2017 PGA Championship
Four holes to watch at Quail Hollow Club
by M. James Ward
The final major golf championship starts Thursday at a site well known to most players in the field – Quail Hollow Club. The 99th PGA Championship will, however, be contested on a layout since changed from the last time the world's best players competed at the 2016 Wells Fargo event – the annual PGA Tour stop.
The original George Cobb layout has been altered over the last 15 years by the work of acclaimed architect Tom Fazio and his design team. For the 2017 PGA Championship several holes were modified adding additional challenges and strategies. Four specific holes bear watching, as they will likely play a major role in determining which player hoists the famed Wannamaker Trophy as champion.
*Architect Tom Fazio adds his comments (italic) following the hole description.
7th hole / 546 yards / Par-5
This is the shortest par 5 on the course and most of the players will reach the green in two, making eagle opportunities a real possibility. It is a tight driving hole and tee shots must navigate bunkers on the left, plus a creek that runs down the entire right side. The sloped green is tucked behind water and surrounded by bunkers, making this hole a harder endeavor than it first appears.
Play commences from an elevated tee dropping down about 20 feet to a lower fairway. Long drives are common. Players in the fairway able to miss the bunkers left and creek on the right should be within range to reach the green on their second shot. Spectators will see the most birdies and eagles especially if the pin is in the lower level where balls can feed. The hazard that exists to the right of the entire hole does cut in front of the green and protects the far front right pin placement from longer attempts from getting real close. A bunker is placed in front middle of an area that is used to feed the ball into a bowl. With the strong contour of this par-5 green, shots from the bunker left are challenging in attempting to get the ball close to a few of the upper level pin locations.
14th Hole / 344 Yards / Par-4
Hazards abound on this harsh, hilly par-4 where bunkers protrude into the landing area on both sides of the fairway. Players must aim at a long, narrow green while avoiding six bunkers and water all the way down the left side. There are multiple options – from driving the green to laying back with a long iron – but whatever players choose, the range of scoring opportunities will certainly be present.
Plays anywhere from 345 yards. to about 300 yards. Those attempting to drive the green need to avoid water to the left of the green. There's ample room right taking the water out of play. A strong slope can propel a ball down toward the front of the green. A bunker front left saves any tee shot from rolling into the water and should make it more appetizing for players to go for it. Balls resting anywhere along the left side of the fairway or near the front of the green have taken water out of play on their next shot and are in a pretty good position to make birdie of you can navigate the 50 yard long and softly crowned green.
However, if the drive misses slightly right of that, the second of a 2 bunker complex may prove to be one of the scariest short shots to play. The green is narrow with the lake over the putting surface and a bunker right that can push players towards the water as well. A layup straight away from the tee would be played about 20-30 yards right of a line directly at the green. The first bunker of the complex lays at the end of this layup area at about 270 yards from the tee while another guards the left side of the fairway short at 230 yards. Players will need to dial in the distance control or find one's ball in the water. A couple of areas that fold down toward the lake strengthen pin placements adjacent to the folds or add complexity to long puts rolling through these sloped areas.
17th Hole / 223 Yards / Par-3
The green is nearly an island, forcing a carry of roughly 195 yards, but it can play much shorter if one of the forward teeing grounds is used. With a variety of hole locations it can be a very dangerous hole -- where bogeys or worse can outnumber the number of birdies made. In 2013 the tees on this hole were relocated to the site of the old 16th green.
The predominant wind comes from the right -- pushing balls towards the water. A ridge about 1/3 of the way into the green forms a slope towards the tee that allows a ball to stop fairly close to its landing point. A by-product of the ridge also makes a portion of the green slope towards the back forming a valley before it gets to the upslope in the rear third of the green. This makes middle pin locations tough to get near. Playing right to avoid the water may leave you in a low bowled area in a piece of fairway or rough making a challenging chipping exercise to get up and down for par. It is possible a shorter tee will be used for a front left pin.
18th / 494 Yards / Par-4
Last of a three-hole stretch dubbed “The Green Mile” and consistently rated one of the toughest finishing holes in golf. On the tee shot, players must avoid a bunker right, as well as a creek meandering along the entire left side of the narrow fairway. An uphill second shot must avoid hazards on both sides of the green, which is deep and sloped. If a player must birdie this hole to win the Championship, he will definitely have his hands full.
This par-4 has a slight right to left angle with a bunker 290 yards on the right and a creek along the left side of the fairway and green. The predominant wind is generally from the left. Since the tee shot requires a slight draw for a right handed player, wind can push the ball flight straight bringing the bunker and trees into play on that side. Because of the slight angle of the fairway the players still need to find the perfect carry point of the creek for their chosen angle, carry distance and curvature. Should the player choose to play away from the creek from the tee, the approach shot from the bunker from 200 yards will have a line that the ball flight can easily be traveling toward the creek left on its way to the green. Balls in the trees will have a narrow fairway to lay into for the last 100 yards. Two bunkers right of the green deter a total bail out. Although bunker shots at times are easily handled by elite players, the green slopes away and hitting a shot near the hole to pins along the creek will be very difficult. With a slight false front the front left pin is well protected with the creek beyond.
Images courtesy of Quail Hollow Club