Rotten weather golf: Beware the wind

The wind is howling outside my study as I write on a cold autumn morning. At the same time, some keen golfers are no doubt teeing it up at courses around Toronto, and, surely, in other windy Canadian places. It seems appropriate, then, to consider fall’s greatest golfing challenge: the wind.

We look first to Tom Watson, who said, “Swing with ease into the breeze.” Watson has always fancied himself a tough-weather player. At one Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, he shot 69 on a brutally cold and windy day when the average score was near 80.

Unseen hazard
“Wind,” Watson has written, “is the most unpredictable factor in golf. It also is the most underestimated.”

It’s underestimated, perhaps, because the golfer can’t see it. He can only feel it, and has to judge its potential effect. Course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., calls wind “the invisible hazard.”

It can make an easy course difficult, a difficult course next to impossible.

Watson’s advice is to overestimate the wind, to adjust not by one or two clubs into the wind or downwind but by three or four clubs or even more.

He points out that a wind of 20 mph-abo 35 km/hr in Canuckspeak-will knock 40 yards off his normal drive of 270 yards, while a tailwind will add 20 yards. A crosswind will exaggerate any spin he puts on the ball.

Hit ball solidly
So, slicers and hookers: Beware in a crosswind. The key is to hit the ball solidly. Doing so will reduce sidespin.

It’s not how hard you hit the ball when playing in the wind; it’s how you hit it hard. Watson advises that the essential ingredient in this is to maintain good tempo.

Also accept that you’re playing a different game in a strong wind. There’s no such thing as the “right” club to hit. The proper club to use is the one that you feel will help you hit the ball solidly, whatever it is.

If you feel you have to hit a five-iron for a shot of 100 yards, so be it. Or if you need a sand wedge downwind for 180 yards, so be it.

Trust yourself
Trust your instincts in the wind. They’re usually right. In no other situation is golf so much a matter of feel. Mechanics are gone with the wind. You’re in the wind. Golfer, trust thyself.

Years ago I hit almost nothing but a 1-iron all the way around a course called Tralee in Ireland. The wind had to be 60 mph., and there was nothing to do but hit the ball as low to the ground as possible.

Eventually, however, conditions became unplayable. This was when my friend’s 11-year-old son, who was caddying in our group, nearly toppled over the edge of the course into the sea. The invisible hazard caused us to walk off the course that day. It’s the only time in nearly 40 years of golf that I’ve walked off a course because of wind.

That exception points out the rule: That it can be fun to play in a howler of a wind. The challenge doesn’t stop, and it’s fun to use one’s imagination while creating shots. There’s no such thing as a conventional shot in a high wind.

Mind over wind
Watson always thinks of the wind as simply adding to or subtracting yards from a shot. The famous par-three 12th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club, for instance, might become in his penetrating mind 180 yards and not 155 yards.

The tiny par-three 17th at the Tournament Players Club in Sawgrass, Florida, the one with the island green, might become 100 yards downwind rather than its 130 yards or so. Hitting to that small green in a high wind, by the way, is one of golf’s truly terrifying experiences.

One more piece of advice for you Canadian wind-cheaters out there, and it comes straight from Harry Vardon, the six-time British Open champion of long ago. Vardon wrote that the most difficult time for a golfer is when he faces a wind into him that is so strong he feels he’ll get no distance at all.

Rotten weather golf
Vardon wrote: “Evidently the first thing to do is to make the tee-if it is a tee shot-rather lower than usual-as low as is consistent with safety and a clean stroke. The player should then stand rather more in front of the ball than if he were playing for an ordinary drive.”

So tee the ball low, move forward (that is, allow the ball to essentially be farther back in your stance) and swing away, hitting down on the ball.

And always remember, in this time of autumnal golf, this apt Scottish saying: Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf. Indeed. Or, as Watson has said, “I love rotten weather.” Enjoy, friends. Enjoy.