The PGA Tour jumps from New Orleans to Charlotte this week for one of the great annual events on the rota, the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. This tournament, and more specifically the course, consistently draws a loaded field and usually sets up a solid leaderboard for some Sunday drama. And it comes at just the right time for the PGA Tour, which, aside from Tiger Woods' notable absence, has slogged through a series of underwhelming events and unknown first-time winners for much of this season.
Quail Hollow is a long, demanding course that is annually rated among the tour pros' favorites when they're polled. That's what made last year, when many of the course's greens were badly beat up and looked bare at the start of the week, so shocking. Last year some putting surfaces were sodded just before the start of the tournament, and it sounds like we'll be seeing a little more of that green spray paint applied next week at TPC Sawgrass, which has lost some of its greens this year. But last year's ugliness was the end of the road for those greens, as Quail Hollow always intended to replace them after the tournament concluded and everything appears to be in fine shape for this year's run.
The greens are not the only new things the players will face at Quail Hollow this year, as some of the holes, particularly on the difficult closing stretch, were re-done by architect Tom Fazio. The changes getting most of the publicity are at Nos. 16 and 17, a major chunk of the "Green Mile" finishing stretch. But as the club prepares to host its first major, the 2017 PGA Championship, both subtle and not-so-subtle changes were applied throughout the course. Fazio was out on the grounds during a practice round this week, and Phil Mickelson, who's never shy about critiquing a course, pulled him inside the ropes to discuss the redesign and offer his praise. Stephen Hennessey of Golf Digest caught some of Phil's unreserved applause for the work Fazio had done on what was already considered a great course.
"This is perfect. I'm having such an enjoyable time playing this," Mickelson told Fazio as Lefty waited to tee off. "This has become in my mind one of the best courses I've ever played. The beauty is in its simplicity."
The new greens should be much firmer and test the players, especially if the wind is up. We saw the massacre at Doral when the players tried to adjust to some newly-planted and firm greens that had yet to really settle, but it's hard to see it getting that out of hand this week in Charlotte.
So the course should be close to perfect, and the field is strong. It's a huge opportunity for the Tour to build some momentum heading into next week's Players Championship, which they aggressively work to position as the season's fifth major. Mickelson and Rory McIlroy will headline things, making their first appearance since their disappointing showings at the Masters two weeks ago.
This week also marks the return of PGATour.com's streaming service, which had been on hiatus since the Florida swing. If you're unable to watch Thursday on TV, there will be the usual Golf Channel simulcast stream of that coverage up and running online. Mickelson, who tees off with Justin Rose and Lee Westwood at 1:25 p.m. ET, should be the focus of tha afternoon TV coverage. But starting early in the morning, there will be a PGATour.com "featured holes" stream available. The all-new 17th and Quail Hollow's 10th are the two holes that will be featured throughout the week, starting Thursday at 8 a.m. ET. A featured group stream will be added for the weekend. Here are all your media options for the opening round of the Wells Fargo Championship:
Thursday's first round coverage
3 to 7 p.m. -- Golf Channel
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- PGATour.com featured holes stream (Nos. 10, 17)
3 to 7 p.m. -- Golf Channel simulcast stream
1 to 7 p.m. -- PGA Tour Radio on Sirius-XM (Ch. 93/208)