The fourth and final Major Championship of the year has the added hype of Jordan Spieth attempting to complete his career grand slam at the age of 24. If Spieth can accomplish this task, he’ll have completed his career grand slam six months younger than Tiger Woods, and about an entire year younger than Jack Nicklaus. There will be 153 men faced with the task of stopping Spieth from making history. That list includes the rest of the Top 50 golfers in the world, a long list of qualifying Tour Pros and a handful who were specially invited. Oh, and don’t forget 20 of the best PGA pros in the nation who realistically have no chance, but hey…they made it to the PGA Championship, so they’re playing with house money.
The final major of 2017 will be played at the familiar Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Quail Hollow has been a regular host on the PGA Tour, hosting the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003 excluding this year, so players will be very familiar with the layout of the course. However, after the conclusion of the Wells Fargo Championship in 2016, the course was renovated, so it will have a slightly different look and feel.
For starters, the greens were resurfaced from miniverde bermuda to championship bermuda. From what I understand, the contours of the greens will remain the same (with the exception of the 11th hole, which has a brand new green), so players who have putted well at Quail Hollow should still be confident on the greens. The bunkers have been redone with all the traps being replaced with the same type that is sand that is used at Augusta National. The opening few holes provide the biggest differences from the last time the Tour stopped in Charlotte. The opening two holes have been combined into a mega-par-four dogleg measuring out to 524 yards. The old third and fourth hole are now playing as the second and third hole. The par 3 fourth hole is a newly created 184-yard par 3, and the fifth hole is a new 449 yard par 4. So that’s a total of three brand new holes on the golf course, and one hole (the 11th) with the same layout, but a brand new green providing for some extra length.
Despite all of the changes, ultimately, they are still playing the same golf course. Golfers who have played well at Quail Hollow will still have 14 or so holes of course knowledge, so picking a few course horses is a good idea. If you look at the list of winners at Quail Hollow since 2003, you’ll have some pretty solid choices to choose from, most notably Rory McIlroy. Don’t just limit it to winners, though, look over the last five or six years and you will find some of the same names popping up in the Top 10 over and over again.
The new Quail Hollow layout measures out to a 7,600-yard par 71 track. So really, you’re looking at a course that plays just as long if not longer than the 7,800-yard (Par 72) U.S Open at Erin Hills earlier this summer. The difference between Erin Hills and Quail Hollow is that players may actually run into trouble off the tee. Erin Hills’ mile-wide fairways turned the waist-high fescue into just a backdrop. The front nine at Quail Hollow sees water only once. However, over the final five holes, water will come into play. So, when it’s time to man-up and hit clutch shots, players will need to rely on their ball-striking under pressure. Strokes gained: off-the-tee could make or break players’ chances at this year’s final major.
Driving Distance is also going to ‘go a long way’ this week. You can argue that Quail Hollow actually plays longer than Erin Hills did. Anyone who’s played golf around the nation knows that the conditions of different regions make course lengths play differently. Erin Hills is a links-style course, which generally have firmer fairways that will roll out more. Quail Hollow is not a links-style course, and generally the Southeastern part of the United States has some of the softest fairways; balls can pick up water, get heavier, and thus travel less. Zach Johnson could legitimately be hitting 250 yards into the first hole all week. So clearly, distance and ball-striking on this course will be key.
Quail Hollow’s distance comes on the par 4s and par 3s. The average par 3 this week is 217 yards, and nine of the par 4s are playing 449 yards or longer. This makes strokes gained: approach and par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards critical this week. This course is all beefed up and ready to fight. Four of the par 4s play over 490 yards! Those are par 5s for regular people. These guys are essentially playing a Par 75 course. In order to conquer a course like this, the mid-long irons have got to be working.
As I mentioned, the final stretch will provide plenty of drama with water coming into play on the last five holes. With hazards looming, the difference between choking down the stretch and calmly smashing a drive down the middle of the 16th hole (water runs all along the left side) could come down to major experience. When it comes down to the final few holes in a major the game completely changes. Players who have been there before, whether on the winner’s circle, or even ones who’ve played meaningful final holes in a major, will have a leg up on those who’ve never been there before.
