The fascinating reason the wind wreaks havoc on TPC Scottsdale's 16th hole
SCOTTSDALE — All you hear is noise on the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale.
It pulses throughout the course, but once players step inside the grandstands and on to the tee of the infamous par 3, it's like they're diving into an ocean of it. The sound never stops, and it flows in waves. From hums when players are over their shot, to boos if they miss the green, and roars when they hit it
"Sixteen would almost feel creepy if it was completely quiet," Xander Schauffele says, "Which is impossible, anyway."
What you see and hear isn't what's bothering players on the 16th hole this week at the WM Phoenix Open, but rather, it's what they can't feel: The wind.
It's the uniqueness of tournament's iconic hole that presents a particular challenge. The stadium hole is surrounded by grandstands on every side. When the wind coming outside of it crashes into the side of the structure, the air begins to flow up, over and through. Like a car in a wind tunnel, it poses an aerodynamics question that is driving pros nuts this week.
"Wind affects pros a lot more than amateur golfers," says Marty Jertson, the vice president Fitting & Performance at Ping, who has studied the effects of wind on golf balls extensively. "It directly correlates with apex height and spin rate. The higher you hit it and the more you spin it, the more your ball will be affected by wind."
It's why pros obsess over what the wind is doing, and why you'll see balls veering wildly off course this week.
Specifically, the wind plays a role in three different ways.
1. It's hard to gauge
When players arrive on the hole, they're effectively encapsulated in a bunker. The wind feels completely still, which makes the shot disorienting and confusing.
"You're looking for anything you can find as a gauge," says Jim Herman, who shot 69 on Friday and sits inside the top 10 heading into the third round.
"Thank god we've got some flags in there," Jason Day adds. "Otherwise we'd have no idea what's happening."
2. Peak wind appears at the most vulnerable point
The overall height the golf ball reaches — its apex — plays the biggest role in how much it's impacted by the wind, Jertson explains. Put simply, the higher into the air, the more vulnerable it becomes.
"The apex is the greatest point of speed and spin degeneration, so that's when the wind hits it the most," he explains, "It's like when you hit a breaking putt. The first third doesn't break as much as the final third."
It creates an interesting dynamic on the stadium hole where the grandstands never really help. They may protect the ball at the beginning and end of its flight, but those are times the wind affects the golf ball the least anyway. But the moment it peaks above the grandstand, that's when the wind hits it the most, and sends the ball floating uncontrollably away.
3. There's a potential downdraft effect
Though it's hard to know exactly how big a role this plays, Jertson says there's also the potential of the grandstands creatial a canopy effect on the golf ball. That's when the air moves over the stand and back down again.
It creates the potential of a downdraft, which turns a crosswind at the ball's apex to a downwind as it descends to earth. In theory, this could be adding speed to the golf ball so it lands hotter than usual and can become susceptible to wild bounces on the already firm greens, because the ball is coming in with more velocity that it would normally.