News & Opinion

Quail Hollow brings major mojo to Tour rota

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s not often that the site of a regular PGA Tour event is worthy enough to host a major championship. Torrey Pines, Riviera and Congressional come to mind. The newest member of that group is Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, at which the PGA Championship was contested last August.

Quail Hollow is back as the venue for the Wells Fargo Championship, which it has been since 2003, except last year, when the event was held at Eagle Point in Wilmington, N.C. The Wells Fargo is in its usual spot in May, the week before the Players Championship, which means it’s the unofficial kickoff to summer major season.

It’s only six weeks until the U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, five weeks after that for the British Open at Carnoustie and four more weeks until the PGA Championship at Bellerive in St. Louis.

If you want to see the top players in the game, look closely over the next two weeks because sightings will be scarce until the Open in mid-June.

After the Players, you are not likely to see many of the world’s best players until the Memorial Tournament, two weeks before the Open. And not all of them play Jack Nicklaus’ event in Dublin, Ohio.

Most years, the Wells Fargo attracts one of the top fields in golf besides the majors and the Players. Evidence of that is the entry of Tiger Woods, who was the Wells Fargo champion in 2007. Woods rarely plays where he hasn’t had success, so perhaps it’s not a surprise that he has come to Charlotte.

In fact, six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are in the field. World No. 2 Justin Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail last year, is the top-ranked player who will start Thursday. Rickie Fowler (No. 6), who won the Wells Fargo in 2012, and No. 7 Rory McIlroy, who is a two-time Wells Fargo winner (2010, 2015), join Thomas as the headliners.

Hideki Matsuyama (No. 8), reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka (No. 9) and recent Masters winner Patrick Reed (No. 10) round out the top 10. Five-time major champion Phil Mickelson is in the field, as are major winners Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel and Adam Scott.

Among the missing are top-ranked Dustin Johnson, who played last year at Eagle Point but hasn’t played the Wells Fargo since 2011. He shot 67 on the final day of the PGA Championship and tied for 13th.

Jon Rahm (No. 3), who finished T-58 in the PGA last year at Eagle Point, is not entered at Quail Hollow. Jordan Spieth (No. 4) has played the Wells Fargo only once (2013) and was T-28 at the PGA. Justin Rose (No. 5) placed third at the 2016 Wells Fargo but is not entered this year.

Pros flock to Quail Hollow because they like the course’s old-school, straightforward nature. Players always knew it was a quality test, but the notion has been validated now that it has hosted a major championship. In fact, the Presidents Cup will come to Quail Hollow in 2021.

Woods had not seen all of the changes made to Quail Hollow since he was last in Charlotte, so it will be interesting to hear his opinions. In many ways, it’s an entirely different golf course from the place where he missed the cut in 2012. He might not recognize the place.

For the rest of the competitors from last summer’s PGA, they also will see a different course, albeit slightly. Gone will be the thick, penal Bermudagrass rough, replaced by the traditional ryegrass overseed of the dormant Bermuda, which won’t flourish until later in the spring.

The greens are a new strain of ultradwarf Bermuda called Champion G-12 that was brought to Charlotte in refrigerated trucks from Texas and planted in 2016 to replace the MiniVerde that had become too unreliable for championship golf.

Immediately after the 2016 Wells Fargo, the club built three new holes in 15 months. The former first hole was transformed from a 3-wood and a wedge to a brute of a 524-yard par 4. (It’s a par 5 for members.)

The changes to Quail Hollow, made by club president Johnny Harris and architect Tom Fazio, created a stadium for professional golf. If difficulty is the prime consideration for a great course, Quail Hollow certainly fits the bill. The last three holes – the 505-yard, par-4 16th, the 223-yard, par-3 17th and the 494-yard, par-4 18th, which are known as the “Green Mile” – is one of the most demanding finishing stretches on the PGA Tour.

On Sunday afternoon, that’s where the championship likely will be decided.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter@mikepurkeygolf