We’re trying something new this week and breaking the weekly preview into two parts. The first part will set the stage for the week with info on the course, vibe, and last year’s event. The second part will feature the particulars of this year’s event, a lineup of tasty fantasy tidbits and gambling odds, and the random riffs that we so love.
The Wells Fargo Championship has earned its place among the elite group of non-major, non-WGC events with the likes of the Memorial Tournament, the Honda Classic, The Players, the Northern Trust, and The Colonial. A great course (2017 PGA Championship coming up here) and a great field looking to find form before The Players have me truly excited for a PGA Tour event for maybe the sixth time this year (which is scary considering we’re halfway through). The longest lull between same-season majors is the eight week stretch between the Masters and the U.S. Open. Thankfully, three of those aforementioned five marquee non-majors take place during this stretch.
Quail Hollow Club
Big boy track! I was surprised to see Quail Hollow come in at number 14 on Golf Digest’s player survey of the best courses on Tour, as the praise seems to be consistently strong for this 1959 George Cobb design (plays as a 7,400+ yard, par-72). It’s interesting to note the Kemper Open was held here from 1969 to 1979 (always thought that was a purely D.C. area event), and Tom Weiskopf shut it down, winning three of those years. After that, it’s like everyone just forgot about Quail Hollow for 20 years. Tom Fazio did a redesign in 1997, and the tour came back around in 2003, with David Toms winning by two strokes after making a four putt QUAD (!) on the last hole. After that, I was hooked, along with the rest of the tour’s elite. Since then, the stable of winners includes Big Cat, Rory McIlroy (who closed with a course record, 62, in 2010), Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, and Anthony Kim (RIP).
Tour pros will complain about anything, but the uproar surrounding the greens last year was appropriate. By Tour standards, it’s the equivalent to having a felony on your record. You can put together great tournament after great tournament, year after year, and yet one big mistake can tarnish the entire image of a tournament. For a reminder, take a look at the picture Colt Knost posted to instagram a year ago:
A photo posted by Colt Knost (@coltknost) on Apr 30, 2013 at 12:31pm PDT
It was the story of the entire week, but Phil Mickelson (in true Mickelsonian fashion) went to bat for the grounds crew at Quail Hollow:
“The greens are fine. The thing about this tournament is that 10 years ago when they started here it went from no tournament here in Charlotte to one of the best tournaments we have on Tour, and this tournament is really what propelled other tournaments to step up, to do all the little things well to just make your tournament even better. They should get a pass. They should be cut a little bit of slack because they’ve done so much for us.”
Mickelson’s comments are particularly curious, as just three years prior he had BLASTED Quail Hollow for having the worst designed greens on Tour, despite being marvelous tee to green. No doubt Mickelson saw last year as a ripe opportunity to make it up to tournament organizers (and financiers).
Since last year’s event, the course has undergone a $6.5 million dollar renovation to Ernst-Proof this historic track in anticipation of hosting the aforementioned 2017 PGA Championship. The 16th hole has been drastically changed in the renovation, as they moved the green 80 yards to the left, and it now sits on the lake. Part of the rationale was to include new seating and merchandise tents along the hole – that’s some next level corporate shit! Here’s a great summary of the changes in one picture:
To say a few things have changed @wellsfargogolf would be an understatement. Check out the NEW hole 16 #pgatour pic.twitter.com/sTA27LRyqU
— PGA TOUR ShotLink (@ShotLink) April 28, 2014
It’s now a demanding, 500+ yard, dogleg par-4, which leads into the also-renovated 17th hole. The tee on this par-3 was stretched to 220 yards, and the new tee sits where the old 16th green used to. Finally, the 18th is a 490+ yard par-4, up the hill, to a green guarded by water.
Unfortunately, the renovations left the gimmicky “Green Mile” nickname to the finishing stretch of #16-#17-#18 untouched. In our opinion, if you’ve got a great track (and they do), let the course stand on its own. There’s no need to apply hokie handles. Frankly, we’re to the point of over-saturation on Tour in this regard. Nothing will ever top the name “Amen Corner,” which was bestowed independently by Herbert Warren Wind, so let’s please stop trying.
Charlotte straddles the NC/SC line and is the biggest city in North Carolina, with its population nearly doubling over the last twenty years. Described as the other banking capital of the U.S. (behind New York, of course), the Queen City plays home to Bank of America, and was the former home of Wachovia before the hostile takeover acquisition by Wells Fargo in 2008 (and serves as it’s east coast base). Aside from that, Charlotte is a strong sports hub, real deep in the NASCAR game, in love with Scam Newton, Riverboat Ron, and the Carolina Panthers, and like the rest of us, trying ardently to pretend the NBA’s Bobcats/Hornets don’t exist. Based upon my limited experience in Charlotte (3 to 4 visits), I’d liken it to pre-1996 Olympics version of Atlanta. It’s a growing Southern metropolis with tons of transplants from elsewhere, but somehow the area’s held onto more of the genteel Southern-ness that Atlanta’s lost, and is still relatively parochial.
In keeping with that vibe, I’d expect the scene out at Quail Hollow to be really corporate, with the banking crowd taking center stage, but of course some frat-stars will be making their presence felt. Generally, this event feels really country club-ish (for better or worse). None of us at NLU have been to this event, though, so we really don’t have a whole lot of insider info on the scene. We do know it makes too much sense to have an event here – affluent area, ton of cash flow, great course, and unreal weather this time of year (although it looks stormy this week). Let’s get it on!
(*Takes a deep breath*)
It’s Derek Ernst’s world, and we’re all just living in it. It’s been a full year since Ernst triumphed over a world class field (and stout leaderboard) before taking the PGA Tour by storm in one of the most unlikely wins in recent Tour memory (if I wasn’t terrified at what I would find, I may actually research that statement a bit and provide specifics).
As noted above, what happened a year ago was a complete and utter paranormal event by PGA Tour standards. We’re all about guys that grind their way through the ranks and finally get their big break. The current system makes it really easy to keep your PGA Tour card, but really hard to initially earn it. Derek Ernst was ranked 1,207th in the world (the list of guys who have won an event with a comma in their world ranking has to be a small one), and was the fourth alternate (!!!) for the Wells Fargo a year ago. Ironically, he nabbed a spot thanks to several guys dropping out due to the greens fiasco.
Mickelson hemorrhaged oil down the stretch, bogeying two of his final three holes to miss a playoff by one, and setting up a duel between David Lynn and Ernst, who parred the first hole to snatch the most unlikely victory. Since the win, Ernst’s Cinderalla-storyline has him turned back into more of a pumpkin, as he’s missed 19 cuts in the 29 events he’s played. His best finish since then is 30th at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (DFL).
Click here for Part II of our preview of the Wells Fargo Championship, which features our picks for the week (we’re trying to bounce back from our deplorable Heritage and Zurich showings), as well as riffing on topics, both pertinent and tangential, like why Brooks Koepka is not in the field this week.