So, up to now, you haven't had much need of a winter rescue plan for your game. You've probably survived with your usual gear and equipment, and got by with your regular swing and/or mindset. But the locals know better than to assume anything in a Bellingham winter. Before Spring 2011 rolls around, who knows how many tempests, blizzards, and hailstorms we may have endured?
If, one morning, you look outside your window before heading to the course and notice a blanket of snow fell overnight, or it's raining so hard your back lawn is two feet under water, chances are you're going to give golf a miss. But what happens if you encounter some challenging weather four holes in? What if it starts snowing or raining, or the temperature drops 15 degrees, or a 25mph wind springs up? Are you prepared for what are, let's face it, pretty common conditions round these parts at this time of year?
Our contributing teaching professionals offer their best tips on how to react when the weather turns foul. A couple also chime in with advice on what to do if you're content to stay off the course and prepare for next season. You'll notice a couple off the tips are offered by more than one pro. We chose not to remove or edit a recurring tip because we thought that by reading it twice you might actually be moved to try it.
Palms Down In The Rain
This may seem obvious but keep your hands, gloves and grips as dry as possible. I always suggest removing your glove after every shot and putting it in you pocket. Always put on and remove your glove with the palm down to shield it from the rain. Even in heavy downpours, your glove doesn't get very wet while its holding the grip. It gets wet while you put clubs back in your bag, try drying grips, cleaning your clubs, etc. Also, if you play a lot of winter golf, consider switching to cord, 1/2 cord, or cord-like grips. Cord grips have little specs of rope (typically white) in the rubber that help maintain your hold on the club. They perform significantly better in the elements than non-cord grips.
In winter, the ball will not travel in the air as far as you think. Those that 'trap' their iron shots typically compress the ball more than the player who sweeps it. Cold temperatures make the ball less elastic, meaning it compresses less, leading to shorter shots. Trappers and sweepers need to subtract anything from five to 30 yards from their standard distances - 30 yards when hitting a driver, five with a wedge. If you hit your 7-iron 150 yds in August, you'll probably hit it only 135 in the cold and wet of January. So take more club!
Get Golf Shape
As for swing tips; try slowing down your tempo a little. Ground condition during the winter months here in the Pacific Northwest can be a bit sloppy, making it difficult to keep your balance and footing. I would suggest easing off a little, concentrating on your target and striving for solid/precise contact.
Swing Easy when it's Breezy
So what if it's an old cliche? It's a cliche for a reason; it works. When it's windy, most golfers have a tendency to overswing or swing to hard and fast. This is most common with shots hit into the wind because most golfers feel they need to hit it harder in order to make up the distance they are losing to the wind. But I see it happening with downwind and crosswind shots too - golfers swing faster because they feel they are going to lose their balance. The result is more mishits or off-center shots that have no chance in the wind. The most important thing in windy conditions is achieving solid contact. A ball hit solidly will pierce through the wind unlike mishits which just get eaten up. Widen your stance a little, and swing easy to ensure good tempo. Overcome the urge to swing harder.
Never Give Up
Dealing With Wet Sand
To learn how to play a bunker shot from wet sand correctly, you must first understand the function of your sand wedge. The modern sand wedge, invented in the 1930’s by Gene Sarazen, features a flange or “bounce” on the sole that helps the club slide through dry sand. In wet or hard-packed sand, that same flange causes the club to skid. The leading edge of the clubface contacts the equator of the ball which screams across the green just a few feet above the ground.
When faced with this shot, first choose a club that has little or no bounce, preferably a pitching or lob wedge. Play the shot like you would a short pitch. Position the ball toward the middle of your stance, and align the clubface square to the target. Your hands should be slightly ahead of the clubface. The result will be a shallow scrape of sand and a shot that comes out of the bunker onto the putting green every time.
Golf lessons are a funny thing. Most people come into the Golf Lab looking for a quick fix or a swing key of sorts to straighten out their ball flight. This is a good idea during the golf season because changing your actual authentic swing during the golf season is at best very difficult and sometimes leads to less than desired results on the course.
It takes time to actually change your swing into a move that’s authentic, in other words into something you don’t have to think about every time you pull the club back. That’s where the winter season comes in. Good golfing days are few and far between, so you may well have the opportunity to actually work on altering your swing such that you evolve into a better, more consistent ball-striker.
So, get with your local PGA Professional and determine your most common and destructive swing fault. Knowing why you do what you do wrong isn't too important. What is, is finding out exactly what you need to do to overcome your swing faults. Once you have both identified the main reason for your inconsistencies, work on specific drills, mirror work, camera work and ball-flight patterns to effectively 'authenticate' your golf swing into a motion that is reactionary instead of deliberate and premeditated.
To be honest, rare is the golfer who actually changes their swing so effectively they no longer need to take a head full of swing thoughts on to the course with them. The process takes time and energy and not a lot of people have the necessary time to devote to their golf swing. But with proper instruction and just maybe 20 to 30 minutes a day working on the correct principles, players can make their swings better and therefore focus most, if not all, their mental energy on the target instead of their technique. That is the ultimate goal; to be able to think about where you want the ball to go instead of how you want your body to move. This makes the swing reactionary instead of premeditated, and that is the place we all want to be.
Mike Montgomery *
Look Forward To Bad Weather
I've been lucky enough to live in the PNW for all my 35 years of playing golf, and that has exposed me to many bad weather days on the course. I consider myself a very good player in the wind and rain. When the weather looks bad, I know many players will give up after a few setbacks (or even before the round starts) and I like to use this to my advantage and play hard. My dad has a saying; “It’s only cold, wet and windy when you’re losing!”
Adjust Par For The Day
On really poor weather days, I get a feel for the weather during my warm-up. I'll determine what a good score for me would be. A fairly typical score for me on a good day might be a 70, but on a bad day I might say my par is now 75. It’s amazing to me that when I set a realistic par, I often exceed my expectations. Not making the adjustment forces you to press when you make a couple of bogies and brings the really big score into play. I recently played Chambers Bay in the worst weather imaginable (35mph wind, rain so heavy it filled my rain pant pockets) and stepped up thinking 74 would be a good score. I actually shot 67.
I’m shocked how much golfers will spend on the best driver and a dozen of the the best balls, but won’t purchase the proper raingear, shoes and gloves. I’m not an umbrella guy. To me, especially in the wind, an umbrella is more of a hindrance than a help. I choose to focus on bringing my best raingear, best shoes, and best gloves for the situation. For raingear, I really like the Sun Mountain Rainflex. It is very waterproof, it stretches with your motion and, unlike other rain jackets, I can put it on and leave it on. With most others, I take them on and off because they limit my range of motion. For footwear, I like DryJoys. Anything cheaper is likely to leak. And I'll change my soft-spikes before a wet day for extra traction.
I like synthetic rain gloves that keep their traction when wet. Dump your leather glove and find one that feels good when it's wet. Even though some rain gloves comes in pairs, I only wer one; on my top. Go ahead and wear two gloves if you like, but personally it drives me nuts - just one more thing to get wet. Lastly, maybe it comes from growing up in the Seattle area, but I’ve always been fond of cord grips. They have amazing traction when wet.
More Club Please
While warming-up on a winter day, I definitely consider how my body feels. If it is cold and I’m feeling a little tight, that will effect my club selection. So many amateurs club themselves according to how far they'd hit a perfect shot on a 75-degree day. If I'm not quite swinging as smoothly as I'd like, and it's cold or wet, I don’t hesitate to go with more club. When conditions are soft, going long isn’t as big a threat as usual. I'd rather go with more club knowing that missing it slightly should work out well, rather than taking less club and knowing I have to hit it perfectly. The problem with going with less club is that we try to hit it harder and, in doing so, reduce our chances of hiitng a solid shot.
Whistle Down The Wind
The wind will test you more than anything. I’ll take pouring rain over wind any day. That said, I’ve learned to love the wind. The game becomes more of an art than it is when you take a laser yardage and make your driving range swing. Without wind, I’m often frustrated by how many yardages I get that put me between clubs. In the wind I never feel that way because you can use the breeze to your advantage. The wind often forces me to lose the “try to be too perfect” mentality. The old saying “swing easy when it’s breezy” has helped me more than you know. Distance is all relative in the wind. When you're downwind, the ball is going to go a mile without hitting it hard, so why try? Into the wind, the ball is most likely going to come up short, so why try to hit it hard?
I probably have a more consistent tempo when it’s windy. I’m not a huge fan of the aggressive 'punch' shot into heavy wind as it spins a lot, especially from a tight fairway lie, causing the ball to balloon high into the sky. I focus on hitting very solid shots with a shallow attack and minimal divot. This shot tends to spin less and draw slightly from right to left. A shot to play into the wind, especially with short iron shots, would be a dead-handed shot. Next time you're on the range, try hitting wedges feeling that you're hardly setting your wrist. You hit the shot mostly by turning your body and arms in unison, back and through. You'll soon start seeing a shot that tumbles through the wind rather than up shooting like a kite.
To Ride or Fight the Crosswind
I enjoy playing crosswind shots because I'm rarely inbetween clubs as I can choose to ride or fight the wind. If I have a half club too much for the distance, I can take a few yards off the shot by play a cut or draw depending on the direction of the wind. This is a good choice when the green is firm, or you need the ball to stop quickly. If you want to chase a ball up to a green you can ride the wind and gain a club or two. There are so many variables to this, but eventually your intuition will allow you to select the right club and know what shot the situation demands. Experiment a little and you'll see what I’m talking about. But remember; clubbing in the wind takes some experience and some guesswork so you will never be perfect all the time. Just commit to the club and the shot, and let it go.
Short Game Primer
When the weather is sour, I spend more time chipping and putting during my warm-up session. I realize that even if I hit the ball perfectly, the ball will end up in places I didn’t expect. I therefore prepare myself mentally to hit fewer greens in regulation. That obviously puts more of a premium on my chipping, pitching and medium to short range putts. If the greens are large (like at Chambers Bay) I'll hit a lot more 50-60ft lag putts before heading to the 1st tee.
* No, Mike didn't get the memo asking each pro for a couple of tips.