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So you've fought through a steady wind and arrived safely in a spot near the green. Now you can focus on the shot without worrying how the breeze may affect it, right? Wrong.

If the wind is blowing harder than about 5 MPH, it can influence pitches and bunker shots. Sometimes, the wind can be your friend, while other times it makes a tough shot even tougher. Consider these factors before hitting:

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  • Playing into the wind: Not only does the wind push the ball and cause it to fly a shorter distance, it increases the ball's spin rate and makes it stop more abruptly. In other words, you must be more aggressive when pitching into the wind. This is generally good because there's less chance of going past the hole or over the green. In fact, consider hitting a lofted pitch instead of a chip in these situations.
  • Playing downwind: Naturally, the ball will carry farther and roll more with the wind at your back. If possible, it's best to get the ball on the ground quickly to lessen the wind's impact.
  • Playing in a crosswind: The higher the shot, the more likely the breeze will blow it sideways. Adjust your aim just as you would for the green's break.

How do you feel about golfing in the wind?

Short Shots in the Wind – How to Adapt to Conditions

Some golfers love the challenge that a breezy day presents, taking the opportunity to test their skills by creating a variety of different shots. Other golfers respond negatively, wishing the wind would quit blowing so they could proceed with their round in peace. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how you feel about it – because there is nothing you can do about windy conditions. As a golfer, you are sure to encounter your share of breezy days as the years go by, so the only logical thing to do is learn how to play effectively when the wind blows.

In this article, we are going to talk about one specific challenge that comes along with playing golf on a windy day – handling your short shots. At first, you might think that short shots would be the easiest part of playing in the wind, since the ball isn't going to be flying high in the sky. And, to some degree, that's true. You don't have to plan for the effects of the wind on a chip shot in the same way you need to plan when hitting a high approach shot from 150-yards out, but there are still concerns here which need to be considered. The successful golfer thinks about all relevant conditions before playing any shot, and that is certainly true when it comes to wind.

Before we get into the specifics of how to deal with your short shots on a windy day, we want to talk for a moment about your attitude. We mentioned above that some golfers respond negatively to playing in the wind. If that sounds like you, the first thing you need to do is find a way to adjust your thinking about these kinds of conditions. When you carry a negative attitude with you to the first tee, you'll have almost no chance to succeed. Your mindset has a great deal to do with how you will perform on the course, so do your best to frame everything in a positive manner before you start. Sure, playing in the wind is harder than playing on a calm day, but doesn't that mean it is an opportunity to do something great? If you can manage to produce a low score on a day when the winds were blowing, you will know you really did something special. The pride that comes along with playing a great round in the wind is unlike anything else in this game.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Handling Short Approach Shots

Handling Short Approach Shots

To get started, we are going to talk about short approach shots. While there is no specific definition in golf for what counts as a 'short approach', we are going to define it as anything you hit with a wedge. So, if you are 100-yards from the target and use your pitching wedge for the shot, that counts as a short approach. These are not chip and pitch shots, as we will deal with those in the next section. If you are making a (relatively) full swing with a wedge and have the intention of placing the ball on the green, you are hitting a short approach.

How are short approach shots affected by the wind, and how can you adjust appropriately? Please take a look at the points below.

  • It's all about distance control. When hitting a short approach shot on a windy day, it is distance control that should be your main concern. You shouldn't have too much trouble getting the ball on the right line most of the time, since you are playing from short range. Even in a cross wind, the ball isn't going to be in the air long enough to be blown significantly to the right or left (unless the wind is extremely strong). It is the into-the-wind and downwind shots that you need to be most concerned with, as they will dramatically impact the distance that the ball travels. When playing into the wind, you need to worry about the breeze 'standing the ball up' – in other words, the wind may cause the shot to fly way too high and then come down well short of the intended target. Obviously, the issue is just the opposite when playing downwind. With a helping breeze, your ball flight is likely to be flattened out, and the shot may travel too far (especially after a bounce and some roll). To control your ball better in the wind on short shots, you will want to lower your trajectory. It actually doesn't matter much which direction the wind is blowing. You should lower your trajectory as a matter of common practice when dealing with wind, as hitting lower approach shots will take much of the effect of the wind out of play. On the range, practice playing wedge shots on a lower trajectory by moving the ball back in your stance and making a controlled swing. With a little work, this shot can become reliable, and can be one of the most effective tools in your bag.
  • Focus on clean contact. It is easy to let the wind distract you from the main task that you have on every golf shot, which is to strike the ball solidly. You should make your wind-based adjustments before hitting your shot, and they should be included in your planning. Then, when over the ball, your only mission should be to strike the ball as cleanly as you can at the moment of impact. The ball is more likely to be impacted by the wind when you don't achieve a clean strike, so this point is crucial to your success. Again here, doing a good job on this task is all going to come down to practice. If you work hard on your ball striking on the driving range, it is far more likely that you'll hit the ball cleanly when out on the course.
  • Aim for a bigger target. Usually, when playing a short approach, it is easy to pick a target. You just aim for the hole and swing away. However, that plan might need a little adjusting when the winds pick up. Since you aren't going to be as accurate in the wind – even a well-struck shot could be thrown off course a bit by a sudden gust – it is wise to pick bigger targets for these kinds of shots. For example, picture a green where the hole is cut near the front of the putting surface, just over a large bunker. On a calm day, you might have enough confidence in your distance control to aim right at the hole, despite the bunker. When the wind is blowing, however, you should give yourself some margin for error in case you misjudge the breeze a bit. Aim for a spot a few yards past the hole so you can raise the likelihood that the ball will finish somewhere on the green.

