Players analyze Quail Hollow's monster 1st hole: 'I think it’s a great par 5'

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Players analyze Quail Hollow's monster 1st hole: 'I think it’s a great par 5'

PGA Tour

Players analyze Quail Hollow's monster 1st hole: 'I think it’s a great par 5'

CHARLOTTE – Is the first hole at Quail Hollow a par 4 or a par 5?

It’s not as simple a question as it might seem. The redesigned opening hole at this week’s PGA Championship is marked as a par 4 for the tournament but comes in at a whopping 524 yards – the longest opening par 4 in major championship golf.

Members play the hole as a par 5, and after Andy Sullivan made four at the hole in Tuesday’s practice round he joked that he’d believed the hole to be a par 5 for the tournament.

“I thought I made birdie this morning,” Sullivan quipped.

Hey, at least the starting point for many at the year’s final major is making an impression.

The first hole at Quail Hollow was one of three new ones built for the PGA Championship following the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship. For the annual PGA Tour event, No. 1 served as a benign but mostly nondescript slight dogleg right 410-yard par 4.

Now, it’s a 524-yard behemoth, swinging heavily from left to right around a set of trees and boasting a set of bunkers ready to gobble up golf balls if anyone misses left. There’s no doubting it fits in at a major.

“It’s definitely a championship hole now,” Tony Finau said.

But what should players expect when they reach the first tee this week? The hole is a bit downhill, so is that 524 number something that can be washed away with a sea of long drives?

Players don’t seem to think so.

A drive of at least 280 down the fairway, it seems, is needed for competitors not to have to play a huge cut around the dogleg. And even if that’s all settled, there’s the specter of a long approach shot to a “par 5 green” (small, firm and heavily protected by bunkers).

As rain has softened the course early this week, even the biggest hitters are facing long clubs in – mostly having to reach for 4- or 5-iron on the second shot (although Jimmy Walker hit a 6-iron in during his Monday practice round).

For shorter hitters, there could be significant problems if the fairway is soft (rain is forecasted every day of the tournament) and the hole is playing into the wind at all.

Soren Kjeldsen said he’s had a couple players tell him they couldn’t reach the green in two. William McGirt fit that category, as he played the hole driver-3-wood in one practice round … and still came up 15 yards short of the green.

This has some of the shorter knockers wishing the hole won’t play to its full yardage.

“Hopefully it’ll firm up a little bit and maybe we should play the tee up,” Kjeldsen said.

James Hahn, who isn’t exactly a short hitter as he ranks 76th on the PGA Tour in driving distance at 294.6 yards, concurs with Kjeldsen.

The last player to win the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow (in 2016), Hahn explained in depth his belief that the opener is miscast as a par 4.

“I think it’s a great par 5 … (but) as a par 4, mixed emotions about it because for the shorter hitters, especially early in the morning a little into the wind, they can’t cut the corner and then if they don’t get it far enough down in the fairway for how soft the fairways will play, they’ll have to slice one around the corner of the trees … to a green that’s probably one of the firmest on the course.”

He’s not alone on this identity crisis. Bill Haas also sees the opener as a par 5 and Sullivan says he’s going to try to play the hole mentally as a par 5 and “see how many birdies I make.”

Honestly, the opening hole could produce a little of anything. If it plays firm, some players could have as little as wedge in to the monster hole. And as we’ve already seen, soft and into the wind could mean some not reaching in two at all at a 524-yard length.

Just how difficult will the hole play?

As a par 4, Sullivan thinks 1 or 2 over for the week is a good goal. But the hole won’t give players the most nightmares this week. After all, Quail Hollow still boasts the daunting three-hole finish known as “The Green Mile.”

That opening hole does remain a stiff wake-up call right away, though.

“When it’s the very first hole of the day, it kicks you in the teeth a little early,” Haas said.

If there’s that sort of feeling, was it really better to make this hole much longer?

While some are questioning the hole’s designation as a par 4, ultimately Finau is a fan of the longer opener.

“The old No. 1, when it got firm, it was really hard to hit that fairway and I don’t think it matched the character of the rest of the course,” Finau said. “I think it was the right thing to change it.”

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