News & Opinion

Major chops, minor blip for Quail Hollow

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The measure of a golf course is the quality of its champions. Using that as a yardstick, Quail Hollow Club takes its place among the iconic venues of the PGA Tour. The site of this week’s Wells Fargo Championship, Quail Hollow has made a steady rise through the ranks of highly-regarded Tour courses, culminating with hosting the 2017 PGA Championship. And the Charlotte club will welcome many of the best players in the world at the 2021 Presidents Cup.

Jason Day is the defending champion at the Wells Fargo, and he is one of eight major champions who have won at Quail Hollow, including Justin Thomas, who posted his first major triumph at the PGA two years ago.

David Toms (2003), Vijay Singh (2005), Jim Furyk (2006), Tiger Woods (2007), Rory McIlroy (2010, 2015) and Lucas Glover (2011) join Day and Thomas as major champions who have won here. And there are elite players without majors such as Rickie Fowler (2012) and Anthony Kim (2008), who has dropped off golf’s map, who also are Quail Hollow winners.

That said, the tournament has had its share of head-scratching winners, the most eye-opening of whom was Derek Ernst, who won in 2013 in a playoff over the equally anonymous David Lynn.

The Wells Fargo is in its relative infancy on the PGA Tour, starting in 2003 as the Wachovia Championship. However, Quail Hollow is no stranger to the Tour, hosting the Kemper Open from 1969 to ’79, but the original George Cobb design has disappeared. Tom Fazio effectively redesigned the course in 1997, and the new Quail Hollow received its first facelift in the summer of 2003 after Toms won the first Wachovia Championship.

Since then, there have been two more major projects – in 2014 and 2016 – in preparation for the PGA Championship. It seems as if Quail Hollow is almost always under construction and, in fact, there is a new back tee for the par-5 15th, which is expected to make it more difficult for players to reach the green in two.

All that earth moving, tree removal and sod laying have created a broad-shouldered, difficult layout. The reason why most players like Quail Hollow is that it’s an honest, straightforward course. There’s nothing hidden or tricky; quality shots are rewarded. Marginal-to-bad shots are equally penalized. Tour players appreciate that.

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 collectively known as the “Green Mile” – is one of the most demanding finishing stretches on the PGA Tour.

During the past few years, the Wells Fargo has been positioned in May, the week before the Players Championship. With the move of the PGA Championship to May and the Players to March, the Wells Fargo will be two weeks before the year’s second major.

In years past, the top players have flocked to Quail Hollow. Last year, six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking entered the Wells Fargo. This year, for whatever reason, only three of the top 10 and 10 of the top 25 are in the field. Justin Rose (No. 2), who didn’t play last year, McIlroy (No. 4) and Fowler (No. 10) are the headliners this week. Phil Mickelson is also in the field.

Surprisingly, Woods let the Friday deadline come and go without entering the Wells Fargo. The world No. 6 was expected to come to Charlotte, which now means that Woods won’t compete between his Masters victory April 14 and the PGA Championship on May 16-19. There has been talk that Woods’ back, which underwent a fourth round of surgery in 2017, is giving him problems after he was spotted walking gingerly. But the Woods camp has gotten the word out that there is nothing to worry about.

Because there were only four events between the Masters and PGA Championship, most of the top players will compete only once between the first two majors. So, the highly-ranked players aren’t dodging Quail Hollow; it’s just a matter of scheduling preference.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson hasn’t played the Wells Fargo since 2011 and competed at the RBC Heritage in his native South Carolina on the week after the Masters, which likely will be his only event before the PGA. Brooks Koepka, who is No. 3, played with his brother, Chase, in last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Thomas (No. 5) was entered in the Wells Fargo but withdrew with a wrist injury.

Francesco Molinari (No. 7), Bryson DeChambeau (No. 8) and Xander Schauffele (No. 9) played the RBC Heritage. Jordan Spieth, who also played the Heritage, is contractually obligated to play next week’s AT&T Byron Nelson.

Which means that the opportunity presents itself for someone out of the top 10 to bag one of the biggest prizes on the PGA Tour. However, just because there are only a few of the game’s best players at the Wells Fargo, be certain not to count them out.

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