The PGA Tour travels to Quail Hollow Club for the Wells Fargo Championship this week. Back to its true home after a single year sojourn to Eagle Point Golf Club in 2017, the Wells Fargo Championship is always a highlight on the PGA Tour calendar. One of the biggest PGA Tour ‘domestic’ tournaments of the year, the Wells Fargo finds itself in a difficult schedule position these days, so it’s fantastic to see a strong attendance in North Carolina 2 weeks before the PGA Championship. A field that boasts Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia says everything about Quail Hollow and the high regard the course is held in. It’s the perfect warm-up for the second Major of 2019 in 2 weeks at Bethpage Black.
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Course Guide: The Wells Fargo Championship is now back at its spiritual home at Quail Hollow. After its 2016 Tom Fazio re-design prior to the 2017 PGA Championship, the basic layout of Quail Hollow has changed from a scoreable Par 72 to a toughened Par 71 format, with the front of the golf course substantially ‘beefed-up’. Effectively though the course, despite only being built by George Cobb in 1961, is very much a classical golf course which has always received excellent reviews from the world’s best players.
From a detail perspective, it’s important to note that a significant part of the re-design saw the greens changed from MiniVerde Bermudagrass to Champion Bermudagrass – they are also overseeded with Poa Trivialis for the Wells Fargo. Similar Champion Bermudagrass greens can be found across PGA Tour stop-offs at Sedgefield Country Club (Wyndham Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St Jude Classic), the Country Club of Jackson (Sandersons Farms Championship) and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (Barbasol Championship 2015 through 2017). The 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Cub and won by Keegan Bradley also featured Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces.
Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, North Carolina: Designer: George Cobb with 2013 & 2016 Tom Fazio re-design; Course Type: Classical; Par: 71; Length: 7,554 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 4; Fairways 419 Bermudagrass; Rough: 419 Bermudagrass overseeded with Perennial Ryegrass 2”; Greens: 6,578 sq.ft average featuring Champion Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 12.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.84 (-0.16), Difficulty Rank 25 of 49 courses. 2013: 73.04 (+1.04), Difficulty Rank 10 of 43 courses. 2014: 72.55 (+0.55), Rank 13 of 48 courses. 2015: 71.92 (-0.08), Difficulty Rank of 20 of 52 courses. 2016: 72.95 (+0.95), Rank 9 of 50 courses. 2017: PGA Championship 73.47 (+2.47), Rank 1 of 50 courses. 2018: 72.13 (+1.13), Rank 5 of 51 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Quail Hollow and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
- Quail Hollow: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:32; 300:31; 325:30; 350:29.
- Harbour Town: 250 yards from tee: 31 yards wide; 275:25; 300:20; 325:26; 350:22.
- Oaks Course: 250 yards from tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:29; 325:27; 350:26.
- Copperhead: 250 yards from the tee: 24 yards wide; 275:20; 300:21; 325:23 350:19.
- TPC Sawgrass: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:33; 300:32; 325:29 350:20.
- Bay Hill: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:34; 300:34; 325:39 350:29.
- PGA National: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:26 350:25.
- Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:29; 300:25; 325:27 350:27.
- Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 41 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:34 350:30.
- TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:30; 300:29; 325:29 350:29.
- Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:25 350:23.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:
- Atunyote GC – Turning Stone Championship 2007-10
- Corales GC – Corales Championship 2018 onwards
- Eagle Point – Wells Fargo Championship 2017
- Raptor Course Greyhawk GC – Fry’s.com Open 2008/09
Fazio has also had re-design input into:
- Conway Farms GC- BMW Championship 2013, 2015 & 2017.
- Seaside Course at Sea Island – RSM Classic
- Riviera Country Club – Genesis Open 2009 onwards
Course Overview: Quail Hollow is very much a classical golf course with Carolina connotations. When I say Carolina think Pinehurst Number 2, Harbour Town Golf Links, Sedgefield and even the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook which despite being in Florida has the feel of a Carolina golf course – so traditionally tree-lined, with narrow sight lines from the tee and plenty of dog-legs. Quail Hollow will play to 7,554 yards from its tips this week and that’s an incredibly long Par 71. Purely from a PGA Tour perspective, only Bethpage Black (2016 Barclays) and the Blue Course at Congressional (AT&T National 2012-14 & Quicken Loans National 2016) have played anywhere near this length in modern times.
After James Hahn won the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, Tom Fazio-inspired work started on the course with a 90-day window allowing significant changes to the very start of the front 9. The 1st this week is now a 495 yard dog-leg right par-4, which was previously a sub-420 yard birdie opportunity. The 178 yard par-3 2nd hole is no more (it’s been used to lengthen the 1st) and a new 167 yard par-3, namely the 4th hole, has been built to replace it. As a consequence the 5th has now been shortened from a 570 yard par-5 to a 450 yard par-4. A 100% new green complex has also been built at the 11th and the par-4 has been lengthened by 35 yards, which now plays 462 yards.
