Golf courses being permitted to remain open has been decided on a state-by-state basis. I live in Pennsylvania but work in Ohio, and PA required all courses to shut down a couple of weeks ago. Ohio made the same decision last week, then reversed it as long as the courses were following strict health protocols such as one rider per cart, all staff wearing gloves, leaving flagsticks in, and checking golfers in through a window where able to. Over the weekend we welcomed a nice stretch of sun and 75°. With images and memes of Tiger King melting our brains, my wife and I decided to break our cabin fever routines and play a little golf. The thought entered my mind to head not 45 minutes west into Ohio, but south into West Virginia, where golf courses have also been allowed to remain open and operate. It has been and would be even a little warmer just 90 minutes down 79 south. I reached out to my good buddy Danny Ackerman, the General Manager at Oglebay Resort, who just recently returned to the town he was born and raised in; Wheeling, WV. Danny is a great guy and an asset to the golf professional family. He was most recently the GM at Ohio’s #1 ranked public Longaberger GC (now The Virtues GC), and he also spent time at Pinehurst in the 90’s. I’ve been meaning to pay him a visit and no better time than now!
When we pulled in, I wasn’t surprised to see my man Danny in the trenches, working side-by-side with what staff he had left. If employees weren’t comfortable coming in for work, they weren’t required; especially the older folks. So they had a makeshift crew quickly thrown together with a lot of the local high school kids starting their spring and summer jobs way earlier than they anticipated. With WV being one of the only states to allow golf, and with a stretch of warm weather, Danny was working his 14th straight day. But with the weather turning mid-week, he was going to get some well-deserved days off. Hugs were out of the question but we smiled and bumped elbows. Equipped with latex gloves, they were wiping down and sanitizing carts, giving everyone direction, and going over the rules of the all new “pandemic round of golf.” One player per cart, unless it is your spouse or another live-in family member. My wife couldn’t even get rid of me for a few hours.
When I looked at the forecast the day before all I cared about was 77° and sunny. I glanced over the 20-30 mph winds, but thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until my hat blew off on the practice green that I was really aware of it. If you didn’t know, West Virginia is hilly and mountainous. Oglebay Resort sits on the side of a mountain with the clubhouse to the Jones and Palmer courses at its highest peak. A gorgeous vista and beautiful property. 20 – 30 mph gusts would have been welcomed. The breeze was a consistent 15 – 20 mph all day and atop that hill the gusts topped out at around 40 mph. At one point I thought the cart was going to blow over. We played the Robert Trent Jones course, and the first hole has an 80 ft elevated tee, that would normally add some yardage to your drive had it not been for the tornado that was blowing right at me. Needless to say, a 375 yard hole became a driver then a hybrid.
I find this to be the perfect time to provide some tips on how to successfully play in the wind, especially if you’re not used to it. Wind affects everything and forces you to adjust every aspect of your game; club selection, aim, stance, and how you think.
Swing softer not harder The first thing every player wants to do is swing harder in the wind. But the harder you swing, the more spin you put on the ball. And spin makes the ball fly higher. Not the best recipe for a shot played into the wind. That high shot with a lot of spin will hit that wall of wind and fall out of the sky. Club up and swing smoother. This will keep the ball down with a knuckle-ball like spin which will fly through the wind better and even release a bit when it lands.
Stand wider Widen your stance, especially on putts. You need a good, sturdy base so the wind doesn’t blow you all over the place. This will also help you control your upper body and make a good turn.
Ditch the lob wedge On a windy day, your short game will now be played along the ground. Unless you absolutely have to play a flop, don’t. Get used to bump and running your PW or 9 iron and even putting from off the green. The contours of the ground and your instinct to read break is more trustworthy and predictable than what the wind is going to do.
Club up, club up, club up These days may be normal in Texas, Oklahoma, or Ireland, but are way out of the norm for most of us. Consider it the opportunity to embrace the challenge and use your imagination. But don’t get too creative. The wind bothers a well-struck golf shot the least. The harder you try on a shot, or the more you address the ball with indecision, the worst shot you will hit. Do not be afraid to hit more club. On this day I hit everything from a pitching wedge to a 5 iron from 150 yards. Think of how many times you come up short versus hit it over the green. If you start flying greens, adjust from there. But coming up short all day can get old and wear you out. I don’t think there is a rule of thumb but I add one club for every 5-6 mph of wind in my face. And that is before I take the elevation change into consideration. Yeah, golf is hard.
Swing flatter I don’t want the average player to try a totally different swing on a windy day, especially when it’s hard enough to master the swing they already have. But just think of it as more of a swing thought, or technique. The steeper your swing, the higher and more “spinny” the shot. Especially with the driver. Stand wide and swing around your body. Take the club back low and slow, instead of thinking up and down. Hitting down makes the ball go up. Think of a flatter swing and not high hands at the top of your backswing. Really turn behind that golf ball until you feel like your back is facing your target and your lead shoulder is under your chin. This will help you catch the ball on the upswing and launch it with less spin.
Playing the ball back doesn’t always mean low I see a lot of players play their knock-down and punch shots with the ball way back in their stance towards their back foot. This is fine if you are just chipping back out into the fairway, but that promotes steepness, and a steep downswing usually promotes spin. And we now know spin is our enemy into the wind. The whole thought with playing the ball that far back is that it’s easier to set up with your hands ahead of the ball, which takes some loft off. On a knock-down or punch shot that you need to travel some distance, setting up with the ball in the middle to back is fine. Place the ball directly in-line with your belt buckle or a little behind it. Set up with the butt end of your grip pointed ahead of the ball towards your lead shoulder with more weight in your front foot than your back. Feel as though you are loaded towards the target. Leaving too much weight in your back foot makes you hit up, and we don’t want that. Hold that shaft angle through impact, never letting the club face pass your hands. Leading your hands through first will keep you from “flipping” which causes a high and weak shot. This will also lead to better contact, a penetrating trajectory, and a square clubface. Lastly, finish low. The higher your hands travel to the finish the higher the ball will want to go. Low finish = low flight.
I hope the above tips help you during your next windy round of golf. The big key here is to practice all of these shots and get confidence. Then it won’t be such a surprise the next time you have to utilize it during a round. Remember, it’s not the practice that makes you perfect, it’s the experience. The fear of the unknown is gone when you go to play a shot on the course and can say to yourself, “hey I’ve hit this shot before” and go to a positive image or memory in your mind.
Enjoy the game and each other,
Written by Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional
Design and Published by Craig Walton