Rocky Mountain Low: Adjust Your Swing for Altitude

When the tee is already high, there’s no need to add elevation.

Golfers flock to the mountains not only to play amid the stunning beauty of dramatic peaks and rushing rivers, but also to see the ball fly farther at altitude. But altitude also presents the greatest challenge. Though the air is thin and the ball may travel farther, the winds can be more unpredictable than they are on the Front Range, and when hitting from elevated tees, the ball is in the air a long time, allowing the wind to move it more than expected.

There’s also much more math involved in club selection. Most PGA Tour players say that the ball flies about 10 percent farther in Denver than at sea level, so up here in the mountains, I say about 15 percent longer than at sea level. So, your 150-yard club at sea level may go 165 up here, or from Denver, your 150 club may go 157. Then, you have to take a guess at how high you are elevated above the landing area, and how much yardage to subtract. Easy, right?

Take the 10th hole at EagleVail (below), a 197-yard par 3 that drops 185 feet from tee to green. From experience, I know the elevation makes this 197 play more like 155-160 and the wind often blows left to right. My 155 club is 9-iron, but I will pull 8-iron and make an abbreviated swing to control the trajectory and spin, cutting through the crosswind. Here’s why and how…

The best strategy for golf at altitude is controlling the ball’s trajectory; flighting it lower than usual. The simplest way for the average golfer to control trajectory is just to take one more club than anticipated and make an abbreviated swing. This will allow the trajectory to be a little flatter, cutting through the wind rather than ballooning up in the air and blowing offline.

Similar to a true “knockdown shot” to hit the ball under a tree, you want not only to abbreviate the finish but also the backswing.

A shorter backswing slows the swing speed and reduces the amount of spin on the ball, also preventing the wind from affecting it. This why we take an extra club. A shorter follow-through with a slightly quieter wrist action should keep the shot lower and on line. Do not change your ball position. Keep it simple and just try to hit a lower, more penetrating shot.

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