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GOLF DOCTOR

Golf in the wind requires adjustments, practice

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We have officially entered the windy season in the high desert. For the next three months, when we head to the golf course in late morning, we are thinking, “Will this wind never end?” It will, just as the daytime temperatures soar.

Personally, I would rather deal with the wind than be frozen on the golf course at 8 a.m. Playing good golf on a windy day is an acquired skill. It requires patience, as well as awareness and adjustment.

The very first thing to realize is to keep the ball somewhat low when hitting into the wind. If you’re a high ball hitter, you’ll need to develop a swing to keep the ball down and under the wind. Hitting a driver into a stiff breeze, your best bet is to have the ball low and running hard on the ground in the short grass.

To do that simply de-loft the club by keeping the angle of attack close to the ground and somewhat to the inside. And the old saying, “When it’s breezy, swing easy” remains true. All too often, high-handicappers try to take a vicious cut into a stiff wind, thinking they need to flail all-out to counter act the wind speed, only to watch the ball spin too high and sail wildly in the wrong direction. Cold air temperature, cloud cover and dampness also add to the difficulty.

Generally, a ball that spins too much into the wind will be trouble. Air moving into you, or even crosswise, at 20 to 30 mph will take a left-to-right spinning ball and send it offline as much as 100 yards.

A launch monitor will tell you whether your ball is going too high or spinning too much. Modifying your swing to lower the trajectory and reduce the spin means plenty of practice. Go to a practice range that is set up for you to hit into the prevailing wind. Hit enough balls, aiming at a very specific target, so that you’re confident in making a solid shot into a strong wind.

Essentially the same technique goes for iron shots, as it does with the driver and fairway woods. In order to keep the ball down with irons, you can’t take a full follow-through; rather, it is somewhat a “punch” shot with limited wrist release. Practice hitting your irons to exact targets so you can estimate how much more club you need in a stiff breeze. It could be two or three clubs more than a regular shot. Don’t get caught under-clubbing yourself.

With holes that go downwind, you must decide if you want to bomb it with a driver or play it safe with a shorter shot. Super long drives with a helping wind can wind up landing and rolling in some terrible places. Consider your three wood to be your friend when it’s blustery for almost every hole, regardless of the wind direction. Your chances of controlling a straight shot with a three wood should be better than any other club in your bag. Practice it at the range.

Shots to par-three holes can be especially tricky on a day with strong winds. Regardless where the flag is located, going for the center of the green is the best bet. One of the most challenging holes on the PGA Tour is the 137-yard 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, the island green, at the Players Championship, which will be played in mid-March this year.

At the 2007 Championship, with thousands of spectators ringing the hole, more than 100 of the best players in the world, battling 35 m.p.h. winds coming in from the Atlantic, put 50 balls in the water one day.

Where putting on a blustery windy day is concerned, awareness and caution are paramount. On a golf course with typically fast greens, it’s a really good idea to avoid hitting shots that wind up long and above the hole.

Some downhill, down-grain, downwind putts are impossible to stop unless they go in the hole. Wind will affect short putts as well. Putting uphill into the wind will require more stroke. There are usually gusty conditions on windy days, so be prepared to briefly wait out a strong gust if it doesn’t slow things down too much. Lastly, it’s important to keep your body balance stable, so practice with a wider stance to be comfortable.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.