Golf is a hard game, because it is played outside in all conditions. One of the most challenging elements to play in is the wind. Hitting a golf shot to a target is hard enough without any outside factors, but a complete player needs to know how to handle this common situation.
To understand how to use the wind to help your game, you first need a little science background on how a golf ball flies. Apologies to all the real physicists and scientists out there -- I got Cs in all my science classes.
To launch a golf ball, it must spin backward (front to back). Every shot that gets airborne has some degree of backspin. This backward spin gives the ball lift. A well-struck drive will have between 2,500-3,500 rpm of backspin, and the irons spin up to 9,000 rpm.
The wind affects the golf ball's spin rate, which is the amount or rpm the ball turns. A golf ball's dimples interact with the spin rate to create reduced drag, which slows a golf ball down. Without dimples, a smooth golf ball would travel a much shorter distance.
When a golf ball is struck, it has a high amount of air pressure flow on its top and a low amount of air pressure flow below it. The wind will only affect the high-pressure zone on the top of the ball. Therefore, when you think of how the wind is going to affect ball flight, think of how the breeze works on the top of the ball.
In parts of Texas, where the wind blows most of the day, golfers have come up with a simple phrase to help remember how to play in the wind.
When hitting into the wind remember, "When it's breezy, swing easy."
When hitting with the wind at your back remember, "Tee it high, and let it fly."
Here's how these phrases make sense and will help you play better in the wind. When it's breezy, swing easy is good advice for hitting shots into the wind, because the wind will add rpm to the ball-spin rate. Why? The wind will go with the spin-rate direction (front to back/backspin) and increase the spin rate. Higher spin rate means the ball will launch higher and travel a shorter distance. So, selecting a lower lofted club and reducing the swing speed lowers the spin rate of your shot.
Hitting downwind will reduce the spin rate of your shots. When teeing off, play the ball high on a tee, and raise the launch angle of your drives by hitting up to hang in the ball in the air. The wind will reduce the spin rate and carry your drives far down the fairway.
Joe Plecker is the director of golf instruction at the Elkridge Club in Baltimore. For more of Joe's golf advice, check out joeplecker.com.