Below I’ve listed the par-3, par-4 and par-5 scoring splits of both Jason Day and Justin Thomas who have won at Quail since the re-design:
- Jason Day: Even (par-3), -3 (par-4), -9 (par-5), total -12/272.
- Justin Thomas: +1 (par-3), -2 (par-4), -7 (par-5), total -8/276.
And here’s the breakdown of Wells Fargo Championship winners here since 2014 when the course received its first Tom Fazio re-design and Bermudagrass greens:
- James Hahn: +5 (par-3), -5 (par-4), -9 (par-5), total -9/279.
- Rory McIlroy: +3, -11, -13, total -21/267. (McIlroy won by 7 shots)
- B. Holmes: -2, -2, -10, total -14/274.
The key to winning at Quail Hollow has always been to score heavily on the par-5s and play the other holes at around -2 to -4 or slightly better. So to contend this week a player will need to master the 7th, 10th and 15th holes. From the par-5s onwards the course naturally gets tougher. It’s worth pointing out that the course for the Wells Fargo plays slightly shorter than it did for the 2017 PGA Championship, with 46 yards having been knocked off the scorecard, so Quail Hollow will play as a 7,554 yard, Par 71 for the tournament this week.
Winners inc 2017 PGA Championship: 2018: Jason Day (-12); 2017: Justin Thomas (-8); 2016: James Hahn (-9); 2015: Rory McIlroy (-21); 2014: J.B. Holmes (-14); 2013: Derek Ernst (-8); 2012: Rickie Fowler (-14); 2011: Lucas Glover (-15); 2010: Rory McIlroy (-15).
Tournament Stats: We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that are well worth a look. Naturally they’ll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes | Combined Stats.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Tony Finau, Jason Kokrak, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Jhonattan Vegas.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Honda Classic / Oman Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) David Hearn; 2) Josh Teater; 3) Henrik Stenson; 4) Paul Casey / Chez Reavie; 6) Ryan Armour; 7) Jim Herman / Whee Kim; 9) Kyle Stanley / Vaughn Taylor; 11) Keegan Bradley / Tyler Duncan / Scott Langley / Michael Thompson; 15) Carlos Ortiz / Rory Sabbatini/ Brady Schnell; 18) Webb Simpson; 19) Daniel Berger; 20) Kramer Hickok.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Henrik Stenson; 3) Jason Day / Jason Kokrak; 5) Sepp Straka / Aaron Wise; 7) Keegan Bradley; 8) Hank Lebioda; 9) Jhonattan Vegas; 10) Josh Teater; 11) Rickie Fowler; 12) Byeong-Hun An; 13) Alex Prugh; 14) Jonas Blixt / Sergio Garcia / Lucas Glover / Hideki Matsuyama / Brendan Steele; 19) Cameron Tringale; 20) Jonathan Byrd / Joel Dahmen / Martin Laird / Trey Mullinax / John Senden / Ben Silverman.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Phil Mickelson; 3) Tony Finau; 4) Curtis Luck; 5) Justin Rose; 6) Jason Day; 7) Dominic Bozzelli / Rickie Fowler / Padraig Harrington / Chez Reavie; 11) Julian Etulain; 12) Vaughn Taylor; 13) Peter Malnati; 14) Patrick Reed; 15) Wyndham Clark; 16) Michael Thompson; 17) Hideki Matsuyama / Keith Mitchell; 19) Gary Woodland; 20) Matt Jones.
Winners & Prices: 2018: Day 20/1; 2017: Harman 80/1; 2016: Hahn 500/1; 2015: Rory McIlroy 7/2; 2014: Holmes 66/1; 2013: Ernst 500/1; 2012: Fowler 50/1; 2011: Glover 110/1; 2010: McIlroy 66/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 134/1; Overall Average: 155/1.
- 2018: Thursday: Sunny with a high of 86. Wind SW 6-12 mph. Friday: Sunny with a high of 87. Wind SSW 10-18 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 83. Wind S 6-12 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 84. Wind WNW 12-22 mph.
- 2017: Played at Eagle Point.
- 2016: Thursday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 63. Wind NW at 10-15 with gusts up to 25 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 63 degrees. Wind NW at 15-25 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 78 degrees. Wind WSW at 10-15 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 85 degrees. Wind W at 10-15 mph.
- 2015: Thursday: Sunny, with a high of 79 degrees. Winds variable 6-12 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 79 degrees. Winds variable 6-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 85 degrees. Winds S/SW 7-12 mph. Sunday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 86 degrees. Winds SW 6-12 mph.
