Driving a premium for PGA competitors at long, wet Quail Hollow

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Driving a premium for PGA competitors at long, wet Quail Hollow

PGA Tour

Driving a premium for PGA competitors at long, wet Quail Hollow

CHARLOTTE – Quail Hollow is a bomber’s paradise. There’s no secret about that.

Past champions of the Wells Fargo here include Tiger Woods, J.B. Holmes and Rory McIlroy (twice). And the listed yardage of 7,600 yards for this week’s PGA Championship certainly isn’t for the faint of distance.

Add in the weather forecast (lots of rain throughout the week) and the reduction of the par from 72 to 71 (the first hole was changed from a par 5 to a 524-yard par 4), and Quail Hollow will play even longer.

“The ball’s not going to roll,” said Brooks Koepka, who is tied for sixth on the PGA Tour in driving distance.

Of the top 25 leaders in driving distance on Tour, 18 of them are in the field this week, led by No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Luke List, Nos. 6 Koepka and Tony Finau, and Justin Thomas, who is T-9.

That doesn’t even include McIlroy, who hasn’t played enough Tour events this year to be ranked statistically. McIlroy was bombing drives through Quail Hollow’s driving range on Wednesday, some of his drivers carrying 350 yards.

The importance of driving distance is heightened not purely because of length but also because of the difficulty of Quail Hollow’s greens. With several false fronts and other ridges and drop-offs, players would rather be hitting shorter irons for their approach shots.

“These greens are quite interesting,” Koepka said. “If they are not back to front, the first half is uphill into the grain and then the last half is downhill, downgrain. So coming in with 9-irons when guys are going to be hitting 6- and maybe 5-irons, it’s going to be a big advantage I think to be able to stop the ball and kind of control it with the greens being a little firmer than the fairways.”

Jimmy Walker noted the par-4 16th hole was playing driver, 5-iron for some of his group during Tuesday’s practice round, while the par-4 18th was a driver, 2-iron.

“The Green Mile, it’s getting longer by the year it seems like,” Walker said of Nos. 16-18. “… I mean, it was playing exceptionally long.”

But at this major championship, it’s not enough to just hit it far. Players have to be straight, too, which is why strokes gained-off the tee might be the most telling stat in terms of deciding the contenders this week.

Take a look at this tweet from Golf Channel researcher Justin Ray:

Jon Rahm is the Tour leader in that category, followed by Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Finau and Kyle Stanley. Sixteen other players in the top 25 in SGOTT are in the field this week, too.

Jordan Spieth isn’t among the Tour leaders off the tee. And while you shouldn’t rule out guys like Spieth who do others things exceptionally well, Spieth is certainly aware of the importance of driving this week.

“I need to drive the ball better than I’ve been driving it to have a chance to win this week,” Spieth said.

So there you have it: if a player wants to hoist the Wannamaker Trophy this week, he needs to play well but most importantly carry a big stick.

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