November 2011

Golf Tips from a Pro: How to Play in the Wind - Specialty Shots Part 1

Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

The dog days of summer are fading to the cooler temperatures of fall, and winter is just around the corner. Although the temperatures stay warm enough for us to play golf year-round, the conditions we play in change drastically. Why? Because Lowcountry winters bring wind, and playing in wind can wreak havoc on your game unless you know how to control the trajectory of the ball.

In order to control a golf ball’s trajectory, it is imperative to control the amount of spin on the ball. In order to control spin, you have to know what causes spin and why. Most players realize that club loft causes spin, but many forget why this happens. It happens because the more loft we use, the longer the ball is on the clubface, increasing friction between clubface and ball and producing more spin. It is also important to know that a steeper angle of downswing attack imparts more spin on the ball.

When attempting to control ball trajectory into the wind, ball position is extremely important, because ball position determines the effective loft of the club head as it comes into the ball. (Effective loft is the actual loft of the club head at impact and not the degree of loft when measured statically.) Ball position also determines swing steepness; i.e. angle of descent. Play the ball back too far, and the angle of descent is too steep. This causes more ball spin, which is exaggerated by wind resistance so that the ball rises too quickly to achieve any distance. Play the ball too far forward, and the club will have added loft (since it has passed the bottom-out point of the club’s arc), which will also cause the ball to have excessive spin. How many times have you attempted to hit a shot into the wind with the ball way back in your stance only to see the ball rise excessively and go half the distance you expected it to go?

For a standard iron shot hit with little or no wind, the top center of the ball is typically even with the logo on your shirt or the left side of your face (assuming a right-handed golfer). With this ball position, the clubface will first contact the equator of the ball then pass down to contact the ground, because the ground is the lowest point on the club’s path or arc. Practicing with this normal ball position conditions your mind and body to contact the ball and the ground almost simultaneously, and your timing and swing sequence are dialed into this point of contact for normal-trajectory shots. Now, with that basic swing dialed in, all you need to do to hit the ball on a lower trajectory is move the ball back in your stance half a ball-width while focusing on the front of the ball. By doing so, the club is still going to bottom out in the same place as before, because your body is conditioned to swing to that point. But by moving the ball back only half a ball-width, your clubface will be slightly de-lofted when it contacts the ball and just before it makes contact with the ground. Not only will this hit the ball on a lower trajectory, but it will do so with less spin. So, by moving the ball back in your stance only half a ball-width, you are still making your normal swing motion as well as making contact at the same point on the ground, but you are contacting the ball earlier and with less loft. (Warning: If you move the ball back more than half a ball-width, you run the risk of altering your swing, which could lead to more problems than too much spin.)

What about hitting with the wind? Simple. If you would like to hit the ball higher so it will carry further because you are going downwind, move the ball forward half a ball-width from where you normally play it. You will now hit the ball with more loft, increasing the launch angle and adding more spin, which allows the ball to get up into the wind quicker and carry farther.

The above should show you that keeping your normal swing sequence and swinging to the same point on the ground for all your standard shots allows you to make the same swing with varying ball flights by simply changing ball position.

1) To get even less spin on the ball and a more penetrating ball flight into the wind, use a stronger lofted club and grip down approximately 1-3 inches. Less loft will eliminate spin, and gripping down will ensure you do not hit the ball too far.

2) Swing easier. The harder you swing the more spin you impart on the ball which is the opposite of what you want when hitting into the wind. You might even find your swing becomes better and you hit the ball more solid as a result.

Hitting the ball downwind is not always advantageous. Yes, it allows you to hit the ball farther, but it also reduces the amount of control you have over the ball. As a result, distance control on iron shots is difficult. Allow yourself room to land the ball short so it can release on the green to the hole.

It is much easier to ride the wind than work the ball against the wind. For example, if there is a right-to-left wind, aim right of the target and let the wind move your ball towards the target. (We will discuss playing in crosswinds and moving the ball left and right in next month’s article: Specialty Shots Part II—Draws and Fades.)

I hope this article has simplified the task of controlling ball trajectory. Take the time to practice these principles while the weather is ideal, and you will be able to put them into action when playing in the wind.

If you need assistance fine-tuning your game for the coming winter’s challenge, contact the Golf Performance Academy at (843) 338-6737, or on Facebook at Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head.

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