Weather Proof Your Golf Game
Every year, and 2016 was no exception, we see the wind blow hard on the PGA Tour’s Florida winter swing. Two weeks ago, we saw extreme rain and wet conditions at the New Orleans’ PGA Tour stop. While many people picture golf as the idyllic conditions we often see on television, the fact is weekend golfers and tour players often have to deal with less than perfect conditions.
And, depending upon what part of the country you are from, if you want to play a lot of golf and maximize your membership dollars, you need to learn how to dress properly and alter your game to play and have fun in adverse weather.
This article will cover playing in the cold, the wind and the wet – hopefully, you won’t play all three conditions at the same time, although you never know. Think of it this way – it will help get your game ready for that golf vacation to Scotland!
Playing in the cold isn’t so bad, if it’s dry and the wind is reasonable. A lot of those hearty Midwesterners venture out in the low-mid 40’s during the early spring and late fall. Like winter activities, think of layering. Today’s clothing is light years ahead of where we were in the 1980’s. Compression long underwear (Under Armour, Nike, Columbia) is a great first layer. On your lower half, you could add some gore-tech rain pants and your feet should be taken care of with a pair of thermal, wool socks. For your upper half you could add a long-sleeve polo, a sweater, maybe a polar fleece vest and a gore-tech jacket or pullover. Don’t forget your stocking cap – don’t let vanity allow you to lose all that heat out your head. Most of the major golf companies make stylish knit hats, as do skiing and snowboard companies. Finally, when it comes to your hands, you can wear a pair of golf winter gloves and cover them with a high-quality pair of ski/mountaineering mittens between shots.
As far as advice on the actual golf course, the ball isn’t going to go as far in the cold – that’s just a scientific fact. Take an extra club compared to what you’d use on a 75 degree day. In the extreme cold, consider playing a lower compression golf ball.
Assuming it isn’t too cold, there isn’t a lot to discuss about with regard to how to dress. A good rule of thumb that’s taken some of us too long to learn is – put an extra vest and top in your golf bag, and also a few extra items of clothing in your trunk. It sucks getting to the golf course and finding out you are underdressed which can easily happen in the early spring and fall when the sun makes it look nice, but strong, gusty winds make it miserable.
In the wind, players have a few different options. You often hear the phrases, “two-club wind” or “three-club wind.” That simply means that a shot players two clubs longer or shorter than normal depending on the wind direction. If you normally hit a 7-iron 150 yards and the wind is blowing close to 18 miles per hour, you may well have to hit a 5-iron into the wind for the ball to travel the same distance. Going down wind, you may only require a 9-iron to cover the same yardage.
Another option for players is the “knock-down” or “punch” shot which is designed to fly lower and roll longer than a traditional golf shot. For this shot, you will want to move the golf ball back in your stance. For example, on a five iron, instead of playing the ball midway between your left foot and the middle of your stance, you position the ball back further –say midway between the center and your right heel. You also will need to grip down further on the shaft with your bottom hand just above the metal on the lowest possible part of the rubber grip. Another key on the punch shot is taking the club back shorter, maybe three-quarters of your normal swing. You will find that if your normal 9-iron goes 130 yards, a punch 9-iron will probably go 110-115 yards.
Some golfers, especially beginning players or high-handicappers will benefit greatly from learning the punch shot. Even in non-windy conditions, hitting a punch shot forces the novice to shorten their swing and often produces better, crisper contact than a beginning player’s full swing.
A lot of times players will think they need to muscle up in the wind and perhaps swing harder. The best advice for the wind is to try to strike the ball as cleanly as you can. The best resistance to the wind is a well-struck iron shot that bores into the wind.
Another factor a player has to consider is when the wind is coming directly from the side, either left to right or right to left. When shorter irons are involved, and the ball is struck high into the air, a strong wind can blow a golf ball thirty or more feet off of your intended line. You need to factor this into your consideration for approach shots and lay-ups. Also, pay close attention to where the hazards are on the hole and don’t let a strong breeze blow a solid-shot off line and into a penalty situation.
One of the biggest problems with the wind is how badly it can impact a poorly struck golf shot. A sliced tee ball into the wind, or worse yet in a left-to-right wind, misses the fairway by a considerably larger margin.
Playing in the rain doesn’t happen as much in the States as it does in Europe. A lot of times, rain in America is accompanied by electrical storms, but not always. Learning to work you way around a golf course in really wet conditions can be fun, it you have the right equipment and the right mindset at the beginning of your round.
Similar to playing in high winds, a golfer needs to re-determine what “par” really is for the day. If par is 72 on a normal day, high winds or steady rains (or both) increase the average number of strokes a player will take in a round. On bad days, “par” might be 74 or 75. You need to accept the fact that some well-played shots won’t end up where you intended them to finish. Much like a U.S. Open, it will be nearly impossible to play an entirely clean round. The game’s best players accept that they are going to make some bogeys, or double bogeys and not let a bad hole upset their apple cart.
In wet conditions, the battle to stay as dry and as warm as possible is paramount. You will dress for these conditions much the same as we outlined for cold weather golf. The other accessories that will become important are an umbrella and towels. Keeping the grips dry on your golf clubs is a critical step towards playing a good round.
PGA Tour players, of course, have a caddie willing to sacrifice their comfort for the comfort of their bosses. A huge umbrella can keep a player dry up until the point they need to execute their swing. If you are playing golf out of a cart, use a waterproof bag cover to keep your grips dry. Take the time to dry the grip vigorously with a dry towel after each shot. Taking four or five towels in a water-proof bag is a must. Another tip is making sure you have several dry pairs of gloves to rotate through every few holes.
Golfers who view adverse conditions as an extra challenge will find themselves at an advantage over other players. Weekend players also will enjoy playing more golf and faster rounds on these days when most golfers choose to remain indoors.