Winds of Fife Too Much for American “Sugar Cube”

by Darrell Doepke

Wait a minute: did I hear that correctly? Play is suspended due to wind at, of all tournaments, the British Open? Are you serious? It’s supposed to be windy over here.

My wife and I had come all this way across “the pond” to witness golfing history: certainly the great Tom Watson’s farewell and quite possibly the young Jordan Spieth’s third step toward a Grand Slam (not to mention getting several rounds of golf in ourselves at some great links courses such as Dornoch, Scotscraig and Balcomie).

I fully anticipated the stereotypical Scottish weather where, as the locals joke, you can get all four seasons in one day. And indeed there were days like that during our two-week holiday.

But this I did not expect.

A wind delay? Come on; how bad could it be? These are, after all, the most talented players currently on the planet. And it’s The Open. They can handle this, can’t they? I’m a halfway decent golfer myself; I’ve played in some windy conditions and managed to get around the course without losing too many balls. Granted it isn’t as much fun, but I would be up to the task. Wouldn’t I?

It was an intriguing thought especially coming from me, a fair weather player that other golf snobs would refer to as a “sugar cube” because my game tends to dissolve in wet, foul weather. Nevertheless, I pondered what it would be like to experience wind speeds so strong that they would keep the best golfers in the world off of The Old Course at St. Andrews.

So at 11 o’clock and with Saturday’s play still suspended, I decided to venture back out to Balcomie Links, about 10 miles south of St. Andrews in the quaint coastal village of Crail. I knew from having recently played there that they had a small practice range. The online weather forecast showed winds at 25-35 miles per hour, with occasional gusts up to 50. As luck would have it, the hitting area was facing dead-smack into it.

Perfect! I could test the distance a well-struck ball would travel in these extreme winds, assuming I could actually execute a well-struck shot.

The sound that my flapping pant legs was producing reminded me of my childhood days when I would clothespin a jack of clubs to the spokes of my Schwinn and pedal as hard as I could down Henry Street. I had to cinch my hat headache-tight down to my eyebrows so it wouldn’t sail off into the Firth of Forth or the Forth of Firth or whatever that large body of water was called.

Fighting to stay vertical, I went through my pre-practice stretching routine and watched as the poor bloke next to me lost both his balance and his eyewear to one of those gusts of 50 or so. This was going to be educational.

My first task was to see which club would carry the ball a mere 100 yards. As a point of reference, I currently carry a 7.6 handicap index. But that’s back home in the hot and dry climes of Phoenix, Arizona where I can occasionally hit the ball off the map with my atomic 3-wood and watch it land and roll on firm, dry fairways not unlike these links courses over here in August. For me, a good pitching wedge flies 100 yards.

So I started with a 9-iron, knowing full well that even a skulled pitching wedge would not get the job done.

Applying some of the techniques I learned from watching too much Golf Channel, I choked up on the grip almost to the shaft, moved the ball back in my widened stance, shifted my weight a bit forward, and tried desperately not to overswing.

The first ball was well struck but quickly lost momentum at about 70 yards. By the time it landed, it was coming back at me. I came over the top on the next one; it traveled almost as far sideways as it did forward.

I progressed through my clubs in sequence, lashing at several balls with each one until finally puring a 6-iron that backed into the elusive 100-yard marker. From pitching wedge to 6-iron. 100 yards. Hmmm.

How about 150 yards? A poorly struck 5-iron would not even sniff it. After watching many of my side-spinners get gobbled by the wind and hurled a good 40-50 yards wide of target, I finally flushed a low, boring 3-iron that just barely reached the mark.

In his prime, I recalled Jack Nicklaus saying that he once needed a knock-down 3-iron to reach the short par-3 seventh at Pebble Beach when the winds were howling off the Monterey Peninsula.I guess he knew what he was talking about.

This challenge was as much mental as it was physical, if not more. The urge to swing harder and harder was a temptation I found very difficult to resist. My tempo was increasing at an alarming rate. While I was consciously telling myself to slow it down and ease up on the death grip, my subconscious was apparently screaming, “Hurry up and hit the friggin’ ball before you get blown over!”

What may have been the best atomic 3-wood I’ve ever hit in my life went 180. Maybe.

Just for yucks I pulled out my 60-degree lob wedge. It put itself into reverse at 45 yards and stopped rolling about 30 yards in front of me. Laughable.

Facing downwind on the putting green, I put a good stroke on a normal flat 20-footer and watched it roll 10 feet past. As I was bending to pick it up, it moved another foot. The same putt upwind stopped a good four feet short.


The results of my research on golf ball velocity and trajectory in gale forces were obvious and humbling:I don’t possess the cranial fortitude to succeed in these conditions. In short, I suck.

I hadn’t actually seen the video of Louis’ ball rolling several feet on the green that morning. I had simply overheard the news that play was suspended due to high winds. My criticism was premature and well off the mark.I got it now.

When play finally resumed that evening, I was perched comfortably on a barstool with a pint of Belhaven Best in hand, admiring these touring pros with a new appreciation for what it takes to play the game at their level in these furious winds of Fife.

Swing easy, my friends. Cheers!