Revamped Quail Hollow provides stiff test for PGA Championship


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SportsPulse’s Trysta Krick checks in with Steve DiMeglio at Quail Hollow Club for an update on the PGA Championship and his thoughts on why the tournament is being moved on the golf calendar.
USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE — As the final group in the final round of the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship made the turn at Quail Hollow, a small army of maintenance workers began an aggressive offensive on the front nine.

By the time James Hahn beat Roberto Castro in a playoff, the battalion and its chainsaws, bulldozers and other high-powered gardening weapons had started reshaping the course for the 99th PGA Championship.

In less than 90 days, all 18 greens were stripped of grass to deal with an imperfection in the surface in the greens, all the sand was removed from the bunkers and some 900 trees were cut down. The putting surfaces were replaced with a different type of Bermuda grass from Texas called G-12, the bunkers were filled in with the same type of sand used at Augusta National. The fairways are Bermuda and the rough is Bermuda instead of rye.

And there are essentially four new holes.

The opening hole is now a 524-yard par-4 dogleg to the right, ending on the old No. 2 green. Thus, with the elimination of the old second hole, a new par-3 was built — the 184-yard fourth hole. The old par-5 fifth is now a dogleg-right par-4 of 449 yards. And the green of the par-4 11th was moved back and the hole now plays 462 yards.

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The course, now playing out at 7,600 yards and to a par of 71, presents a different set of challenges than the players were familiar with during the Wells Fargo Championship.

“Obviously they made it harder, which I like; it’s longer,” world No. 1 Dustin Johnson said. “But the golf course, it’s in fantastic condition. Perfect greens, perfect fairways. I really do like the changes so far.”

The course was long enough, but with rain having already softened it and the forecast calling for more precipitation, Quail Hollow will play very long. It also will play very differently. Bermuda greens pose a challenge because of the grain. Unlike bent, where putts roll on a true line, the grain of Bermuda will influence the ball. The golf ball will break in the direction the grain is growing, meaning downhill, down-grain putts will be very fast, and uphill, into-the-grain putts will be very slow. The grain can affect even 3-foot putts.

Bermuda rough is a challenge, too, as players will have to determine whether the ball will jump out of the rough, thus producing a flier where the ball goes much further than anticipated. And Bermuda rough tends to deliver more difficult lies.

“It’s not the same course,” said Rickie Fowler, who won here in 2012. “The start is a bit tougher. No. 1 used to be a nice way to ease into the round, but that’s not the case anymore. But the changes are good.

“The course is in great shape. The greens are perfect. And I think the greens will hold up a lot better through the day.”

No one has had more success at Quail Hollow than four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, who won the Wells Fargo in 2010 and 2015, lost in a playoff in 2012 to Fowler and has three other top-10s. He wouldn’t have minded if no changes were made, but he doesn’t really mind the changes.

“It used to be you got through the first five holes here at 1- or 2-under par and that was a decent start, and now you get through the first five holes at even par and that’s when the golf course starts to open up for you,” he said. “I still feel like the golf course gives you plenty of chances. … It will probably play a couple of strokes harder than it used to play, especially with the par going from 72 to 71. But for the most part, 15 of the 18 holes are pretty much the same. I like it. Have always liked it. I just feel good around here.”

One thing the overhaul didn’t change is the Green Mile, the three closing holes that got their nickname from the 1999 prison movie starring Tom Hanks. It is 1,225 yards of nasty — the 508-yard par-4 16th with the green bordered by a lake; the 223-yard par-3 17th with the green guarded by a lake; and the 494-yard par-4 18th, where a creek protects the left side of the fairway and green.

All in all, the alterations add to the pressure of winning a major.

“I think the changes have turned out incredibly well because it’s actually made the golf course a little bit tougher, but it’s done it in a very subtle way, rather than overdoing it,” said Phil Mickelson, who has nine top-10s at Quail Hollow but has not won here.

“The beauty and the challenge of the golf course has come out. You’ve got a major championship that a score very close to par is going to end up winning.”

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