Weather Forecast: Latest weather forecast for Charlotte, North Carolina, is here. Relatively calm and pleasant conditions will greet the players in Charlotte this week. Light winds and warm conditions with no risk of rain should show off Quail Hollow at its best. Expect firm conditions both on the fairways and the greens.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 2 winners here since the course re-design was introduced in 2017 which gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this:
- 2018, Jason Day (-12). 326 yards (14th), 48.2% fairways (49th), 56.9% greens in regulation (69th), 44’2″ proximity to hole (58th), 77.4 % scrambling (2nd), 1.59 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2017, Justin Thomas (-8). 328 yards (1st), 50.0% fairways (62nd), 62.5% greens in regulation (17th), 42’4″ proximity to hole (29th), 55.6 % scrambling (30th), 1.60 putts per GIR (2nd).
Tournament Skill Average:
- Driving Distance: 8th, Driving Accuracy: 56th, Greens in Regulation: 43rd, Proximity to Hole: 44th, Scrambling: 16th, Putting Average 2nd.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
- 2018, Jason Day (-12). SG Off the Tee: 19th, SG Approach: 50th, SG Around the Green: 1st, SG Tee to Green: 9th, SG Putting: 2nd.
- 2017, Justin Thomas (-8). SG Off the Tee: 23rd, SG Approach: 15th, SG Around the Green: 22nd, SG Tee to Green: 11th, SG Putting: 4th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:
- SG Off the Tee: 21st, SG Approach: 33rd, SG Around the Green: 12th, SG Tee to Green: 10th, SG Putting: 3rd.
Let’s take a view from players as to how Quail Hollow sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Jason Day (2018): “ Yeah, obviously we had Bermudagrass last August at the PGA, and this is, I think, definitely an easier grass to play on (overseeded with Poa Trivialis). I think Bermuda, coming out of the rough, you have more chances of having big flyers. The biggest thing is there were a couple times when I was in the rough and I really catch a flyer, and you know that when you’re in Bermudagrass, you’ve got to catch it. And if you’re in the rough and you’re trying to land it on these greens, which are bouncing five to 10 paces with a wedge, that makes it difficult to hold greens. I think this is definitely an easier grass, but also still playing difficult because it’s obviously the scores reflect how the course is.
Yeah, I know that I’ve had some decent finishes here, but the PGA definitely kind of tipped it over the edge. I know that I can play well here because of how difficult the golf course is. When I realized last week, you know, we’re coming into a week like this where it’s 80 to 85 degrees, hot. They had some good rain the week prior to that, the course is going to be in perfect condition how the grass has come in. You’ve just got to come out and try and get yourself — plot yourself around the golf course. For me, I’m able to take some advantage with my driving. And it was good to be able to come to a golf course like this where I know it’s very difficult. I think everyone else is obviously having a tough time with it, too. It’s a major championship golf course so you’ve got to come out and be patient with yourself and take your chances when you get them.”
Justin Thomas (2017): “Yesterday I was playing really well, hitting great shots. When you have 4, 5, 6-irons in your hand, you need to be defensive. For the most part, I had some not aggressive but more aggressive than normal lines just because I felt good about my golf swing and what I was doing with my ball. If I have a longer club in my hand, I’m just trying to get it on the green and get out with a par and move on.
Any time you can get softer conditions, the golf course is going to be easier. Doesn’t matter what course it is. I mean, look at years at Augusta, the scores have been really low. I know there’s SubAir and they can get them firmer, but at the end of the day, when there’s no rain and the greens are really firm, it’s really difficult. And when the greens are softer, we’re pretty good at golf. So it’s a lot easier when the ball isn’t going to go as far as when it lands because we feel like we have more control over it. When you get as tough of greens and around the greens as it is out here, softness is going to allow us to hit more greens and get it closer to where we want. I would say that had pretty much all to do with it.”
Jimmy Walker: “We’re used to playing it with rye grass everywhere. It has a potential, with the pure Bermudagrass layout, to play really firm and really fast. That’s when golf gets really hard, when you start losing control of the golf ball. Bermuda rough tends to fly a lot, or it could come out where you get some horrendous lies. Guys are going to have to deal with that: ‘Am I going to get the big jumper?’ Or ‘Will I get the really soft shot that comes out?’ “Even around the greens, Bermuda rough is very hard to chip out of. The greens ought to be fast, and that’s the biggest variable, I would think.
I thought the new holes were great. The 1st has got a beautiful look to it. It’s reminiscent of the original tee shot and it opens up nice down there to the right, and the green, you can see the entire green. I love being able to see kind of where you’re going. All the new green complexes are very nice. They are not too tricky. They have got a lot of flat spots. They have got some movement in them but they have got flat spots where you like to put the pins and there’s plenty of room. Just I thought it looked really good. It’s going to be fun playing with all Bermuda. It will be a completely different test.”
