Was Quail Hollow Really Too Hard for the World's Best Golfers?
“The setup has been too tough for a PGA, to be honest." These are the words of Webb Simpson, a former US Open, describing Quail Hollow, a course that was routinely torn to shreds at the Wells Fargo Championship.
Before it was redesigned, you needed to go low to win here - really low. Rory McIlroy, for instance, once reduced it to 61 blows. During the past 14 months the greens were relaid, the course was lengthened, with some being completely redesigned and the rough was allowed to grow. Heaven forbid that for the season's final major the best players in the world should be given a proper test if they wanted to win the US PGA Championship.
Majors are golf's most important tournaments, the events that everybody wants to win. And they are meant to separate the men from the boys. If you are going to hit a drive behind a tree and then try to play an impossible shot then the chances are that you will end up making a quadruple-bogey eight, as Jason Day did on the 18th hole in the third round. If you drive the ball into the rough, why should you not be penalised? And if there are slopes and tiers on the greens, surely part of the challenge is to ensure that your approach finds the right part of those greens. It is skills such as those that separate the greatest players from the good ones, and we were looking to identify the best of the lot.
Simpson was seriously unimpressed with the way the course was set up by the PGA of America. He is a member at Quail Hollow and clearly believed it was too tough.
“I don’t know if the intent was to make it this difficult, but it’s really hard,” Simpson said. “I mean, I told the scorer in there I felt like really all week, but especially today [in round three] with some of the pins and tees and length of the course, it feels like a US Open. We are dealing with a long golf course, tons of rough, and crazy fast greens.
“I don’t think that’s the stereotype of a PGA Championship. I feel like I’m out there trying to survive. Similar feelings to how when I play a US Open. You shoot even par, you have done really well. In past PGAs even par is not that good. It’s definitely something to get used to.”
It is, of course, entirely possible that Simpson's disliking for the course had something to do with the fact that he shot rounds of 76, 70, 72 and 69 for a four-round total of 287, three over par and 11 shots behind the winner, Justin Thomas. It is a safe bet that Thomas would not be one of those who believe the course was too difficult.
This was a major championship - majors should provide the field with a proper test, and the fact that 12 players finished the week under par would suggest that it was a fair test.
Simpson and many of his fellow competitors would also, no doubt, blame the severity of the course for the pitifully slow play we witnessed at Quail Hollow.
On Saturday, the final threeball of Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Kisner took an excruciating five hours and 40 minutes to complete their round. Is it any wonder that youngsters are looking for something else to do with their free time? For the record, five hours and 40 minutes equates to almost 20 minutes to play each and every hole. It is a disgrace. And it took them fully three hours to play the front nine.
Everybody involved with the sport at the highest level recognises that this is a problem that has to be addressed, so why don't they tackle it? Why won't they tackle it? On Friday, with darkness closing in, Day and Johnson almost sprinted down the 18th hole to get their rounds finished, so we know they can do it. We know that Jason Day doesn't have to spend a week over each and every shot.
He has said in the past that he doesn't believe slow play is an issue. He should try watching himself sometime!
Earlier this year he said: “In my opinion, I don’t care so much about speeding up my game. I’ve got to get back to what makes me good. If that means I have to back off five times, then I’m going to back off five times before I have to actually hit the shot.”
The rules of the PGA Tour allow officials to penalise players for slow play but the first warning for an unbelievable 22 years was handed out at the Zurich Classic in April - and it was only a verbal warning.
Here's a thought: if the PGA and European Tours stopped pontificating and started handing out one-shot penalties, how long do you think it would take before tournament professionals started to quicken their pace of play, especially if they were told that a second offence in the same tournament would lead to disqualification?
It is time to act!
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