As we start to move into the tropical storm season in my home state of Florida, I want to go through the research I’ve done on the data on the PGA Tour with regards to performance in windy conditions. I feel that all golfers can use this information to perform better when the wind starts to blow harder.
First, I had to determine how I wanted to measure the data. What I discovered early on is that, speaking generally, the better player will tend to perform better in different conditions. So Rory McIlroy will tend to shoot better scores than say, renowned wind player Stuart Appleby. McIlroy is simply a better player than Appleby. However, that does not mean that we should follow McIlroy’s example of how to play in the wind.
Instead, I wanted to see what players on Tour improve and what golfers improve in performance when the wind starts to pick up. I used the Adjusted Scoring Average method (defined below) in order to measure this level of improvement.
Adjusted Scoring Average: A formula that subtracts the average score for the round from par. Then that difference is added to the golfer’s score. For example, if a golfer shoots 66 on a par-72 course and the average score was a 74.5 for the day, the golfer’s score would be adjusted to 63.5.
For this study, I needed to look at the wind speeds for the morning versus afternoon rounds and adjust the scores accordingly. As we know, most of the time there is much less wind in the morning than in the afternoon. So I had to figure out the scoring average of the morning group versus the afternoon groups.
From there, I wanted to see what players had the largest change in their Adjusted Scoring Average rankings in “windy” versus “non-windy” conditions.
Windy vs. Non-Windy Conditions
With measuring wind speed, there is the average wind speed and there are maximum wind gusts. Sometimes the average wind speed does not give an accurate depiction of how windy it was that day. When combining the average wind speed with the wind gusts, I started to see a more accurate picture. Wind gusts are defined as a peak speed of wind that usually lasts less than 20 seconds. If the average wind speed was the same on two different rounds, the day with the larger wind gusts would produce higher scores.
I used a simple formula that took the average of the average wind speed and wind gust speed and I called it Wind Velocity. Here’s an example:
(5 mph average wind speed + 10 mph wind gust)/2 = 7.5 wind velocity
The wind velocity on Tour ranges from 5 to 25 mph. But the range of Wind Velocity that is most frequent is 9 to 12 mph. Perhaps the most interesting finding was that the Tour started to see a noticeable increase in scores as a whole when the Wind Velocity was greater than 12 mph.
My interpretation? Once the Wind Velocity is at 12 mph, it can make at least a one-club difference on an into-the-wind approach shot. And as we know, the tailwind in golf does not benefit the golfer at the same equivalent of how much a headwind hurts a golfer.
In the end, I measured the rounds as:
- Windy conditions having a Wind Velocity of greater than 12 mph
- Non-windy conditions having a Wind Velocity at 12 mph or less.
Common Traits of the Best Wind Players
Here’s a list of players with the largest improvement and the players with the largest regression in “windy” conditions compared to “non-windy” conditions over the past five seasons on the PGA Tour:
When looking at the entire list of players and their level of improvement/regression when the Wind Velocity was more than 12 mph, I started to see the following commonalities in their metrics:
- The most improved players tend to be more conservative off the tee, in general, laying up off the tee and not using driver.
- The most improved players tend to be less aggressive on par-5s, by laying up instead of going for the green in two shots.
- The players with the largest regression tend to be poor from the Green Zone (approach shots from 75-125 yards).
- The players with the largest regression tend to be poor on short game shots from inside 20 yards around the green.
- The most improved players appear to hit the driver with a downward attack angle.
A trend that appears to exist, but on a smaller level, is that the most improved players tend to be less effective drivers of the ball in general.
The trends are certainly open to interpretation. My feeling is that there is a psychology to being comfortable with laying up off the tee and on par-5s. When playing in windy conditions, players are more apt to have to lay up because the wind will throw the ball offline. The players that lay up often in non-windy conditions are now more comfortable with having to lay-up when the wind picks up.
The downward attack angle with the driver makes perfect sense. You’re trying to flight the ball lower so the wind does not throw it offline. Players that have a pronounced upward attack angle like Bubba, Keegan and Kyle Stanley are going to have more difficulty keeping the ball out of the wind.
As for the Short Game shots around the green, when the conditions become windy the greens in regulation percentage drops and therefore the golfer has to be able to convert scrambling opportunities. But what surprised me a bit is that the most improved players had a trend of being better from the Green Zone (75-125 yards).
My guess why is twofold:
- In windy conditions, the players are not likely able to go for par-5s in two shots, therefore they have to lay up to that Green Zone range.
- In windy conditions, the players are more likely to hit their drives offline and then have to hit a rescue shot instead of being able to go for the green, so they have to save par from the Green Zone.
For those using this at home, I would recommend using your smart phone weather app to see what the wind speed is and where the wind is coming from. Since it is now legal to use a compass during a round of golf, more diligent golfers can use it to determine where the wind is coming from when the wind starts to swirl a bit. And if the wind speeds are faster than 12 mph, golfers may want to focus on being a bit more conservative in strategy off the tee and on par-5s while working on their wedges before they go out to play.