross-, tail- and headwinds at various speeds. I continue to assess the effects of wind in my own backyard, the proximity of which allows me to chart precisely how wind can help or hurt short shots.
Although wind is a challenge, you can use it to your advantage—but only if you know how to deal with it. The trick is to minimize shot height and spin rate. Here are a few ways to strategize on breezy days when hitting short-game shots into the green.
1. Playing downwind
Position the ball way back in your stance, close the clubface, and hit the shot crisply. This will produce a penetrating shot with ample backspin. The ball will fly lower—minimizing the wind effect -- while still stopping short of any trouble behind the green.
2. Playing into the wind
Try hitting this shot with a pitching wedge, 9- or 8-iron with an easy swing. This will produce a lower ball flight with minimal backspin, both of which will minimize the wind effect. The resulting shot will land short of the green, release and then roll up and onto the putting surface. This is a much more predictable play than hitting a high-trajectory, high-spinning shot at the pin.
3. Playing in a crosswind
The important thing to remember here is that the ball will turn with the wind the whole way, including after it hits the ground. It’s the last bounce and roll that often surprises golfers, sending what are normally well-played shots far away from the pin.
I play most of my golf near my home in Austin, Tex. The wind can really kick up here, and I pride myself on my ability to adjust for it. You will, too, if you take the above advice to heart, and at least accept the fact that wind affects all shots, not just the long ones.