You can't let the wind get in your head when you are playing a short approach shot. It is easy to be distracted by the breeze and forget to make a quality swing. Don't let yourself make that mistake. Take the wind into account, just like any other variable involved in the shot, and make a plan for success. Then, set everything else to the side and focus solely on executing that plan. You aren't going to pull off a great short approach shot every time but thinking through the situation will tilt the odds in your favor.

Chipping and Pitching

Chipping and Pitching

At this point, you are probably thinking that we have lost our minds a bit. How could chip and pitch shots be affected by the wind? The ball is only in the air for a moment or two! Surely, that is not enough time for the ball to be impacted in a meaningful way by the wind, right? Well, no, that's wrong. The ball can be impacted by the wind even if it only flies for a short period of time. Also, in addition to the force that the wind applies to the ball, that same wind can also cause your body to move around during the chipping or pitching action. So, in the end, it is clearly important to pay attention to the breeze even on these short shots.

To gain an understanding of how to adapt to the wind when you are chipping or pitching, please review the list below.

  • It depends on the height of the shot. As far as the wind impacting the travel of the ball is concerned, you need to think about the intended height of the shot and the direction of the wind before making any adjustments. For instance, if you are going to hit a bump and run, you can pretty much ignore the wind (at least in terms of what it will do to the ball – it still may affect your stance as you hit the shot). On the other hand, a high chip or pitch shot will be exposed to the wind for long enough to allow some impact to take place. This will be seen most significantly when playing downwind or into the wind. Chips and pitches hit into the wind tend to stop quite quickly after they land, while downwind shot game shots just seem to keep going and going.
  • Widen your stance in most cases. To improve the stability of your stance when chipping or pitching on a windy day, try setting up over the ball with your feet farther apart. This is a basic adjustment, but it works. You will feel more secure this way, and you should be able to swing back and through without having the wind do too much to the position of your body. Remember, you'll be making yourself effectively a bit shorter when you widen your stance, so you should also choke down on the grip slightly to compensate.
  • Use the wind to your advantage. One of the ways you can leverage the wind to your advantage on the course is by positioning yourself wisely for short game shots. Usually, on a calm day, one of the main course management strategies you'll want to use is keeping the ball below the hole, so you can play uphill. That still works on a windy day, but you'll also want to think about setting up short game shots that will be played against the breeze. For example, if the wind is blowing across a given hole from right to left, favor the left side with your approach shot so you can putt or chip back into the wind with your next shot. It's going to be easier to control your distance on short game shots when the wind is helping to bring the ball to a stop.

Windy conditions can make the short game a little more difficult. You don't need to give up on playing well in this area of the game, however, as it's still possible to produce quality chips and pitches while the wind blows. In fact, as mentioned above, the wind might actually help you get close to the hole from time to time.

To finish up our article on playing short shots in the wind, we would like to make a few more points.

  • Don't rush. There is something about the wind that causes many golfers to rush through their shots. Don't make that costly mistake. If anything, you should take a bit more time when it is windy just to make sure you have your plan in order for each individual shot (without slowing up the group behind you, of course). Since windy shots are more difficult than shots played on a calm day, the urge to rush likely comes from the desire to just get it over with. Instead of looking at your shots from that perspective, look at each shot as an opportunity to prove your ability. Take your time, craft the right plan for the situation at hand, and hit a great shot.
  • Think ahead. Golf is a game that requires planning between shots in order to be successful. Each shot builds off of the previous one within a given hole, so always think a step ahead to make sure you aren't playing yourself into a bad spot. This kind of sequential thinking is particularly important when dealing with wind. Avoid getting into the wrong spot with regard to the wind and you'll make the overall round much easier to play.
  • Watch other golfers. You can learn a lot about the impact of the wind by watching the other players in your group. Pay attention to how their shots respond in the air and then adjust your plan accordingly. Does the wind seem to be having a stronger-than-expect impact on the ball, or are the other player's shots cutting through the wind with ease? Just like when you watch another player's putt in order to get a read, watching other shots in your group can be extremely valuable.

We hope this discussion will help you perform better on short shots the next time you encounter a windy day on the links. Beyond any technical advice, the most important thing you can change about your game in order to deal with the wind is to find the willingness to accept the challenge. Don't run away from the difficulty that this kind of round presents – embrace it, have fun with it, and play well despite the breeze. Good luck!