How weather can make or break your golf game

Temperature, rain and other factors can determine the outcome of a game

Peaceful greens set the stage for some of the fiercest competitions in golf.

And a major player in this setting is none other than the weather.

"In golf, the elements are always in play," said Kevin Roth, sports meteorologist for Rotogrinders.com.

"It's always outside, and that means if it's windy, if it's raining, if there's lightning, if there's snow, all of these different things, the temperature, all matters in how the outcome of the game is."

Here are some of the ways weather can impact your golf game.

The sun

That warm, life-giving star can do more than be a beaming spectator.

"If the sun is in a certain spot in the sky, the grass, just like all plants, will lean that way," Roth said.

"That will cause your putt to go in just a slightly different direction than if the sun was on the other side and the grass was leaning slightly the other way."

In addition to the direction of the sun’s rays, the amount of sunlight can impact the gameplay, as well.

According to Roth, hot, sunny days can dry out the already smooth golf course, making it easy for balls to roll right off of the greens.

Rain and lightning

Too much sun can negatively affect a golf game — and the remedy may be a bit surprising.

"The best weather for professional golfers is actually light rain because it causes the greens to slow down a little bit," Roth said.  

"So, you're hitting these approach shots onto the green, and a ball that would normally skip right off the green sticks instead."

While light rain can be beneficial to play in, heavy rain can lead to water pooling and ponding on the course, causing games to be canceled.

"And of course, if there's lightning strikes anywhere around, then it's off because you've got a bunch of guys holding metal clubs in the air," Roth said.

"A little bit of rain is great. A lot of rain or thunderstorm is very, very bad."

Temperature

Before the ball even hits the green, it sails through the air, putting it at the mercy of air temperature and elevation.

"As you get this warmer air or air at higher elevations, it's thinner air, and that means you can drive the ball a lot farther," Roth said.

According to Roth, if a player is counting on a big drive, hot temperatures of 80-90 degrees can help them hit their ball a mile.

But when the temperature drops, the opposite is true.

"If it's cold, dense air, you have more air resistance on the ball," Roth said. "So, those drives aren't going to go as far and you're going to have to count more on your putting game, your approach game to make things happen."

Wind

Another variable that golfers have to consider is the wind.

"Wind is the biggest factor of all as far as how weather impacts golf," Roth said.

"Every single stroke, the wind is going to have an impact and especially the longer ones, the drives or the long iron shots — that ball’s in the air for a long time."

Even a 5- or 10-mile-per-hour wind can play a significant role when the drive is 300-yards long. Because of this, players factor in the direction and strength of the wind.

Also, wind can vary depending on the time of day a golfer tees off.

According to Roth, the general pattern is that in the morning, winds tend to be a little bit lighter, and then in the afternoon, as those winds in the upper atmosphere start mixing to the surface, you see stronger gusts down at the surface.

"To some degree, the outcome of the tournament is decided based on when you're teeing off just as much as it's decided by who's playing the best golf," he said.

"If you get the wrong side of the weather draw, you're not going to win. Period."

Weather on par

"Golf is great because the weather has a huge impact on it," Roth said. "It's maybe the number one sport where weather matters, and if there's one that competes, it's baseball."

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Competition aside, good weather can simply make for an enjoyable golf game.

"You're out in nature. There's birds chirping. It's just a wonderful little getaway," Roth said.

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