I was waiting for a lesson one day and set up our Trackman device. While waiting, I decided to hit a few shots with my 7 iron.
The wind was hard left to right and I was trying to hit the straightest shot I could, holding it up against the wind. I wasn’t trying to consciously control my swing for this, and not trying to manipulate path or face consciously either. However, after 10 shots, I looked at my trackman numbers.
The shot pattern was ok, wind considering, nothing really more than 10 yards offline. However, I noticed the path and face numbers were strange.
Typically, my club path falls around 2 degrees to the right of the target, and this was over 5 degrees different. As I said, this wasn’t a conscious change – but more a product of me trying to get my ball to the target against the wind. My clubface was also considerably more left than typical (normally around 1 degree right on average).
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A Change of Wind
I then decided to wait for the wind to be right to left so I could re-test and see how my numbers were. That day came recently, and below are my numbers – it was a good strong breeze from the right that day.
Typically, when the wind is right to left, I maintain better distance control when I draw the ball slightly with the wind, as opposed to trying to fade against it. I hit shots mainly with the aim of hitting a controlled draw, but not looking at my numbers until after the 10 shots were complete.
As you can see, apart from a slight drop in distance (wind was more into my face), the direction was very similar to when the wind was in the opposite direction. However, in order to get it there, I had to have my path shifted 10 degrees to the right – a whopping 13 degrees more rightward than when the wind was the opposing direction.
What does this mean?
As players, we have to be able to mentally adjust our swings and/or our alignments in order to get a ball to the desired target. The ability to swing away from the target is a skill in itself, and one which many amateurs have not learned.
The ability to feel as if you are hitting a shot which would normally finish 15 yards left (yet still land on your desired target) is a product of what we call perception-action coupling. Namely, the brain takes the information (target location, wind strength plus other variables) and applies an appropriate action (swinging the club more to the left/right with a more open/closed face) in order to get the desired result.
This highlights the importance of contextual learning – learning in as realistic-as-possible an environment. This could include
- More on-course work
- More random practice (vary clubs, targets, shot type etc)
- More pressure during practice
- Gamified practice with goals/outcomes, as opposed to ball beating
This improves our ability to take the mix of variables presented to us and come up with an answer.
In golf, we have to take all the variables presented and come up with an answer.
Most golfers only practice the act of repeating a motion, without learning to link that motion to the variables.
While it could be argued that you don’t need swing variability – you could just take your normal swing and align your body away from the target – there is still a certain amount of movement variability needed/beneficial.
My body alignment for the left-to-right wind was quite square to the target, and I used more of a pull-swing to get the ball to fight the wind. This is because I instinctively know I get a better trajectory through the wind with this action.
Opposingly, when the wind was right-to-left, I get a better trajectory by aiming my body offline and working the ball back with the wind (as opposed to cutting the ball into the wind).
However, in both cases, there was a significant amount of movement variability. I attribute my ability to do this successfully to my variability and differential practice modes, which are explained in detail in The Practice Manual.
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In The Practice Manual, I also discuss in depth the idea of using environmental constraints to make changes to your swing.
Two bits of anecdotal evidence
- I grew up on a driving range where the wind was predominantly down-wind and left to right. As a result, I developed a very high draw shot, with all the accompanying technical elements related to that pattern. The reason? Instinctively I figured out that this pattern seemed to give me the longest and straightest-looking ball flight. My environment created my technique
- In my 4 day schools, whenever we spend a lot of time on the range practicing in a wind, the next day is very interesting. Often, if players have practiced in a left to right wind one day and the wind drops the next day, everyone is hitting the ball more left than normal.
These are examples of environmental constraints (the wind) molding and shaping your technique subconsciously. You can use this to your advantage by practicing in a wind which exaggerates your errors. E.g. If you suffer with a slice, go and practice in a left-to-right wind. While you might not learn how to draw it (you might), you will likely develop a fade which lands on the target instead of to the right.
by encouraging what you don’t want, you might develop what you do want.
I use these constraints in my coaching, but I often set up other task constraints in order to develop a more optimal technique. E.g. for a slicer I may say
Start the ball right of this stick and land the ball between X with this left to right wind
This will allow the player to develop a better shot pattern while developing a better path and face instinctively.
- The environment you practice in can determine a lot of your technique – use this to your advantage
- On a windy day, you need to be able to mentally shift your targets and swing away from the desired target – often by a considerable amount
- Practicing movement variability and shot shaping can make you more adaptable and better able to handle the ever-changing environment of the golf course/conditions
- Make your practice as contextual (realistic) as possible. Simulate the game as well as improving your motions
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