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Most of us who love to play golf in this temperate high desert climate love to play all year round. Heck, that’s exactly why some of us live here. And in the dead of summer, it’s tolerable, unlike Phoenix.
Even though we’ve had an abundance of nice sunny days leading up to mid-January, it’s going to get colder, and playing situations are going to test your patience. Greenskeeping folks are trying their best to make our golf courses as playable as possible, but we need to make some adjustments for conditions.
Grass doesn’t grow fast in the bleak mid-winter and there are often thin and tight lies and little cushion of soft turf under you ball in the fairways. Just under the veneer of sparse green grass lurks damp, dark compacted dirt that will deaden your clubhead instantly. And hitting irons off dormant Bermuda grass means you won’t take a clean divot.
We need to adjust. For senior golfers it’s advisable to “sweep” the ball off Bermuda grass. On green grass, I like to play the ball slightly back in my stance with a setup for most middle-iron shots, sort of like the ball is on hardpan.
Taking a big divot is risky, since the ground underneath may be actually frozen. Think “ball first,” not ground first. And in case you haven’t noticed, the ball doesn’t fly as far in cold weather. The air is denser at 40 degrees, and the reaction off the club face is tricky. I can’t explain all the thermodynamics of this, but one of my golfing friends who has a bunch of pens clipped to a plastic shirt pocket liner gave me a simple two-word answer: “just physics.”
You will need to take more club, not necessarily swing harder. Hitting a longer club means taking your ego out of the equation.
This time of year, putting presents another set of challenges. The greens in winter can be spotty and can be different speeds from day to day. Sometimes ground crews can’t mow and the roll along the grass is slower.
At other times, the greens can be lightning fast, especially for downhill, downwind and down-grain putts. Hole locations often can’t be changed for days and cups can get pretty ragged.
Putts must be very pure and in the center of the cup to go in. If your group is playing after 10 a.m., a lot of footprints are already around the edge of the hole, giving the cup a “volcano” effect.
In case you’re wondering about whether it’s legal to tamp down the edges and rim of the cup, it’s not. It is permitted to repair significant damage to the hole. Naturally, uphill putts into the grain must be struck with authority. Take some extra time on the practice green warming up so you begin to get a sense of what the grass feels like. It will matter.
To be sure, there are some mental challenges when playing golf in the cold, damp, windy weather. After some 32 years of golfing here in winter (and more in seasonal chill in Michigan), I have learned to brace myself for some bad luck. I mean bad bounces, quirky rolls, tough lies, goofy ball positions and unpredictable results. But there are occasionally favorable bounces.
Green surrounds are often the most affected by un-manicured grass, making chipping an adventure. Be sure to take relief from an embedded ball.
Be prepared for frequent frost delays, since greens must thaw after a really cold night before they can handle foot traffic. Walking on brittle frosted grass will ruin it. Sprinklers often run at night and may leave a layer of frost, which can be slippery.
The days are short, but getting longer, so playing mid-to- late in the afternoon means you’re hitting your approach shot to the final green in very dim light. Putting in virtual darkness for cash is not for the faint of heart.
Lastly, frigid conditions will tighten your muscles and stiffen your joints, so warming up before your round is essential. Get your body moving and loosen those muscles even before going to the golf course. Use dynamic, moving stretches like arm rotations and knee bends.
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at email@example.com.