Congratulations to Keegan Bradley, this year’s winner of the PGA Championship. While the wind kicked up a bit during this year’s tournament at Atlanta Athletic Club, it’s nothing like the wind you will face playing in next year’s PGA Championship at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Golf Resort. The Ocean Course is currently rated as the toughest course in the nation by Golf Digest Magazine and the pre-event setup of the course has it playing at 7,693 yards, making it the longest course in major championship history. I am fortunate enough to be the lead instructor at the Tommy Cuthbert Golf Learning Center at Kiawah Golf Resort and as the local guy I would like to offer you a few tips on playing the wind at The Ocean Course next year.
When my students see the aerial pictures of The Ocean Course that hang on the walls of the Tommy Cuthbert Golf Learning Center, they typically say, “The course has a lot of grass” and “What makes it so tough?” Smiling, my response is, “The wind.” The lesson that next year’s PGA Championship must learn is, they must be able to control their trajectory and distance in severe wind conditions to be the 2012 PGA Champion.
Most people refer to controlling your trajectory and distance as being able to hit a “punch” or “knock down” shot. I have broken the changes down into two groups The Setup and The Swing.
The stance width will be determined by how far you want to hit the ball or how windy it is. The windier it is the wider the stance. Play the ball 2-4 inches further back in your stance than you normally would put a little more weight on your front foot. Take more club than you normally would for that distance and slightly choke down. Choking down will help you gain a little more control of the club.
Start by learning to control how far you hit your short irons first. This will be very beneficial to your game in any weather condition. One of the more difficult shots in golf is a ¾ or ½ swing. Typically when I take a student about 20 to 60 yards from a green they struggle because they cannot make a full swing due to the short distance. Although, the good news is, once you learn to control your swing with a wedge you will be able to incorporate those same principles with any club.
The flaw is typically that you have a misconception about how to make a “smaller” swing. The swing should have less of a back swing, but a full 100% finish. The finish is judged by whether or not your hips have rotated all the way through. Most players decelerate, which is a 100% back swing and a 50% finish. Deceleration is a bad word in golf. In fact, some would even say it ranks second to that “S” word (shank). Now that you have a mental image of the club moving back less distance in the back swing and accelerating through the ball to a nice full finish we must talk about the pace at which the club will be moved away from the ball in the back swing.
Everyone has a natural cadence at which they live life. This is to simply say that if you talk fast, walk fast, and eat fast I would not be shocked if you had a fast paced back swing. The golf terminology that is used to describe your pace is “tempo” but you can think of it as your rhythm. As a general rule you want your swing to start out slow and continually build speed all the way through impact with the ball. So how does this relate to hitting a ¾ golf shot? Just to use round numbers let’s say your back swing for a full shot takes 1 second. Then your back swing for a ¾ or ½ shot would also take one second. This concept is best seen in music, specifically with a metronome (Tick-Tock-Tick-Tock). In order to stay in rhythm you must maintain the same pace. The adjustment to your golf swing is taking the club away from the ball at a slower pace. Continuing with this concept the club will move away from the ball even slower with a ½ back swing than it would with a ¾ back swing. Now you also have an understanding of the terminology “quick.” When a player was quick their tempo was wrong.
The next step is incorporating distance control into your normal golf game. For example, if you are standing out on the fairway at your 7 iron distance and there is a stiff breeze in your face you could hit a ¾ five iron rather than over swinging with your 7 iron. The best way to practice distance control is the next time you go to the range choose a club such as, a nine iron. Hit the nine iron several times and see how far it goes, then try hitting as many clubs as you can (eight iron – Driver) that same distance.
Finally the true test and gratification will come when you are faced with 20 mph winds and you know exactly what to do to hit that “punch” or “knock down” shot.
Blake Cathey is the PGA Lead Instructor at Kiawah Island Resorts. The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island will be the host of the 2012 PGA Championship. For more information on Kiawah Island Golf Resort, go to www.kiawaresort.com.