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Monday, September 6, 2010

About Playing in the Wind

Since the Limerick Summary is delayed a day for the tournament's Monday finish, I thought I'd do a quick instructional post.

Sunday, during NBC's broadcast of the Deutsche Bank, Hank Haney did a brief piece on how to play shots into the wind. It was pretty straightforward, but it occurred to me that many of you may not have understood why one of his tips works. Since one of the goals of this blog is helping you understand what makes your swing tick, I thought I'd use this post to explain it.

Ok, Haney said that the key to playing into the wind is to lower the trajectory of your ball. I'm sure all of you understand the reasoning behind that -- the wind is often less of a factor closer to the ground, because trees and hills can deflect some of it. In addition, since lower shots take off on a lower launch angle, gravity offsets some of the aerodynamic lift that causes the ball to "balloon" in the wind. So far, so good.

He also gave three tips for playing a shot into the wind. They were:
  1. take a longer club
  2. make a shorter swing
  3. shorten your follow-through
The first two are pretty simple to understand. The longer clubs have less loft, so they launch the ball at a lower angle, and they have longer shafts, so they offset the shorter swing which causes the ball to spin less and therefore create less lift. Together, they give you a lower ball flight without having to adjust your setup or swing path.

But the third one may be more of a puzzle. How can shortening your follow-through make the ball fly lower since the ball is already gone when you make that follow-through?

Here's the best example I could think of: When you want to stop your car, you have to hit the brake pedal before the car actually stops. But there's also a delay we call "reaction time" -- that's the time between the moment your brain screams "Stop the car!" and your muscles actually get the message to stomp on the brake. And of course, depending on how fast you're going, it takes a few more seconds for the car to actually stop after you hit the brake.

It's the same way with this third tip. In a normal follow-through your wrists recock after they hit the ball, which allows them to move freely and create a little more speed (and loft) at impact, so the ball launches a bit higher; then the recocking motion itself allows you to slow the club down without hurting your wrists.

When you try to shorten your follow-through, which basically means you try to keep your wrists from recocking after impact, the process begins before the club ever gets to the ball. Your mind says "Cut the follow-through short" before the clubface makes contact; because of the momentary lag, the muscles get the message and impede the normal wrist motion during contact; and then the club finally stops moving after the ball is gone. This means the club is actually slowing down during impact rather than accelerating. In addition, this action also keeps you from flipping the clubhead at impact, so you hit the shot straighter.

The result is a slightly awkward straight-wrist follow-through that launches the ball lower.

And just so you know, this shot is also called a "knockdown shot." Any time you need to keep the ball "under the wind," this is the shot to use. Here's another video showing how the shot works:

Note that Joe Beck says to use your "normal" backswing, but that's with an iron. If you were using a longer club like a wood, you would use a swing of the same length, sometimes called a "three-quarter" swing. Also note that he says you "drag the clubhead through impact," but the result is the same as Hank Haney showed on NBC; it's just a different way to describe the same move.

And Joe adds that you want to position the ball in the middle of your stance. This is a good rule of thumb, since placing it farther back will make it harder to hit the shot. Remember: The idea here is to hit the ball lower with the fewest possible changes to your swing.

Just to be thorough, some people call this a "punch shot," but the two are slightly different. Here's Justin Rose demonstrating a punch shot:

The primary difference here is weight distribution. It feels more like a short game shot.

Hope this helps next time you play in the wind... or maybe just need to get out from under some tree branches!


  1. Great explanation. The next few days are going to be windy so no better time than now to practice this shot.

    Is there a formula to how much club I should take depending on the speed of the wind? For example, 10 mph wind, go up one club. 20 mph wind, go up two clubs, etc.

  2. There isn't a simple formula for "clubbing" wind shots, Dex. I did find this page at the Weather Channel's website:

    which says the "1 club per 10 mph headwind" is a good rule of thumb.

    Several things affect a shot in the wind:
    1) the direction of the wind
    2) the speed of the wind
    3) the consistency of the wind (gusts)
    4) the height of the shot
    5) the length of the shot
    6) shot shape (hooks & slices are affected more than straight shots)

    Since the wind is such a variable factor, you know you won't be able to make accurate shots. In addition, if you play knockdown shots to keep the height down, that also affects the club you choose.

    I'd use your rule of thumb, since that seems to be a fairly common recommendation, and just make sure that any mistake you make leaves you a playable shot. (That is, allow for the ball to drop short in a headwind or fly long with a tailwind.)