Heavy cross-wind — pull-back or thumbs?

By • Category: Approach shots with irons

I got the idea for this post from a player named Kyle in Colorado, who was inquiring about general tips for using thumbs vs. pull back for shots to counteract a side wind. He saw how Sobe and players in these YouTube videos can seemingly control the spin on the shot once it hits the green, and he wants to learn more! Well Kyle — here you go!

I try to use thumbs for approach shots whenever I feel I have a good chance of sticking it close enough to make a short putt. Here are situations where I’ll most likely thumb a shot into the wind rather than pulling back:
— Pin is in the middle of a flat green
— Pin is on the left and either the wind is blowing left or it slopes left
— Pin is on the right and either the wind is blowing right or it slopes right

So far, so good. Since the ball is going to be rolling with the wind once it hits the green, the above situations present you with an opportunity to let the wind do the work by landing the ball “above” the hole and watching the wind carry it on towards the pin. Similarly, if the wind and the slope are in opposite directions, you can thumb the shot into the wind, let the wind blow it back above the hole, and then let the slope carry it back towards the pin.

Now, let’s talk about situations where you need to pull back and shape a shot into the green. The most severe case is when the pin is on the right of the green, but the wind and slope are to the left. Using thumbs on this shot almost always leads to disaster — either you miss the green and end up in the rough on the right because you played too much wind, or you land on the green but the slope and wind direction carry your ball right off the bottom of the green. Both leave you with a chip and cost you a stroke! At best, you’ll have a long, very difficult putt, and that’s not good enough.

The advantages of a cut shot with backspin in this situation are immense. Not only are you neutralizing the wind, but backspin can help the ball roll back UP the slope as well! The direction of backspin is something that takes a while for newer players to figure out, but it’s key in this situation. In the above example, let’s say you’re hitting a 3-iron. Pull back a little bit to the left, shoot forward a little to the left, and use backspin. The shot will cut back into the wind and should still be traveling to the right once it hits the green. Since it’s traveling to the right, backspin will help the ball continue to the right, UP the slope, before the speed slows and the ball settles. Now you should have a nice short putt instead!

With the above example, you almost always want to club up from the default selection. You’ll probably want to have your distance estimate about 20 yards past the pin. The combination of the cross-wind, the hook put on the shot, and the backspin applied will leave you pin-high!

Also worth noting again is the loft of the different irons. Wind affects a 9-iron a LOT more than a 3-iron, so you’ll have to cut the shot probably twice as much.

With enough practice, you’ll be able to apply this shot more and more to your game instead of relying on your thumbs and hoping you can make a long putt!

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is a Golden Tee addict from Chicago, IL, thirsty for tips and tricks!
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