Putting in the Wind, Part I: Widen Stance, Shorten Stroke

Brisk wind introduces a whole host of challenges on the tee and fairway. Often overlooked, however, is the wind's influence on putting.

As a general rule, any time the wind is blowing at least 10 MPH – strong enough to move your pants legs – you should account for it on the greens. Also, wind has an effect similar to the grain of the grass: Putts into the wind are slower, downwind putts faster, and a crosswind will move the ball in the direction it's blowing.

Wind exerts force on your body as well, so stability is key – especially when it's gusty. Integrate these methods into your putting routine on breezy days:

  • Widen your stance: The outsides of your feet should be even with, if not wider than, the outsides of your shoulders.
  • Hunker down, choke up: Bend over slightly more to expose less of your upper body to the wind. You'll need to choke up on the grip a little to compensate, which will also improve your control of the putter.
  • Shorten your stroke: The longer the stroke, the more likely it is to get thrown off-kilter by a sudden gust. Make a slightly shorter back-stroke than normal and “pop” the ball with a firm, accelerating motion.

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Every golfer knows that playing this game in the wind can be a challenge.

Putting in Wind – Widen Stance and Shorten Stroke?

When you send your ball up into the air on a windy day, it can be hard to predict where it is going to come back down. How much distance is the wind going to add, or subtract, from your shot? How far to the left or right is the ball going to be blown? Playing golf in the wind is a guessing game, and it can be difficult to come up with the right answers.

What you might be surprised to learn is that windy conditions can make it more difficult to putt, as well. Putting in the wind might not seem like a big deal, since the ball isn't going to leave the ground. However, when the wind is strong enough, it can affect the mechanics of your stroke. You may be blown slightly off balance, and you might have trouble swinging the putter with the same rhythm that you use on a calm day. As a result, you'll often find that you are just slightly off with the putter on a windy day – and being slightly off is enough to cause the ball to roll past the edge of the cup.

In this article, we are going to offer some advice on how to putt successfully in windy conditions. As you might guess from the title of this article, we are going to highlight two main points – using a wider stance and shortening your stroke. There are other steps you can take, as well, as we will touch on those later in the article. You might be able to get by with your normal putting stroke on a windy day, but it's likely that you'll miss at least one or two extra putts that you would have made in calm conditions. By making some smart adjustments, you can hopefully putt at the same level as you do when the leaves are hanging quietly in place.

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.

Using a Wider Stance

Using a Wider Stance

To get started, we are going to discuss the benefits of using a wider stroke when putting on a windy day. This is an adjustment which stands to improve your performance in a variety of ways. Fortunately, to benefit from this change, you don't have to do anything complicated or spend hours practicing to get yourself ready. You simply move your feet a little farther apart at address, and go on with the stroke as usual.

Stability is going to be your main motivation for using a wider stance. On a windy day, it can be difficult to maintain a stable, steady stance over the ball. By moving your feet a bit farther apart, you will provide yourself with a sturdier base, and you may have an easier time holding still while the putter swings. Even the slightest bit of extra movement as you swing the putter can cause the ball to miss the target, which is why stability is so important.

So, what is it about a wider stance that is going to make you more stable as you putt? Let's take a look.

  • Bring you closer to the ground. As your feet move wider apart, your entire profile is going to move a little closer to the ground. In other words, you are going to get shorter. This is a good thing, because you will be giving the wind less opportunity to move your body around during the stroke. Your center of gravity will be lower, you will have moved yourself slightly down out of the wind, and you should feel much more confident in your ability to stand still over the ball.
  • Get your eyes out over the ball. Many players find it easier to get their eyes out over the ball when they use a wider stance. When you do manage to place your eyes over the ball, you may find that you aren't as tempted to move other parts of your body during the stroke. You will see the line beautifully from this perspective, so you can just rock the putter back and through. In fact, you might find that this technique works well enough in the wind to encourage you to use it on calm days as well.
  • Added knee flex. With your feet farther apart at address, it may be more comfortable to add a bit of extra knee flex to your stance. This is another action which will build stability. Your knees can act as shock absorbers during the stroke, soaking up any potential up and down movement to keep you as level and still as possible. Of course, you can try to add knee flex to your stance without moving your feet farther apart, but this may not be as comfortable. Experiment with varying degrees of knee flex while using a wide stance until you settle on something that is able to promote a repeatable stroke.

If you were to suddenly start to use a wider stance in your full swing, you would run into a variety of problems. The swing would simply feel different, for one thing, and the characteristics of your ball flight would almost surely be changed. This would be a big adjustment, and one that you would need to put to the test on the driving range before trying on the course.

Fortunately, since the putting stroke is so much simpler than the full swing, you won't be in for nearly as big of an adjustment here. Sure, you'll want to hit some practice putts just to get comfortable with this kind of stance, but you can even do that work on the practice green right before your round starts. The mechanics of the stroke are going to stay the same once your stance is complete, so there isn't that much work to do. You'll still want to rock your shoulders to move the putter, you will still want to keep your eyes on the ball, and it will still be important to keep your head down all the way through impact.

