After a rain-soaked Zurich Classic, the PGA TOUR heads east to Charlotte for this week's Wells Fargo Championship.
Tiger Woods drew headlines over the weekend by his lack of commitment to the event. It's a little odd to see him skipping out on competitive reps between the Masters and the PGA Championship but he made sure to let us know it's not injury related.
There may not be a Tiger but it's still a star-studded field assembling at Quail Hollow Club. That includes names like Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, and Tony Finau. Just to name a few.
The field is full at 156 goflers and the cut-line rules are the normal Top 70 and ties.
Quail Hollow Club hosted the inaugural 2003 Wachovia Championship which has morphed into the Wells Fargo Championship. It's played that role of host every year since, except for 2017 when Eagle Point Golf Club stepped in to host while Quail Hollow got prepped for the PGA Championship.
The course is a George Cobb design but Tom Fazio came through to put his redesign touches on the course in 1997 and then tweaked things again in 2016 ahead of the 2017 PGA Championship.
At 7,554 yards there isn't much room for expansion so to make things tougher, they've started to play it as a par 71 instead of a par 72. That change started during the 2018 edition.
The course is tree-lined with plenty of length to it. It's well balanced in the fact there are six holes that generally yield birdie-or-better rates of 25 percent or higher while nine holes yield bogey-or-worse rates of 20 percent or higher. The overall Bogey or Worse Percentage ranks inside the Top 5 Toughest Courses when looking at the annual rota.
What makes the course play so difficult? There are eight par 4s that stretch out past 450 yards. This is water on six holes. There are greenside bunkers guarding every green.
When looking at a stat profile there has been a clear lean toward Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee with SG Approach and Driving Distance close behind. The big exception to that was during the 2017 PGA Championship when Quail Hollow hosted. That year we saw driving accuracy and approach over-index while driving distance was less relevant than the average TOUR stop.
Why did the PGA Championship play so differently? It comes down to grass types. With the PGA Championship having been played in the summer, they were able to skip the overseed process and just play the course as pure bermuda, including the rough. During this early May date, they are able to play with overseeded ryegrass rough which makes it much easier to recover from. That shifts the target back to distance over accuracy this week.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Justin Rose: "I think it’s a championship golf course and you have to move the ball both ways off the tee"
Angel Cabrera: "Honestly it’s a course that let’s me hit driver a lot and for that reason it probably fits my game well, and that’s probably why I play well here."
Brian Harman: "The overseeded rough is much easier to play in than strictly bermuda rough, which is what we had PGA. Around the greens will be slightly easier to chip on, and the greens won’t be quite as fast as they were for the PGA. They were brand new, I think they only had six months or something on them with the Champions bermuda. But this will be the first Wells Fargo we’ve played on these greens with Bermuda instead of the traditional greens that have been here forever."
Rory McIlroy: "I think the toughest thing about this week is the firmness of the greens. They react a little bit differently than most bermuda greens do, they’re very firm. It doesn’t matter if you pitch the ball into the green or down grain, it still gets a pretty big first hop. And that’s the toughest bit I think this week is if you short-side yourself, you’re going to have difficult chips because the greens are so firm, and if you’re hitting longer clubs in, it’s harder to control them. "
Peter Malnati: "I’m not known for my distance off the tee, and this is a long course, so I had to show off my hybrid prowess today. I was hitting a lot of long shots into the par 4s and even some on the par 3s. It was perfect scoring conditions, like you said, but still a tough test, really tough test. "
Overview: Driving is the name of the game here. Golfers talk about hitting lots of drivers and having to drive it well in order to contend. Last year the talk of the town was the turf differences between the PGA Championship and the Wells Fargo Championship conditions. During April they have ryegrass rough while the PGA used pure bermuda which made it extremely difficult to play out of.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Muirfield Village GC
Bay Hill Club & Lodge
GC of Houston
You can find four of the five situated on the Eastern side of the United States. A common theme between most of these courses is they are played on fast greens and in events with strong fields. They are courses where ball-striking reigns supreme with the need to put your approaches in the correct landing zones to avoid major trouble.
Thursday: Mostly sunny with a high near 87 degrees. Calm winds under 10 MPH.
Friday: Partly sunny with a high of 86 degrees. Calm winds under 10 MPH.
Weekend: A chance of storms on Saturday and Sunday with temps cooling to the upper 70s. That is still a ways out but the pre-cut forecast looks clear of precipitation which is great after the long delays in NOLA last week.