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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Quail Hollow has been a symbol of perfection for 10 years since it returned to the PGA Tour lineup, a beautifully manicured golf course where the six major champions who have won ranged from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy.
It is less than perfect this year. Some have even compared the greens to a rundown municipal course.
One thing that hasn't changed at the Wells Fargo Championship is that someone will win just over $1.2 million, and he mostly likely will have played better golf than the other 155 players in the field.
"You can't lie about it — the greens are shaky," defending champion Rickie Fowler said Wednesday. "But I feel like come tournament time ... you're still going to be able to make putts. There is still a hole out there. Someone's going to have to make putts this week. Someone's going to win the golf tournament. They're still giving out a trophy and a jacket at the end of Sunday."
No one is more disappointed than tournament officials, who spared no expense trying to fix a problem that was out of their control. The South has been plagued by an unusually cold and wet spring, which tournament director Kym Hougham said was the primary culprit. The bent greens are to be torn up in two weeks and replaced by Bermuda, a move that is one year too late.
How bad are they?
The greens on Nos. 8 and 10 had to be replaced by sod just last week — in fact, the 10th green had to be re-sodded twice because the roots were growing sideways. For the new sod, the club paid for strips of grass that were 4 feet wide and 60 feet long to reduce the number of seams, even though it was the most costly. Several other putting surfaces have patches of brown where there is no grass.
On four greens, the players were asked to only hit one shot in the practice rounds and limit their putting to alleviate any stress on the greens.
It was unusual to see players on the practice green leaving 30-foot putts some 5 feet short of the hole. Robert Allenby actually made one, and then he was asked what he was doing.
"I'm trying to see how many bounces it takes to get to the hole," Allenby said. "That was 22 for a 33-foot putt."
Allenby took issue with a memo from PGA Tour officials that warned players of four bad greens at Quail Hollow, with the rest of them a typical tour greens.
"There's not one green that's like a normal tour green," Allenby said. "That might have confused a lot of players."
PGA Tour players are spoiled with consistently great conditions each week, so complaints figures to be rampant this week. In this case, however, there has been an equal dose of sympathy for a tournament that has run so smoothly since it began in 2003.
"They always put on a good show," Allenby said. "They look after us. One thing you can guarantee, the greens will be perfect next year."
This year is suffering.
Woods decided last week not to play, presumably because he forgot there was only two weeks between the Masters and Quail Hollow, a change in the schedule this year. The Wells Fargo Championship has only one of the top 10 in the world — McIlroy at No. 2 — which is rare for this event.
There already have been nine players to withdraw, including past champions Vijay Singh and David Toms. Ian Poulter was in Charlotte on Tuesday but never made it out to the golf course. He withdrew citing personal reasons. Not all of the withdrawals are related to course conditions, although there were enough to make other players wonder.
Hougham didn't hide his disappointment, nor did he make any excuses.
"It's unfortunate," he said of the greens. "There was a lot of effort put it to rectify the situation. A number of factors contributed, Mother Nature being the biggest. But you know our standard. They deserve good greens, and we didn't produce good greens. And we'll make sure that never happens again."
For the players who showed up — and stayed — they planned to make the best of it.
"It would be one thing if half the field played on good greens and half the field played on bad greens," Joe Ogilvie said. "This place prides itself on presentation. Trust me, they feel a hell of a lot worse than anyone complaining."
McIlroy has fond memories of Quail Hollow, where he won his first PGA Tour title in 2010 at age 20. He made an eagle late in his round to avoid missing the cut, and then closed with a 62 on Sunday. It's one of his favorite courses on tour, and that hasn't changed.
"We come to Quail Hollow and they're — for me — probably the best greens on tour, usually," McIlroy said. "It's just unfortunate that they're not quite up to the standard that they usually are, but it's no big deal. The rest of the golf course is in phenomenal shape. It's going to be the same. Everyone has to putt on them, and the best player at the end of the week is still going to win. I don't think there is a big problem at all."
"I don't mind because I'm not a guy that relies on my putting, per se," he said. "So it will eliminate quite a lot of the field. I don't mind that at all."
The putts roll about like they do at Pebble Beach in February when it has been raining. Balls bounce as much as they roll. Players are having to hope for the best and expect the worse, and realize they're not the only ones who get a few bad bounces.
As Allenby continued to rap putts on a cloudy day, he looked at the bright side.
"I can miss them on good greens," he said. "If I miss a few, it's not like I haven't missed a bunch already this year. I've won on worse greens. The British Masters in '96. They spray-painted them green. It was green paint over dirt. And I ended up winning."