For many golfers, using a wider putting stance on a windy day is an automatic adjustment. Experienced golfers often don't even need to think about making this change, as they just naturally take a wider stance to fight back against the breeze. You may not be at that point just yet, but it shouldn't take long. Spend a little time working on using a wider putting stroke in practice and you'll be ready to do so the next time the wind comes up during a round.

Shortening Your Putting Stroke

Shortening Your Putting Stroke

With one half of this discussion covered, we are going to move on to our other suggested adjustment. To go along with your wider stance, we recommend shortening your putting stroke slightly. To be sure, this is going to be a bigger change than the one we discussed in the previous section. It's harder to change your actual stroke than it is to change your stance. Some practice time is going to be required to make this work, but the end results can be impressive.

As far as technical adjustments go, there is relatively little to say about this one. It isn't complicated, it just takes a while to get comfortable using it. As the name would suggest, the only thing you really need to do is make a shorter stroke. You are going to swing the putter back a shorter distance from the ball, and you are going to accelerate through impact from that point. You aren't going to change the way your stroke works from a mechanical standpoint – you are just going to make less stroke overall.

The list below offers a few tips which may be helpful as you work on learning how to use this adjustment successfully.

  • Don't rush. By far, the biggest mistake golfers tend to make when shortening the length of their putting stroke is rushing through the action. While you are trying to make a shorter stroke, you shouldn't be trying to make a faster stroke – and there is a difference. Do your best to maintain your putting tempo even when using a shorter stroke. The putter should swing back at a comfortable pace, you should take your time while transitioning from backstroke to forward stroke, and you should swing through the ball with confidence. With some practice, you should be able to get into a nice rhythm which allows you to roll the ball in the right direction time after time.
  • Let your hands work on long putts. As you know, it is a good idea to keep your hands and wrists out of the action when making a putting stroke. However, there are exceptions to that rule, and we find one of them here. If you are hitting a long putt on a windy day, you need to generate enough speed with the putter in order to send the ball all the way across the green. However, at the same time, you want to make a shorter stroke in order to improve your odds of hitting the sweet spot. So, what do you do? The best option is to let your hands work a little more than they would during a normal stroke. Relax your wrists slightly and allow your right hand to 'pop' the putter through the ball just a bit. This shouldn't be a dramatic action, but just enough to pick up the pace of the stroke at impact. It should be noted that this is an adjustment which should only be used when necessary – otherwise, keep your hands and wrists quiet and trust your shoulders to do the job.
  • Short putts stay the same. When you face a short putt on a windy day, you actually don't need to make any changes – at least, not with regard to the length of your stroke. Why? Simply because your stroke should already be short on short putts. If you are making a long stroke to deal with your short putts, you have other issues to sort out on the greens. The best way to handle short putts is with a compact, repeatable stroke that is going to send the ball into the back of the cup time and time again. This is true on a windy day, and it is true on a calm day as well.

The whole idea behind using a shorter putting stroke on a windy day is allowing yourself to hit the sweet spot of the putter as often as possible. You probably don't think about the sweet spot on your putter as often as you think about the same spot on your driver, but they are both important. If you strike your putts with the sweet spot, the ball will roll a more predictable distance, and it should hit your line more frequently, too. Since the wind may blow you around a bit as you swing the putter, shortening your stroke is going to reduce the time available for something to go wrong.

So, at this point, we have covered quite a bit of territory on the topic of putting in the wind. We have discussed why you should use a wider stance, we have promoted a shorter stroke. These are all important points, but they make for a lot to think about when actually on the course. Golf is complicated enough as it is, you don't need to make it harder by thinking about ten different things before hitting a putt in the breeze.

To wrap up our discussion, we want to help you bring it all together. We hope the following tips will provide the clarity you need to turn the advice in this article into actual positive results on the course.

  • Prepare before starting your round. Most likely, if the wind is going to blow during your round, it is not going to be a surprise. Either it will already be blowing while you are warming up, or you will have seen a forecast calling for wind later in the day. Whatever the case, you would be wise to prepare yourself for this situation by hitting some practice putts using your modified stroke before the round begins.
  • Make clear decisions. It is easy to let the wind confuse you as your round goes on. This is true on the greens, and it is true on the rest of your shots as well. To have success, you need to have as much clarity as possible before rolling each putt. That means making a decision on the line and speed of your putt, and then sticking with that decision even if you have second thoughts. Once you are standing over the ball, trust in your read completely and do your best to roll the ball along the intended line.
  • Be patient. Above all else, playing golf on a windy day calls for patience. You are probably going to deal with some bad luck along the way, like a shot that was looking great until a last-second gust of wind knocked it off track. That is just how the game works when the wind is blowing. If you allow those issues to get to you, those feelings of frustration will only make things worse. Golf in the wind is hard – you need to accept that, and prepare yourself for the challenge. By keeping a good attitude and maintaining focus, you can wind up with a solid score at the end of the round. And, since you will have produced that score on a windy day, you will feel quite proud of your accomplishment.

You shouldn't go out to the course and make wholesale changes to your putting stroke just because the wind is blowing on a given day. You should, however, make some modest adjustments to things like the width of your stance and the length of your stroke. By making minor tweaks, you can make a stroke which feels familiar and yet is better suited for the conditions at hand. We hope the advice provided in this article will help you hole more putts moving forward – good luck!