By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM
When the players tee it up for the first round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind, they know that, as a rule, anything under par is a pretty good effort. Year in and year out, the hot temperatures, the firmness of the greens, the demanding layout, and the Bermuda grass rough give the competitors all they can handle from the first shot through the last.
The first round of the 2012 tournament in Memphis was a little out of the ordinary, to say the least. A front brought cooler, blustery conditions out of the north (the prevailing wind at the course is normally out of the South, hence its name -- Southwind) and both the morning and the afternoon fields of players had to contend with swirling wind gusts of up to 20 mph. This changed the target lines off certain tees and made hitting iron shots to the small, demanding targets tougher than usual.
At 7,200-plus yards, the par-70 course is a challenging proposition on a calm day -- let alone a windy day -- and the first round proved a grind for one and all. Scrambling and trajectory control were the order of the day on Thursday and with that comes a lesson for us. Flighting the ball in windy conditions is always challenging. There are, however, a few principles that the pros apply that make ball-control that little bit easier. They are easily memorized by the acronym, SMOOTH, and can be applied by players at all levels of the game:
Swing with ease in the breeze: Remember that the harder you hit the ball the more it spins -- and the more it spins, the more it becomes prone to wind. So gear down a little, pull an extra club (or two if necessary), swing easier and watch the ball penetrate the wind with a lot more success and control.
Make a short, low follow-through: This comes on the heels of the swing easy tip and it is just a way to ensure that good balance and poise and a sound swing pace is maintained. Also remember that a low follow-through helps to keep the ball flight down, so if you are into the wind, make a smooth swing into a short, low follow-through. A low follow-through equals a low shot.
Opportunities are taken with the putter: Windy days are challenging and the players who come out on top in blustery conditions are normally the players who scramble and putt well. So when you get to the first tee on a windy day, adopt a mindset that your ball-striking will probably not be as sharp as usual and that your putter will have to pick up a lot of the slack. Playing well in the wind requires a good mind-set and attitude.
Outside the goalposts -- Never: When aiming a shot to accommodate for any cross-wind, never aim “outside of the goalposts.” Just like a field-goal kicker will not aim outside of the uprights, so you should never do so on cross-wind shots. So visualize a set of uprights (as if field-goal posts are framing either side of the target, be it the green or the fairway) and make sure that you always aim inside of those.
Take care with your ball positioning: Ball position in relation to your stance is crucial to controlling the trajectory of your shots. Sadly, too many people take more care with alignment than they do with positioning their golf ball. Remember a forward ball-position helps to elevate the ball and a back ball-position will flight it down. So on downwind holes make sure that you move the ball up in the stance; on into-the-wind shots, move it back. (Not too far back though as this can cause too much of a descending strike, which can have a negative effect in terms of elevation and backspin.)
Hang in there: Golf on a windy day is a game of attrition, so hang in there. Be disciplined about your shot selection and remember that everyone is battling the same conditions. Too often players give in because the make a few mistakes early. Resist that tendency with every fiber of your being. Golf is an 18-hole deal and you must keep fighting, as you never know what the next shot and next hole may bring.
Remember, when it is windy, keep it SMOOTH!
Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.