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April 23 2013

12:08 PM

On the Mark: Don't hit until ready

Graeme McDowell showed patience on his way to victory at Harbour Town. (Lecka/Getty Images)

By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM

Every year the players invited to The Harbour Town Golf Links for the RBC Heritage look forward to an easy-going week in the relaxing Southern surroundings of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Hilton Head Island is undoubtedly a pleasant change from the mental and emotional rigors of the previous week’s major championship.

Atmosphere of the town and the venue aside, Harbour Town Golf Links is a gem of a golf course that places a premium on shot location and accuracy. Its honor roll, which now includes 2013 champion Graeme McDowell, includes such accurate ball-strikers as Jim Furyk, Boo Weekley and Brian Gay. Year in and year out, it rewards players who have every department of their game on point.

McDowell put together one of the rounds of the day when he shot a final round 2-under 69. Perfect but for a three-putt bogey on the final hole, McDowell was in complete command in some very challenging conditions as winds gusted up to 30 mph and par became golden in many instances.

It certainly made for compelling viewing, and there are a couple of observations I would like to share ...

Don’t play until really ready: Fresh off a birdie that jumped him into the lead, McDowell flushed a tee-shot through the back of the par-3 17th hole. With the wind whistling across him toward the Calibogue Sound, he hit a neat pitch shot to about 4.5 feet beyond the cup. After reading the line he addressed the important par putt, but as he was settling into position, a gust of wind kicked up and unsettled him. He pulled out of the address and reset himself mentally and physically. He then readdressed the putt only to have the same situation occur as the wind increased in intensity. He reset himself again and waited for the conditions to settle. Finally, once he was convinced and ready, he addressed the putt and knocked it home for the par to retain his lead.

Not that I am advocating slow play, but I do want to stress that you must not play until you are completely ready and comfortable. McDowell’s actions were the perfect example of this very important key to consistently successful shots. So if you are doubtful or unconvinced, whatever you do, please do not just get up there and hit it anyway. As the legendary Gary Player advised me: “Treat each shot as if it was the most important shot in the world and the last shot you were ever going to hit.”

Understand aerodynamics: Remember that your golf ball operates just like an airplane does. In other words, the laws of aerodynamics apply and you must be cognizant of them when playing in the wind. The best advice you can apply is a little ditty I learned a long time ago and one that I pass on often to players of all skill levels: “Swing easy when it is breezy.”

That said, to get a little more in-depth, you must consider that your ball spins, and it is backspin coupled with the ball’s velocity that elevates the ball. Think of the velocity as the plane’s engine and the backspin as the plane’s wings.

A couple of playing examples: if your plane was taking off into the wind, it would be more apt to climb upward and slow down. So when you are hitting into the wind you must strive to reduce the spin to avoid the “stand-up effect." Conversely, if your plane was taking off downwind it would need more lift to climb into the air. Similarly your golf ball will need more spin to stay airborne and take advantage of the downwind assistance. Finally, if your plane was turning – to the right or the left – into the wind, it would slow down. If it was turning in the same direction as a cross-wind, it would go faster. So if you draw the ball against a left-to-right breeze it would hold up and go shorter; if you draw the ball with a right-to-left breeze it would go further. On the flip side, a fade against a right-to-left wind will die, and a fade with a left-to-right wind will accelerate.

So take your time and treat each shot with the respect it deserves and apply the laws of flight. I am sure that you will play more consistently in variant conditions.

Good luck.
/mi

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.

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