By Dr. T. J. Tomasi, Keiser University College of Golf
Senior Faculty and Director of Research
Brooks Koepka said in a post-round interview that he was prepared to adjust his expectations in the last round if the wind blew at Bethpage. The 2019 PGA champion reasoned that if he was having trouble in the wind, so would his adversaries. And sure enough, on the final nine, on one of the most difficult courses on the PGA Tour, Koepka made four bogies in a row in a gusty 30 mph wind. He knew that things could go south in a hurry, and through it all, he kept his focus and held on to win the tournament.
The key mental takeaway here is that to be a champion; you must learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Your golf score on any given day depends not only on your swing but also on how well your game plan matches up with the conditions of play. If you don’t adjust your expectations, you’ll get upset when things don’t go as they usually do, and that’s the quickest way to ruin your score.
Basically, the good player adjusts his or her expectations based on conditions such as the wind, wet lies, and the speed of the course, i.e., is it wet (slow) or dry (fast) – a wet course is a wide/long course, while a dry course is a narrow/short course. If the course is “slow” and soggy, the conditions favor the long hitter because everyone’s ball is going to plug’ so if you’re a short-hitter, be prepared for shorter tee shots due to the lack of roll – especially if you rely on a running-hook for distance. This means you’re going to be hitting longer shots into the greens –shots that are tougher than you normally face. Also, when it’s wet, it effectively widens the course because the ball has a chance to stop short of the trouble. If you’re a long hitter and a bit wild, expect problems on dry, baked fairways where the ball can find trouble on the run.
The rule of thumb is that long hitters have an advantage on slow courses, short/accurate hitters on fast courses. How you’re playing the ball can also influence your score. To wit: the hustler, who knows that the opponent likes preferred lies, suggests “let’s play it down.” In any case, if you decide to play the ball differently than you’re used to, adjust your expectations. There are three ways you can play it: 1. “Down,” which means you play it as it lies; 2. “Winter rules,” where you adjust your lie only in the fairway; and 3. “Roll ‘em everywhere” where you play preferred lies everywhere except in a hazard. Usually, the better player is more comfortable playing the ball down while most high-handicappers are not. Playing it down in this situation means you’ll have a hard time playing to your handicap, so be prepared to be uncomfortable. In wet and muddy conditions, playing the ball down also has a huge influence on the short game.
As a junior, Tom Watson, a short game genius, practiced playing in the rain by sneaking on golf courses that were closed due to bad weather. And he, like most great players (Hogan, Nicklaus, Woods, etc.) practiced regularly in the rain, wind, and cold so he would be comfortable while being uncomfortable when it counted. Via lack of practice, golfers used to pitching and chipping from perfect lies with plenty of grass underneath the ball, always struggle around the greens, and the closer to the hole you make your mistake, the harder it is to recover the lost stroke.
The wind is the other big factor that affects a player’s expectations. The more side spin you put on the ball, the more the wind exaggerates the mistake, and since most high handicap players side-spin the ball, they have trouble in the wind. Wind also affects players with low clubhead speeds, because they can’t hit the ball hard enough to prevent the wind from knocking it around. Long hitters with a wild streak don’t fare too well in the wind either, so if you fall into one of these categories be ready for some adversity when the wind blows.
The flag is out straight a sign that the wind will affect any shot – especially one with a high trajectory.
The best way to be sure of an up/down in this wind is to run the ball to the hole. Use a lower lofted club and remember: Spin is the enemy of roll.
To keep your expectations under control, evaluate the conditions to determine how they will affect your game before you tee off. This way you’ll be prepared to hang in there when the going gets a bit on the rough side.
If you’d like to study with Dr. Tomasi and other PGA Master Professionals, contact The College of Golf today.