Weather or Not, Homa Perseveres at The Wells Fargo Championship

Wells Fargo Championship, Max Homa, Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
Wells Fargo Championship, Max Homa, Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports /

Whether it’s a regulation PGA Tour event or a member-guest at the local club, weather is the wild card most likely to influence play. That fact was beautifully illustrated at this week’s Tour stop, the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac.

The field of more than 150 got everything that both the course and the meteorologist could throw at them. Tour pros are used to dealing with even the most diabolical tracks. The forces of nature can be both more problematic and more decisive in terms of the outcome.

There’s no simpler way to portray the reality imposed on a tournament by weather than to simply chart the data – both meteorological and performance-related.

How Weather Played A Massive Part At The 2022 Wells Fargo Championship

Thursday: The course was both dry and gettable, haven taken on a good soaking from Wednesday. The pros love a good day-old rain; it makes greens more receptive, facilitating the kind of dart-throwing golf they like to play. Highs were in the 60s, making for passable, if not idyllic, comfort.

At least partly as a result, the 65 players who would eventually make the cut traversed TPC Potomac in an average of 67.97 strokes, a fraction better than two strokes below par. They did so with a consistency befitting their status among the game’s elite. The standard deviation of the performance of those 65 players Thursday was a taut 1.87 strokes. Only seven were over par, none by more than two strokes.

Friday: Fast-forward 24 hours and the rain returned. This time, however, it was a steady soaking rain operating as a constant through the unfolding of the second round. The temps were still good, and fortunately the wind had not come up. Still, the insistent moisture began to present problems.  For starters, rain means heavy air, which reduces ball flight by an amount that must be guessed at. Rain also impacts the grooves on the face of an iron, impacting spin rate.

At least partly as a result, scores rose. The average of the 65 players who would make the cut climbed overnight by more than two strokes, to 70.07…a hair above par. And because the weather impacts players differentially – some get wetter than others, some handle it better – the standard deviation also rose. In this case the rise was a full half stroke, to 2.35. A total of 29 players – more than four times as many as one day earlier – turned in over-par cards.

Saturday: Conditions were about as bad as they can get without actually halting play. Continuing rain began to flood portions of the course, forcing the Tour to adopt the lift, clean, and place rule for the day. That only partly ameliorated the challenges; temperatures plunged into the mid-40s, and double-digit winds imposed a third level of misery.

The impact of it all showed up big-time on the course. The 36-hole leader, Jason Day, turned in a 79. The field average soared by three and one-half strokes, to 73.7, and the standard deviation – the natural spread – climbed again, this time to 2.9 strokes. Just two days earlier, in relatively normal playing conditions, 51 players who would eventually make the cut broke par; on Saturday only four did so.

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Sunday: The rain cleared out. But the air remained humid, which is to say heavy, and the temps climbed only into the 50s. On a zero-to-10 scale, the meteorologist gets a 5; the course was entirely playable, but not user-friendly.

Combine that with standard-issue final day pressure and the result was middling. Stroke averages finally found an equilibrium point, settling at 71.21. In this turbulent week, that’s as close as the field would get to the ephemeral number we call a tournament average, which works out to 70.73. Yet the Sunday average is still nearly a half stroke above that tournament “average.” Perhaps surprisingly, the standard deviation of performance rises for a fourth straight day, settling on Sunday at 3.08 strokes. Sunday pressure or a few idiosyncratic pin placements may have influenced that number.

Now the big question: Did all those weather variances influence the outcome of the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship? The answer is, probably yes, at least if by “influence” we mean identifying the player most capable of adapting his game to the changing conditions.

Of the 65 competitors who made it through all four rounds, only one out-performed the field average on all four of those highly disparate days. That most consistent, most adaptable player turned out to be the champion, Max Homa.

On Thursday, Homa shot 67. That wasn’t even top 10 for the day, but it was nearly a stroke below the average of those who would make the cut.

In toughening conditions Friday, Homa produced perhaps his best effort, a 66. Only Keegan Bradley, at 65, produced a lower score on a day when the field average topped even par 70.

On Saturday at the Wells Fargo Championship, Homa went into survival mode. His 71, one over par, wasn’t much to talk about, except by comparison with everybody else.  In the modified maelstrom, it equaled the 11th best score and kept him in contention while others – 36-hole lead Jason Day shot 79 – fell far back.

In relatively normal weather Sunday, Homa’s closing 68 was good enough to defeat the one man he had to beat, third-round leader and playing partner Bradley, who turned in a 72. Ten players did have better cards on Sunday, but all 10 had started too far back thanks to their own inconsistencies earlier in the week.

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Only one man in the Wells Fargo Championship field could figure out a way to beat the weather through all four of its variants. Homa was a half standard deviation better than the field on Thursday, improving that measurement to 1.75 on Friday, nine-tenths on Saturday, and 1.05 on Sunday.

Homa wasn’t the best player on any of the tournament’s four days. In fact, he only rated top 10 status on Friday. But he was the only guy all week who consistently stood up to the changing conditions. That’s why he won.