By Larry Fine
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) – Players have come to know Quail Hollow during its years of hosting the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship, but given its recent makeover players were not exactly sure how it will play at this week’s PGA Championship.
“Who knows?” William McGirt told Reuters when asked for a probable winning score after walking off the ninth green. “It could be six-under or it could be 18-under. No one knows.”
Three refashioned holes on the front side add teeth to that nine, rough has grown in to punish errant drives and a change of grass on the greens has raised the speeds to hazardous levels.
Under the relaxed policy of the PGA of America, players were able to practice while wearing shorts, adding a casual air about Monday’s preparations.
But the 156-player field were seriously taking stock ahead of the year’s last major starting on Thursday.
“The biggest change we’ve seen is the change in the greens,” double major winner Zach Johnson told Reuters.
“Going from the bent to the bermuda is a substantial change and requires you to be really, really careful on your approach shots with the run-up and the release.”
James Hahn put on a short-game clinic at the ninth, pitching from short of the green to two feet past the cup to applause from the fans ringing the putting surface.
Despite hitting such a sweet shot, he dropped another ball and took dead aim again, this time flipping the ball up to within one foot on its way to the cup earning a louder cheer.
But Hahn said the greens could be unfair when hitting from farther out in the fairway, noting that he and practice partner Vijay Singh both hit approaches that landed six feet from a cup with drastically different results.
“Mine stopped and Vijay’s ran off about 30 feet,” said Hahn. “I think that some good shots will not be rewarded.”
Johnson agreed, but added: “I have one word to say and that’s — ‘golf’. It’s a four-letter word.”
McGirt said the rough could be a deciding factor, especially if it rains all week as has been forecast.
“This rough is the great equalizer because you’re going to get some balls that you can barely advance and some balls that will fly forever,” he said.
“We’ve never played this golf course with actual rough … there hasn’t been a ton of it.”
McGirt said it can get fiendish when wet.
“It’s gonna get squishy. It’s already getting nasty on a couple of holes out there, really nasty. I had one on five. I hit a seven-iron as hard as I could and it went about 80 yards.”
Despite that, McGirt expects some sizzling scores.
“The golf course is pretty receptive right now, so I’d expect fairly low scores.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Andrew Both)