Wells Fargo Notebook: Quail Hollow’s ‘Green Mile’ closing stretch made even tougher

ablondin@thesunnews.comApril 30, 2014 

— From the beginning, closing out a victory at the Wells Fargo Championship has been a difficult task.

The closing three-hole stretch at Quail Hollow Club has been dubbed “The Green Mile” and has been as daunting as any finishing stretch in golf since the tournament’s inception in 2003.

And those holes have apparently become tougher for the 12th Wells Fargo Championship with changes and added length.

“They’re extremely difficult,” said Webb Simpson, a Quail Hollow member who earned his fourth PGA Tour victory in this season’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “I can’t think of three holes in golf, including majors, that are tougher finishing holes than these.”

The three holes have played a combined .923 above par in tournament history, and have combined to rank among the top three toughest three-hole finishes on the PGA Tour every year, including majors, ranking No. 1 in three years.

Course architect Tom Fazio oversaw renovations last year that included alterations to the three holes and 18 new greens.

The par-4 16th has played to a scoring average of 4.23 and it has been lengthened from 487 to 508 yards. It also now plays downhill and to more of a dogleg right, and its green has been moved 80 yards to the left and into a lake that surrounds its back and left sides. “Before [changes] it was a tough hole, now it’s a really tough hole,” Simpson said.

The par-3 17th has played to an average of 3.30 and features a peninsula green with water front, left and back. The tee has been moved left to the area that previously contained the 16th green to create more of a direct shot and the hole has been lengthened from 198 to 221.

“I joked with [Fazio] that with that new tee, if we play it back, the tournament’s going to need to hire someone permanently to stand on the tee and every time somebody hits just yell ‘Fore’ because people will go right of the green,” Simpson said.

The par-4 18th has played to an average of 4.39 with a creek that crosses the fairway and continues up the left side beyond the green and a slightly uphill second shot. The hole has been lengthened from 478 to 493 yards.

Fazio also altered the par-4 eighth and par-3 13th holes, and changes have created better viewing areas around the course for spectators, as many trees have been removed around greens and fairways and more open and elevated viewing areas have been created.

Green conversion

Another significant change Fazio made to the course was the conversion of its greens from bentgrass to MiniVerde ultradwarf Bermudagrass, and the easing of the green contours.

The poor condition of Quail Hollow’s greens in 2013 resulted in a rash of player withdrawals before the first round.

The change in contours has been applauded by many players this week. “I thought the greens were beautifully done,” Phil Mickelson said.

As is customary for greens that have been rebuilt, the putting surfaces are firm, so approach shots will be challenging.

“I think the character of the greens is the same,” Simpson said. “All the miss spots around the green are similar still. … So all of those characteristics around the greens are the same. But I feel like they’re just less severe than they used to be. So putting-wise, I think they’ll be easier to putt.

“But where you’ll really see the difference is approach shots. The ball is bouncing so much right now front pins are going to be really hard to get to and get the ball close. Anytime, which is often, that we have a mid-iron or long iron, you really have to land the ball 10, 15 yards short of the hole.”

Johnson has week off

Coastal Carolina alumnus Dustin Johnson has opted to miss the Wells Fargo for the third consecutive year and fourth time in his seven-year PGA Tour career. Johnson had committed to the tournament but withdrew prior to the registration deadline Friday.

His agent, David Winkle of Hambric Sports Management, said it was merely a scheduling change, as he has added the HP Byron Nelson Championship at TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas, in two weeks.

That event follows next week’s $10 million Players Championship, where Johnson is entered.

Johnson has missed the Wells Fargo, which is played less than 90 minutes from where he grew up in Columbia, in 2009, ’12 and ’13 with injuries and has had little success otherwise. He missed the cut in 2011 following rounds of 72 and 79, tied for 29th in 2010 with a 1-under 277 that included rounds of 65 and 77, and missed the cut as a tour rookie in 2008 with rounds of 78 and 71.

His record at the Byron Nelson is much better, with finishes of fourth, seventh, 20th and 63rd in four consecutive starts from 2008-11. The U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 is four weeks after the Nelson.The Nelson is followed by the Crown Plaza Invitational at Colonial, where Johnson hasn’t played since his rookie year; Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, where he has played every year with a fourth in 2011 his only top-10; and FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn., where Johnson won in 2012 in his second event back from missing nearly three months with a back injury and tied for 10th last year in just his second appearance there.

With a win, two runner-up finishes and two other top-six finishes, Johnson is fifth on the PGA Tour in FedExCup points and third in earnings with $3.35 million. He missed the cut at the Masters in his last start.

Another sellout

The Wells Fargo Championship has sold out in each of its 12 years.

Sales reached the soft limit of approximately 35,000 daily tickets for each tournament round last week, and tournament officials allowed sales for a few more days through Friday, according to tournament communications director Lee Patterson.

Because some expected participants including Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson and Johnson are not in the field for varying reasons, organizers believe some tickets may not be used each day, allowing more tickets to be sold and more money to be raised for charity.

TV time

Golf Channel and CBS will have coverage from Quail Hollow. Golf Channel has each of the first two rounds Thursday and Friday from 3-7 p.m. with three-hour replays at 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., and begins coverage Saturday and Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. each day.

CBS has the conclusions of the final two rounds from 3-6 p.m. both days.

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page, @alanblondin, visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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