Understanding how to play approach shots to the green with the wind blowing is a very important part of the game, especially since we have chosen to live in a valley that the wind whips through most of the time.
The approach for playing to the green is slightly different from the tee shots. From the tee, we are trying to use the wind to aid carry and roll. Playing to the green, we are looking for distance control. As with all golf shots, the address position plays the critical roll in the adjustments made for controlling accuracy and distance.
For a long approach shot with the hole playing downwind, the adjustment is simple. For example, a 200-yard shot may normally be a 3-iron or 7-wood. If you feel that it is a two-club wind, simply select a 5-iron; no real adjustments in playing the shot are necessary, since the 5-iron will not balloon up into the wind and make distance control more difficult.
For a shorter shot of perhaps 140 yards, a different approach is necessary. If you would normally use an 8 or 9-iron from this distance, it is not advisable to use a pitching wedge or sand wedge, as the loft on these clubs would make the ball fly very high and make distance control very difficult.
From this distance, practice using the same club as usual and simply shorten the swing a little. I would describe this as a “three-quarter shot,” as it will keep the ball from getting too high in the wind, and therefore giving you better control over distance. Practice this shot by hitting the ball varying distances with the same club. For instance, if your 9-iron normally flies 120 yards, practice hitting it 100 yards. This will help develop the necessary control.
Playing into the wind, you must keep the ball down. To do this, select a less-lofted club than usual, perhaps a 7-iron instead of a 9-iron. Move the ball back in the stance an inch or two and play a “punch shot.” This is a swing that is shorter and firmer than a full swing – the feeling should be that you are swinging with no hand movement. Hand action in this swing will cause the ball to get too high, and therefore the shot will not carry.
Playing with a crosswind from either direction is made easier by understanding your own ball flight tendencies. If you tend to slice the ball, you should be happy to have the wind blowing from the right. Your natural right-to-left spin will hold the ball into the wind and even the strongest of winds will have little effect. Simply aim straight and make a balanced swing.
This is a good time to point out that a well struck shot is not affected by the wind as much as you would think. For the golfer with a tendency to slice, wind blowing from the left is a nightmare, as the left-to-right spin is accentuated by the wind and the ball is often never seen again.
To play this shot, you must make adjustments that promote hook spin. Move the ball an inch or two back from the center of your stance and close the face a very subtle one or two degrees. Aim at the left edge of the green and swing with firm hands. This will minimize the left-to-right spin and keep the ball down, helping nullify the wind’s effect on the shot.
The golfer with a tendency to hook the ball should simply reverse the procedure.
Terry Gingell is a PGA Class-A Professional with more than 20 years in the golf business. He is the owner and operator of The Golf Learning Center, an indoor golf school specializing in the use of high speed video equipment to allow in-depth and accurate analysis of the student’s golf swing. The business is located at 509 Moses St. behind Capitol Ford. Send golf questions and comments to Terry Gingell, C/O Nevada Appeal Sports Department, P.O. Box 2288, Carson City, NV., 89701.