If you’ve ever seen the British Open on television, you know how windy it gets at St. Andrews. It can bowl you over—literally. The wind there affects every shot you make. Playing golf at St. Andrews on gusty days can be a harsh golf lesson if you don’t make the right adjustments when putting. Wind can be as much of a factor when putting as break and slope. Sometimes, it can be more of a factor. Needless to say, there’s an art to putting well in the wind, one you must learn if you want to achieve a low golf handicap.
Wind moves because of differences in air pressure. Air masses move from areas of high-pressure to areas of low-pressure. As they move, they collide with the terrain, objects on the ground, and other air masses, causing them to eddy and swirl. A golf ball is one of the objects wind often encounters. The force that wind exerts on golf balls depends on the cross-sectional area presented to it. The bigger the area presented, the more force wind exerts on the ball. This force acts like a “drag” on the ball, slowing it down and/or re-directing its path. Drag is why you must adjust to when putting on windy days.
Assessing The Wind
The first step, we tell students in our golf instruction sessions, is to determine the wind’s direction. While the wind has a more pronounced effect on a slowly rolling golf ball, the effects differ depending on the type of wind you have. For example, headwinds have different effects on balls than crosswinds or tailwinds. So you must first determine the type of wind you have and then how it’s going to affect the ball before putting. Watching how another player’s ball reacts to the wind helps.
Other factors to consider when assessing wind before putting are steadiness and strength. Students taking golf lessons are often taught to assess these factors by checking the treetops. Treetops don’t always work because objects on the course can block the wind on the green. So the wind in the tops of trees is often blowing harder and steadier than the wind on your ball. A better approach is checking your pant leg. If it’s flapping, the wind is gusting at about 10-15 miles.
Once you’ve determined direction and how hard and how steady the wind is blowing, you can address the ball.
Strong Winds Affect Balance
Strong winds also affect balance, so maintaining stability is paramount. Start by widening your stance a bit. Keep your feet shoulder width apart or even slightly wider. In addition, bend over slightly more at the waist, flex your knees slightly, and position the ball toward the middle of your stance. These changes stabilize you and create a balanced, rock-solid base. It also gets your eyes over the ball. We also advise students at golf instruction sessions to choke down on the putter’s shaft. Choking down shortens the time between the backswing and the follow-through, increasing control and allowing you to stroke the ball more aggressively. Putting aggressively in the wind is a must. Also, keep your hips as stable as possible when putting in the wind.
Another factor to consider is the green’s grain. It, too, can impact your putting on windy days. In general, if the wind and grain are going in the same direction as the ball’s roll, play for a straighter, faster roll. If the wind and grain are against your putt, play for a slower roll with more break, especially as the ball slows down. If the wind and grain are moving in the direction of the break, play for extra break above the hole. If the wind and grain is against the break, play for less break than you’re seeing on the line.
Strong winds, like those at St. Andrews, Scotland, can play havoc with your putting. But you must learn to putt well in the wind, if you want to reduce your golf handicap. Taking a couple of golf lessons from a pro and/or reading golf tips in magazines and on Websites helps. But there’s nothing like experience. So try to play on gusty days as often as possible until you’ve mastered putting in the wind.