But don’t take my word for it. Listen to a guy who has a PGA Championship on his résumé. Listen to Phil Mickelson.
After a disappointing 76 in Sunday’s final round, one that dropped him from third place into a tie for 11th, Mickelson scoffed at the idea that Quail Hollow might need more tweaks before the Charlotte, N.C., golf club hosts its first major.
“I don’t think you need to make any,” Mickelson said. “I think, when you get a major championship, and the greens get firmer and faster, that’s when you see the greatness of the golf course—or it becomes unplayable.
“And here the greatness comes out, the subtlety and nuances come out, and I think the changes were beautifully done.”
Quail Hollow hired renowned architect Tom Fazio to oversee renovations to the course. Fazio responded with an effort that may come to be viewed as the most important of his many contributions to the game.
Mini Verde ultradwarf bermudagrass replaced the bent grass that had been used on the putting surfaces since the opening of the club in the late 1950s. Fazio softened some of the slopes on the greens but added closely-mown runoff areas reminiscent of Pinehurst.
The most noticeable change was the reworking of the 503-yard, par-4 16th hole, where the green was shifted 80 yards left to the edge of the large lake that serves as a central component for holes 14 through 17.
With those changes in place, Mickelson advocates leaving the course alone.
“I don’t know what you would do,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I think it’s perfect the way it is. In a year’s time, when the greens have a chance for the roots to get a little deeper… and this type of grass in warm weather, you can make so firm and fast that it’s going to be a great challenge. It’s a really beautiful golf course.”
Mickelson believes Quail Hollow is one of the world’s best courses, and this is from a player known for his creativity and imagination. His uncanny shot-making was in full evidence during a third-round 63, nowhere more than on the 13th tee.
Caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay suggested a 5 or 6 iron for the approach to the 216-yard par-3. Mickelson visualized a different shot and pulled a 7 iron.
Hooding the face and delofting the club, Mickelson hit a roundhouse hook that allowed him to avoid a swale in front of the pin and advance his ball toward the hole from a direction that would leave him a shot uphill birdie putt, which he subsequently holed.
To Mickelson, that sequence embodied the special nature of the architecture at Quail Hollow.
“I just saw a different shot,” Mickelson said. “It was a back pin right there, and there was a little swale in line with the pin, and if I were to hit a shot right at it with, say, a 6 iron, it was going to hit that swale and kick off the green.
“Or I would have to play 20 feet away from the pin, which—you know me—that’s not my thing. So I ground-hooked a 7 iron around the swale.”
That one shot was the entire course in microcosm.
“The green complexes are perfect, because it gives you a chance to do what I did on 13, which is to create a shot that gets to the hole,” Mickelson explained after the third round. “In years past, that swale kicked in further in the green, and it was much more severe and repellent to where you could hit a perfect shot, and it will end up off the green.
“I hit a perfect shot today and ended up with a birdie. And that’s what I really like about the way Fazio did these greens. He allows you to create shots and get to the hole, whereas a number of courses repel the ball so far off the green that, no matter how perfect of a shot you get, you have no chance.
“Here, as the greens get firmer, and they get faster for the (PGA) Championship, the nuances and its subtleties show its greatness.”
So, please, use the next three years to let the course mature. As 2017 approaches, resist the temptation to “toughen up” Quail Hollow. With wiry bermudagrass rough instead of winter rye—a function of the time of year—the course will provide a worthy championship test.
But don’t take my word for it.
Listen to Phil.