This story is part of our new “GolfWRX Guides,” a how-to series created by our Featured Writers and Contributors — passionate golfers and golf professionals in search of answers to golf’s most-asked questions.
It’s been said often, and rarely disputed, that a golfer will play through anything. Not even a downpour of biblical proportions immortalized in the movie Caddyshack can keep Bushwood’s resident bishop from squeezing in a quick nine.
So if you’re one of those golfers who is willing to venture outdoors when it’s cold and windy, on days that require running the defroster on high, here’s a GolfWRX Guide for extending golf into the winter season and enjoying it.
Before You Hit The Course
It’s safe to say that many golfers suffer from complacency. We have all found ourselves at times grabbing any old polo shirt out of the closet, flinging our golf bag into the trunk of our car, sprinting to the first tee, not bothering to hit a practice bucket. And in the summer — we can get away with it.
Winter, however, is harsh and uncompromising. But it doesn’t have to beat you up; all it takes is a little preparation, so let’s get started.
Golf isn’t always thought of as a physically demanding game, but it does take some flexibility and coordination, especially when it’s cold out. If you’re one of those weekend warriors who thinks a sit up is something you do when you’re relaxing on the couch, a little exercise can keep your game from going into hibernation. A good way of loosening up before your tee time is with a 20 to 30 minute warmup at home. Titlelist Performance Institute has developed a routine consisting of a series of flexion and extension exercises that hit all the major muscle groups involved with playing golf. The routine doesn’t require any special equipment and it’s easy enough to do, even for a person leading a sedentary lifestyle.*
Once your body is warmed up, it’s time to prep your golf bag. Make sure it’s stocked with extra tees, balls and towels. If this sounds like overkill — believe me — it’s not. Tees tend to snap more easily in the cold, balls always seem to find a pile of dead leaves to hide in and you’re always toweling off something — whether it’s a sand wedge caked with dirt or your nose dripping with snot. Don’t make a rookie mistake and use a single towel for both.
I also recommend bringing a golf bag hood to cover your clubs and an umbrella in case of precipitation. This is especially true if you happen to live in a traditionally wet corridor of the world such as the Pacific Northwest (West of the Cascades) where the average monthly rainfall is at its highest from November through March.
Lastly, don’t forget about snacks and water. You should be able to pick up these items at the course in case you forget, but never rely on a muni to maintain a half-way house in the middle of winter or expect to see beverage cart girls zig-zagging between fairways like they do in-season.
Of course any discussion about playing in cold weather has to mention apparel. The keys to dressing warm and staying dry? Layers and fabric. Look for clothes that you can easily coordinate without adding unnecessary bulk. When evaluating a garment, ask yourself — is it lightweight, breathable, water-repellent and / or wrinkle-resistant?
Here’s a simple cheat-sheet even the most fashion-impaired can follow:
- When choosing socks, cotton is fine, wool is better. Pick a pair that are a decent length. I prefer wearing compression socks — they’re great for keeping your calves warm and help with reducing lactic acid buildup in your legs the following day.
- Except when it’s mild out, I strongly advise wearing a base layer consisting of a compression shirt and pants. Almost any sporting apparel company worth their ilk produces a decent product, but I personally like Under Armor’s form-fitting ColdGear collection for retaining body heat.
- For shirts, any type of technical fabric that wicks is fine. Some golfers enjoy wearing shirts that sport a heavier weave in winter such as pima cotton or a poly-cotton blend. In terms of pants, you’ll need pair that are waterproof and windproof for really lousy weather; on better days you can’t do much better than with Maide’s Highland Pant which earns high marks for its traditional style and great fit.
- Keep it simple with knits; stick to classic colors and silhouettes that can be worn on and off the course. The chunky and often-times scratchy sweaters of your father’s generation have been replaced with lightweight knitwear made from performance wool fabrics that don’t get in the way of your golf swing.
Depending on what you have on and the conditions you might encounter while golfing, you may want to bring a jacket or pullover that you can easily put on or take off as needed. Make sure you buy something wrinkle-free that you can fold up and shove into your golf bag. As far as footwear, it goes without saying that you should wear something water-proof.
When it comes to accessories, keep it simple. A warm hat, a stick of lip balm to carry in your pocket and a solid pair of gloves. FootJoy sells one of the best rain gloves in the industry and a pair of DryJoys Cart Mitts are easy to slip on and off between shots (in frigid conditions). On sunny days, remember to wear sunglasses. Too many people still think that temperature affects the intensity of UV radiation when in fact it doesn’t. Exposure to the sun’s rays can be just as damaging in the winter as it is in the summer.
At The Golf Course
So you’re all bundled up like Hagrid in Harry Potter and you even managed to arrive to the club with plenty of time to spare. But from the moment you shut off your car’s engine and feel that first blast of cold air, you briefly consider putting your car in reverse and heading home.
If you’re expecting to hear some irrefutable advice that will help you conquer the cold and save you strokes playing on a surface hardly more forgiving than concrete, I’m sorry to say you’ve come to the wrong place. Bad shots and bad weather are made for each other. We’ve all experienced the thin shot that stings your hands, the skulled chip from a bare lie, the long approach that comes up well short, maybe even the dreaded shank. And if you happen to be playing in the rain, well, that’s a whole other level of suck.
That being said, attitude plays a crucial role in determining how you cope with the elements and your mental state. You’ll have a much better time out there if you come prepared with a game plan and set your expectations accordingly.
Use the extra time you have before your round begins to hit some balls on the range. Your goal here, as it should be at any time of year, is to establish a rhythm and a feel. Don’t allow yourself to be preoccupied with distance or direction; after all, you’re hitting frozen golf balls off a more frozen mat. If you have time to spare, drop a few balls down randomly just off the putting green and practice your chipping. Your ability to recover from a bunch of less-than-stellar shots short of the green might be the difference between playing for keeps or just playing to keep warm.
When it’s time to tee off, always elect to walk the course if the opportunity presents itself. Golfers who keep their bodies moving between shots are less likely to feel cold and stiff. With any luck, the course will be half empty allowing you to play 18 holes at a brisk pace.
While it’s possible to post a good score in the winter, don’t be obsessed with grinding out a low number. In fact, forget stroke play altogether — give alternative formats like match play, best ball or Stableford a chance. You might find that these games give your weekend matches some much-needed zip in the off-season. It might even encourage some of your less courageous golf buddies to get off the couch and join you.
As for my actual advice on play, let common sense prevail: Move up a set of tees, club up in cold weather, learn to hit a punch shot and always keep your primary golf ball as warm as you can between shots.
When your round is over, hurry the hell up and get warm. If you’re not accustomed to grabbing a meal or a drink at the club’s grill room, make an exception. There’s nothing better than sharing a table with good company, eating a burger hot off the grill and poking fun at all those unfortunate souls who won’t celebrate making a birdie till Spring.
*Disclaimer: Always gain clearance for your training from a doctor or well-qualified exercise professional before commencement of an exercise regime.
The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros
I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.
The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.
There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.
Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.
What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).
Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.
If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?
It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.
Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.
So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.
Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.
We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.
There’s a lesson for all of us in that.
Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.
Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.
It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.
McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.
When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.
If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.
Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!
Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!
Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.
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