CHARLOTTE - You have to love Jim Furyk. He shoots from the lip. When asked about the changes to Quail Hollow Club for the 99th PGA Championship, he had the perfect laconic reply.
“No. 1 could be the toughest opening hole in golf. It actually looks like a really nice par 5 to me, but for some reason they put par 4 on the card,” he deadpanned.
See what I mean? No guile. Just what a working journalist (read: hired geek) loves. Given a choice between talking with a younger, more “relevant” Madison Avenue matinee idol of a player and an old salty golf monster from a by-gone era, I’ll choose the salty monster every time. They give us gold for our articles, while the kids are just obsessed with creating a persona and saying the things they think their publicist would like. Older guys like Furyk? They just don’t care. Especially Furyk. In fact, he once posed for a magazine article painted up like a clown – red nose and giant shoes included.
Bravo, Jim. That was brave.
Furyk hits the nail on the head though – the PGA has set up Quail Hollow like a U.S. Open: 7,600 yards and 4-inch rough.
“The rough is going to be murder,” said Alex Noren. “It’s Bermuda, it’s thick, and the ball sinks to the bottom. You have trouble getting a clean ball strike, so going for the green is risky. It’s not the same course we play in May.”
Noren is exactly right – the Bermuda is even thicker and longer than the infamous Bermuda rough at Southern Hills. And right on cue, Rickie Fowler chunks not one, but two in the rough and cards a bogey.
Clearly the PGA of America and Tom Fazio want Quail Hollow to play like a U.S. Open in August, and for the moment the course is at least holding its own despite being soaked with inches and inches of rain over the last few weeks. But Quail is primarily set up dictatorially - hit the middle of the fairway, hit the green, maybe make a birdie putt – and that doesn’t usually lead to fireworks, with players skyrocketing up the leaderboard and then tumbling back down again.
Holes like Nos. 8 and 12, for example, feature excellent terrain but don’t entice the golfer into an all-or-nothing shot. Although it measures only 344 yards, No. 8 has a narrow neck, a slanted fairway, the smallest green on the golf course and deep bunkers. Most players will club down. Likewise at 12, the hole doglegs in an awkward place, and the fairway tumbles against the camber of the hole – the land rolling left while the hole turns right. As a result, the drama will come on Sunday from all the potential plane crashes lurking late in the round, as well as Quail’s surprisingly good, curvy greens.
Still, there are a few strategic, half-par holes that may see dramatic swings in both momentum and score. Here’s a Spotter’s Guide to the holes at Quail Hollow the will have the greatest impact on the scoreboard.
1st HOLE – Par 4, 524 YARDS
Call this “Frankenhole” because it’s basically two holes stitched together. The playing corridor of the original first hole was just extended to include the former second hole, a par-3. At a Brobdignagian 524 yards, it’s clearly a par 4.5. plus the pressure of the opening hole will ratchet up the pucker factor. Look what the first hole at Torrey Pines did to Tiger Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open. He played the hole 4 over par.
7th HOLE – Par 5, 546 YARDS
Quite the opposite of the first hole, a par on the shortest par 5 on the course will feel like a shot lost. A criminally narrow driving chute funnels into a fairway sloping towards a creek which ends at an idyllic, greenside lake. The peninsula green juts out in the water and is surrounded by sand on the other side and in front, so it’s either a putt for an eagle three or fighting for a bogey 6.
10th HOLE – Par 5, 592 YARDS
Long hitters will have a noticeable advantage here, as if they can clear the perpendicularly-positioned fairway bunker – 282 to reach it, 300 to carry it – they can catch a speed slot that will springboard the golf ball forward another forty or so yards, making the hole reachable with a hybrid or long iron.
14th HOLE – Par 4, 344 YARDS
With water all along the left and the bank of the green steeply pitched, left is death here. Bunkers positioned between 240 and 270 yards out entice the golfer into reaching for the driver, meaning all sorts of numbers are in play. Moreover, it’s nice to see a short swing hole so late in the round. Courses like Cypress Point and Forsgate (Banks Course), for example, utilize this routing feature to great success.
As I type these words, Rory McIlroy just tried to drive the green, missed left and watched his ball carom off the bank and into the water. He then chunked his pitch (a divot the size of a skirt steak!), bladed another and fanned badly on a short putt to walk off with a disgraceful double-bogey 6. Spectators, take note: park your butt here and bring your popcorn.
15th HOLE – Par 5, 577 YARDS
The last par 5 may play uphill, skirt the edge of the lake on the left and feature as spine in the green to shed balls to the sides of the putting surface, but unless a player really double-crosses one, eagle is in play.
18th HOLE – Par 4, 494 YARDS
With the exception of Atlanta Athletic Club, the 18th at Quail Hollow is possibly the worst finishing hole in major championship golf. Brutishly long, bisected by a creek and guarded by water and sand, 18 underwhelms architecturally but will still see scoring swings as players nerves fray. Who knows? With a three-ring circus for a green complex, maybe Jim Furyk can finally pass that clown suit to someone else.