Rory McIlroy: “The changes are good. It definitely makes the start of the golf course more challenging. The first hole, now instead of it being 3 wood and a wedge, it’s a driver and a good mid iron. I think you won’t really see guys getting off to the hot starts that they used to. You see guys maybe, especially those first six holes, you’d see guys 3 or 4 under par. I don’t think that’s going to happen now. And then the rest of the golf course is pretty much the same. Obviously they have lengthened 11 a little bit. But what they have done on 16, 17 and 18 over the years has stayed pretty much the same. I like the changes. I mean, I obviously like the golf course the way it was before. My record around there is pretty good. I fancy my chances around there. But it’s always been, I guess, a modern player’s golf course. You’ve got to, if you can drive it a long way, there’s an advantage there, especially coming in with the driveable par-4, 14th and in; the par-5 15 and the long holes coming in. So yeah, I think people will really enjoy it this year. It’s a great venue for a tournament and it will be a great venue for a Major, as well.”
Path to Victory: Below are the end-of-round positions for the last 9 Wells Fargo winners:
- 2018 – Jason Day: Round 1: 17th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
- 2017 – Brian Harman: Round 1: 31st, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 4th.
- 2016 – James Hahn: Round 1: 17th, Round 2: 13th, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2015 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 30th, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 1st.
- 2014 – J.B. Holmes: Round 1: 16th, Round 2: 4th, Round 3: 1st.
- 2013 – Derek Ernst: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 4th.
- 2012 – Rickie Fowler: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 13th, Round 3: 6th.
- 2011 – Lucas Glover: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 4th, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2010 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 44th, Round 2: 48th; Round 3: 7th.
Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 9 Quail Hollow winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:
- 2018 – Jason Day: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 ahead.
- 2017 – Brian Harman: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 2 back.
- 2016 – James Hahn: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: 2 back.
- 2015 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 4 ahead.
- 2014 – J.B. Holmes: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
- 2013 – Derek Ernst: Round 1: Level, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 2 back.
- 2012 – Rickie Fowler: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 3 back.
- 2011 – Lucas Glover: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 back.
- 2010 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 7 back, Round 2: 9 back, Round 3: 4 back.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Jason Day: 34th New Orleans/20th Augusta/36th World MP/22nd Bay Hill.
- Brian Harman: 14th New Orleans /9th Heritage/MC Houston/13th Bay Hill.
- James Hahn: MC New Orleans/MC San Antonio/MC Heritage/MC Houston.
- Rory McIlroy: 8th Sawgrass/1st World MP/4th Augusta/11th Bay Hill.
- B. Holmes: 11th New Orleans/18th Heritage/12th Houston/64th San Antonio.
- Derek Ernst: 47th New Orleans/MC San Antonio/MC Louisiana Open/MC Puerto.
- Rickie Fowler: 10th New Orleans/MC Heritage/27th Masters/63rd Houston.
- Lucas Glover: MC Heritage/MC Augusta/MC Houston/20th Copperhead.
- Rory McIlroy: MC Masters/MC Houston/65th Doral/40th PGA National.
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2018. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
- 2018 – Peterson – PM -6/65 – 250/1.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 4 – Jason Day, Bill Haas, Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed.
- 3 – Ernie Els, Billy Horschel, Henrik Stenson.
- 2 – Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Jason Dufner, Matt Every, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Jimmy Walker.
- 1 – Ryan Armour, Jonas Blixt, Jonathan Byrd, Cameron Champ, Harris English, Cody Gribble, Adam Hadwin, Padraig Harrington, J.B. Holmes, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Martin Laird, Adam Long, Will MacKenzie, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Pat Perez, Rory Sabbatini, John Senden, Webb Simpson, Scott Stallings, Robert Streb, Kevin Streelman, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Jhonattan Vegas, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney, Aaron Wise, Gary Woodland.
Quail Hollow used to reward attacking golf. Birdie or better hole conversion rates across 2010-15 were 35%, 32%, 32%, 25%, 32% and 38% respectively. The outlying 25% number was in 2013 when poor green conditions, combined with plenty of wind, turned the tournament into more of a grind. But the PGA of America demanded that the course be toughened for the 2017 PGA Championship, so Tom Fazio set to stiffening the test and undoubtedly his work has been successful. Jason Day’s triumph 12 months ago came with a birdie or better hole conversion rate of 25%. So now we are dealing with a very long golf course, with only 12 looks at par-5s. With a full SubAir system available as well, tournament organisers can make conditions as firm as they want.
With little wind, but a firm golf course expected, we should see a stretching enough, mid-score (circa -12/-14) kind of test which will be all about making plenty of birdies on the shorter par-4s and the par-5s as bogeys really are unavoidable elsewhere. For me it’s all about powerful, high approach golf at the end of the day, similar to the skill sets required at Augusta. Hardly surprising therefore to see the amazing tournament records of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson plus other strong classical golf course players like Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and J.B. Holmes topping leaderboards.
My selections are as follows: