Learning to play golf in the wind is essential if you want to consistently enjoy the game. I’m a fair weather player and I’ll only play in wet weather if I absolutely have to, but playing in the wind and managing those conditions is a challenge that I look forward to.
I grew up playing in windy conditions and I’ve naturally developed shots to help me take advantage of the wind and hit the golf ball solidly in these conditions. In this article I’ll go over some techniques and approaches you will need to become a master on those windy days and be the envy of your playing partners.
Keep the ball low
You may hear commentators on TV or other players talk about “keeping the ball under the wind” or something along those lines. While I get what they’re on about, I think they’re missing the point. Unless you’re playing in a valley or heavily tree lined course, it’s not really possible to keep the ball beneath the wind, it is however wise to keep the ball low.
What’s the difference? A lower shot will more than likely produce less spin and allow the ball to pierce the wind without ballooning into the sky. In some cases you might want to launch the ball into the air to ride the wind, a downwind drive for example, but even then you’re at the mercy of mother nature, and any gusts can send the ball off the planet.
After watching and playing a lot of links golf, I noticed the secret here is to resist the temptation to swing harder. If you have the wind in your face, you automatically feel you have to muscle the ball out there to get any sort of distance. The problem is, the harder you swing, the more spin you generate and the more likely you are to lose distance.
The punch shot
Every golfer should have this shot in their arsenal, but it’s pretty much essential for playing in the wind. I like to think of a punch as a harder version of a chip shot and it’s something I’ve learned to play with nearly every club in the bag.
If you can’t hit a punch consistently, you’re in for a long day on the links so try these tips out or go for a lesson with a pro.
How to hit into the wind
- Play the ball from the back to middle of your stance
- Grip down on your club
- Keep your hands forward to deloft the club
- Feel like 70% of your weight is on your left side (for right handed players)
- Make a short sharp swing, like a jab in boxing
- Shorten your follow through
- Keep the badge on your glove facing the target throughout your swing
All of these tips are only useful if they match up to a feeling you get out on the course. Next time you play or are at the range, try to only hit punch shots with certain clubs to groove some feelings. Play with ball position and swing length to see what works for you. My punch shots tend to draw, but yours could fade, so make sure you account for this shape when lining up to the target.
Here's a video of me playing golf in 40 MPH winds in South Africa!
Know your yardages in the wind
Knowing how far you hit the ball in the wind is something that comes with experience. If you hit your 7 iron 150 on a calm day, it could be affected by as much as 20 yards in either direction on a windy day so you have to learn to account for that.
I try not to think of wind in terms of clubs lost or gained. You might hear, “it’s a two club wind” but I think that’s misleading. Is it two clubs swinging full, or two clubs hitting a high draw or low fade? I find it easier to try and measure how much yardage the wind is taking away or giving me in any given scenario.
Here’s a scenario. I’ve got a 175 yard shot to a pin at the back of the green which is 5 yards uphill. On a calm day, this would be stock 6 iron to guarantee I get the ball up the hill to the back of the green. The wind is into my face and I have judged that it will take 15 yards of my stock shot. I’m taking into account the fact that my 6 iron flys high and will get stalled in the breeze. I decide to tame more club and hit a punchy 5 iron, with the intention that I will land the ball around 160 yards and roll out the remaining 15 yards to the pin.
Into the wind and downwind don't affect the ball equally
I used to think that the wind would carry and stall the ball equally in the wind but I’ve learned that this is often not the case. I watched a video with Rory McIlroy where he said that he had seen downwind shots only fly fractionally further than normal shots. I tried this theory out and found it to be true on shots which had a higher level of spin - anything from a 7 iron and down. My driver, woods and longer irons, which have less spin did appear to fly further than normal, but I couldn't work out if it was just me hitting the ball harder to try and “ride the wind.”
Draw or fade into wind
If you have the skill to manipulate your ball flight to play a draw or fade, or if you have a natural tendency to hit a certain type of shot, it's important to know how the ball will react in the wind.
As a right handed golfer, a fade will move from left to right and a draw from right to left.
Fade into wind
If the wind is from the left, a fade will move further right than normal. If the wind is straight into your face, expect a fade shot to fly higher and come up shorter than normal.
Draw into wind
If the wind is off the right, a draw shot can turn into a hook if you're not careful! A draw is the preferred shot shape into the wind as the ball will have less natural spin and will naturally fly lower. In my experience, a draw is less likely to be affected by the wind, just make sure you hit enough club for the wind conditions you're in.
How to putt a golf ball in the wind
If you’re playing on a links course with tightly mown greens, putting in the wind can seem like a totally alien concept compared to what you’re used to doing. You will need to pick different lines and hit the ball with authority to counteract the effect the wind will inevitably have on the ball. It took me a while to get the hang of this game within a game but a simple tip helped me not lose my sanity on windy days.
On a particularly windy day, a buddy of mine let me use his heavy mallet putter instead of my blade headed club. I couldn’t believe how much more stable the clubhead felt through impact and I was able to make what felt like a normal stroke and the ball would travel much further. With my blade I feel like I have to hit the ball hard to get it to the hoe in the wind and this wasn’t the case with the mallet.
I now keep both putter styles in my car and use the one which I think will suit the conditions best. This won't work for everyone, but it has had a massive impact on my game. I also use the mallet on greens I know will be slower, it just works for me.
When is it too windy to play golf?
Disclaimer I class windy conditions as anything up to 20mph. Anything beyond that while manageable can begin to get unplayable if you’re not a highly skilled player. Seeing a middled drive go less than 150 yards is pretty demoralising and watching the ball roll off the green after a strong gust when putting is just silly.
How to hit a driver low into the wind
How many times have you hit a drive on a windy day and watched as the golf ball balloons up into the air and basically comes back towards you? You would think that as the driver has the least loft of all of your clubs, it should fly lower. The problem we have is spin. A poor strike with your driver causes excess spin which is then enhanced by any breeze out there on the golf course. We need to resist the temptation to swing harder as this will add spin to the ball. Tee is a fraction lower, move the ball more towards the middle of your stance and swing easy.
What golf ball to play in wind
Try these balls out in windy conditions: