Monday morning swing coach: How to beat the heat, play the wind, and hit shots with spin

May 29, 2017

Every Monday, we tap GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers in America for their insights on what went down between the ropes over the weekend on the major tours, and more importantly, how you can use this information to improve your own game. Call it trickle-down tips—learn from the best to play your best.

1. Kevin Kisner held off Jordan Spieth to snag his second career Tour victory at the Dean & Deluca Invitational. Colonial offers the pros ample opportunities to hit short irons into the green, leading to a lot of short and makable birdie putts. How do you teach recreational players to hit a shot that will stop on the green, and maybe even has a bit of backspin?

Tom F. Stickney II, Director, Vidanta Golf Academies (@tomstickneygolf): You must understand the conditions and how the ball will react. Too many players only think “low spinner,” when in fact there are many other ways to play the same shot. Pick the best option, always. 

Joe Plecker, Elkridge Club, Baltomore, Md. (@JoePleckerPGA): Spin is an outcome of several complementing factors. Some of these factors are created by the player at address, and others in the swing.
At address: One of the easiest ways to create spin? Clean your clubs! Since spin is created by friction between the club and ball, cleaning the face of the club and making sure there are no grass blades or water present will immediately increase the RPMs of the shot. Also, play a urethane ball like the Titleist Pro V1 & Pro V1x. Last, if your irons are old, they are less likely to create spin due to the fact that they have less “grit” on the surface of the face. These factors are simple, but they set the stage for a spinning approach shot.  

In swing: To increase spin when using a lofted club, make a downward attack angle to the ball. How? Keep the lead shoulder low while moving pressure into the lead leg in transition. This power move gets the club attack angle down. When done correctly, you will see the divot is ahead of the ball. Also, observe the finish position of the swing. Your arms will be “wrapped” around your torso and club will finish low to your side. If you struggle with this move, find a slight downhill lie at your practice facility and hit a few lofted irons from this slope. You will find making a slight shift to the lead side with lead shoulder down creates a divot ahead of the ball and lots of spin. 

Brady Riggs, Woodley Lakes G.C., Van Nuys, Calif. (@BradyRiggs): Hitting a shot that stops quickly on the green requires solid contact. Here is a great drill to insure a center-face strike and the proper ball/turf combination: Get into a bunker and draw a line in the sand with a 7 iron. Start with your clubhead resting in the trench, knock out the back wall during the takeaway and the front wall through impact. This will help you understand where the bottom of your swing is finding the ground and make it very easy to see what needs to be adjusted. ​

2. It was a super windy week in Texas. How do you decide how much to club up or down when it’s breezy?

Riggs: The best way to get a feel for the strength of the wind is to practice on the course while it’s windy. Find a shot that you would normally hit a certain club (usually a par 3) begin to add/subtract yardage in groups of 5. For example, a par 3 you that usually plays 150 may be playing 155, 160, or 165, depending upon the wind. Once you have thrown up some grass a dozen times or so in different wind strengths you will have a pretty good idea how strong a 5, 10, or 15 yard wind actually is. Keep in mind two important keys: The shot played into the wind is more significantly impacted than playing with the exact same helping wind. Always throw grass into the air on every approach shot as part of your process of picking a club. ​

Stickney: I always say take one or two more clubs and always err on too much club. Easier to keep it lower.

Plecker: Depending where you play, wind can be a major factor in determining club selections. It’s been crazy spring weather here in Maryland where I coach, and the wind has been up most every day. I coach players to read the direction of the wind and make decisions based on how the ball spins. Since all shots have back spin, the wind can either increase or decrease the RPMs depending on the direction a player is facing. Knowing what to expect makes determining the club selection easier. Here are a few tips for playing wind shots:

– Into the wind: Remember, “When its breezy, swing easy.” Hitting into a breeze will increase a ball’s spin rate, raising the shot trajectory and causing it to come up short. By using a less lofted club (less loft = less spin) and swinging easier, the spin rate will be reduced and the shot will not fly high. Take an extra club and make a smooth swing.

– Down Wind: Remember, “Hit it high, let it fly!” Now with the wind at your back, the spin rate is greatly reduced, so low-launching shots won’t get very high. Add a little loft and launch the ball up into the sky. The carry will be longer and the ball will land with a steeper angle, perfect for holding the green. Take one club less and get the ball high to carry downwind.  

– Crosswind: It’s important to use your dominant shot shape. For example, If you play a left to right shot shape and the wind is going that way, play to shape it the way you normally would, aiming a little farther away from the normal start direction. I see many players trying to pull off a shot shape that they don’t usually play and get poor results because they are not using their dominant ball flight. Play a little extra line with your normal distance club and let the wind help it back, or take dead aim and let the wind hold it up. 

3. Fort Worth reached 96 degrees on Saturday, with a heat index of 108. What’s your advice for beating the heat on the course so you can perform your best?

Stickney: Make sure you have the correct clothing, stay in the shade, and stay hydrated. If not, you will struggle. 

Riggs: The first step is to pre-hydrate at least 48 hours before the round. If you are waiting until the day of to start your hydration, it’s too late. Make sure you limit your warm-up time and number of practice swings to a bare minimum to save your energy and strength. Finally, make sure you make the game as simple as possible by choosing conservative targets to make aggressive swings towards. Mental fatigue is very real and will impact your performance, don’t complicate the game!

Plecker: Getting lots of rest and hydration the night before a scorcher is critical for beating the heat.  If you get thirsty in the heat, you’re probably already dehydrated. Make sure you are getting enough water and less sugar/caffeine during a hot stretch as well. On the course, light colored tech-fabric clothing and lightweight headwear are great for staying cool. Check out UnderArmour CoolSwitch, perfect for hot days.