2017 PGA Championship Key Stats
Strokes gained: Approach
Strokes gained: Off-the-tee
Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards
Quail Hollow History
Draftkings 2017 PGA Championship Picks
Rory McIlroy: $11,800 & Hideki Matsuyama: $10,500
I have absolutely no problem if you want to start your team off with Jordan Spieth but personally, I am going to go with one of these two guys at the top. I may look foolish for going against Spieth and I do think he WILL get his career grand slam, I just don’t think that it’s happening this week. This course just sets up better for McIlroy and Matsuyama and both players are playing at an incredibly high level right now. Each player ranks Top 10 in the world in SG: Off the tee and in SG: Approach. McIlroy is an incredibly popular pick this week, and why shouldn’t he be? He’s coming off two Top 5 finishes against Major-quality fields and is playing at the course where he’s had the most success (two wins & six Top 10s). Matsuyama’s finishes in Majors this year are 11, 2, 14. He just won the Bridgestone with a 61 on Sunday. He just needs his putter to stay hot for two of the four days at Quail Hollow.
Henrik Stenson: $9,800, Brooks Koepka: $9,200, Justin Thomas: $8,900, Adam Scott: $8,600
Buyer beware with Stenson; he’s the most talented player out there who can routinely shoot 77. But Stenson has been coming around as of late with T-11 and T-17 in his past two starts. He doesn’t play enough PGA rounds to be ranked statistically, but we don’t need stats to tell us that when Stenson is on, Iron Byron has nothing on him. Brooks Koepka, along with his U.S Open win, has actually become a very consistent play over the last four months. Since the Masters, he’s finished in the Top 20 in six of nine starts. Koepka was able to handle the length of Erin Hills with ease. His 309.2 average off the tee will have him hitting shorter into greens than the bulk of players, and he now has experience playing under pressure in the final few holes on Sunday at a major. Justin Thomas is the lone non-major winner of this group. Thomas is Top 10 on Tour in driving distance (308.8 yds), Top 10 in SG: Approach, and Top 40 in the field in SG: Off-The-Tee. He shot that incredible 63 at Erin Hills and then was completely irrelevant on Sunday. I think Justin Thomas learned a lot that day. Being where he is at age 24, clearly his learning curve is sharper than most. Adam Scott to me is undervalued at just $8,600 on Draftkings. I would favor him to win the tournament over at least a half dozen players above his price tag. Scott has tons of major experience including his Masters win. He ranks Top 25 in Driving Distance, SG: Off-the-tee, and SG: Approach. Scott also has some very solid finishes at Quail Hollow. Since 2011, Scott’s finishes reads as follows: 7, 11, 5, 15, MC, 18.
Daniel Berger: $7,700, Thomas Pieters: $7,500, Tony Finau: $7,000, Xander Schauffele: $7,000
Other than a missed cut at the U.S Open, Daniel Berger hasn’t finished lower than 27th since May before his win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He’s starting to close the gap between himself and his classmates Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Berger is one of the best approach players in the world, gaining .697 shots per round in that category. Thomas Pieters is extremely talented; the question is whether the good Thomas Pieters will show up. The good Pieters showed up in Ohio last week, finishing fourth in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He also finished fourth in the Masters, so he’s proven that he can outplay the majority in these strong fields. Pieters gains almost an entire stroke on approach shots and more than a half stroke putting, which is a great combination for this tournament. Tony Finau will be able to bomb it around this track and hit seven irons into holes where others may need four or five iron. Finau ranks sixth on Tour in SG: Off-the-tee, and 30th in SG: Approach. He is teeing it up for his second major of the season. He finished a respectable T-27 at the Open at Royal Birkdale last month. Speaking of respectable, ever since his T-5 at the U.S Open, Xander Schauffele has done nothing but put respectable scores up each week, leading to his first ever win at the Greenbrier Classic. Schauffele is one of the best players on the PGA Tour off-the-tee (17th in distance, 30th in strokes-gained), and should have no problem handling a long course like Quail Hollow.
Robert Streb: $6,900, James Hahn: $6,900, Francesco Molinari: $6,800, Webb Simpson: $6,800, Daniel Summerhays: $6,700, Nicolas Colsaerts: $6,500
My sleepers consist of some course horses, some undervalued Euros, and a hometown hero. Robert Streb has finished in the Top 10 in both of his starts at Quail Hollow, while James Hahn has a win at Quail Hollow and three Top 10 finishes in his last seven starts. Francesco Molinari has been inconsistent as of late, but he is still one of the best iron players in the world and can outplay his price tag easily. Webb Simpson lives less than a mile from Quail Hollow, and although his history at this course as a professional isn’t outstanding, he has been trending upward. Daniel Summerhays finished third at Quail Hollow in 2016, and third in the 2016 PGA Championship. He’s a longshot, but now is as good a time as any for him to sneak up on the field. Nicolas Colsaerts is my Hail Mary pick. Colsaerts is a former Ryder Cupper known as “the Belgian bomber”. In one of his fourball matches at Medinah in 2012, he had eight birdies and an eagle. It’s been a few years since he’s played at that level, so he should have microscopic ownership, and should only be considered in GPP formats.