Nearly two years of patience paid off for Lydia Ko, who punctuated her return to the winner’s circle in dramatic fashion. Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy ride contrasting styles to victory in New Orleans, and there’s more two-man (mostly) golf in Europe this week. And Quail Hollow steps back into the spotlight, though The Starter has to agree it’s anything but a feathery touch anymore.
1. Welcome back, Lydia Ko. Or perhaps it’s Hello, Ko 2.0. Until Sunday’s playoff win at the Mediheal Championship – with a 3-wood to set up a kick-in eagle – it had been 44 starts since the Kiwi last tasted LPGA victory. In between, she changed clubs, coaches and caddies. And went from teen to adult.
2. Alternate Zurich ending suits Horschel/Piercy. Billy Horschel draws the ball and can light it up with the putter. Scott Piercy plays a fade and is a master with his wedges. It was a perfect fit for a Sunday of alternate shot, going bogey-free as the Zurich Classic switched up its two-man format.
3. Colonial stays, Houston’s on the move. Colonial’s sponsorship search hit paydirt with investment firm Charles Schwab, already a strong presence on the PGA Tour Champions. Meantime, the Golf Club of Houston told members it will no longer host that city’s event. It’s a moot point if no sponsor is found.
THIS WEEK’S LINEUP
PGA Tour: Wells Fargo Championship
Course: Quail Hollow Club
Where: Charlotte, N.C.
Defending: Brian Harman
LPGA Tour: Volunteers of America Texas Classic
Course: Old American GC
Where: The Colony, Texas
Defending: Haru Nomura
PGA Tour Champions: Insperity Invitational
Course: The Woodlands CC (Tournament)
Where: The Woodlands, Texas
Defending: John Daly
European Tour: GolfSixes
Course: Centurion Club
Where: St. Albans, England
Defending: Lucas Bjerregaard/Thorbjorn Olesen
Though the Zurich Classic garnered no world ranking points by virtue of it being a team event, it boosted winners Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy into the top 35 of the FedExCup points chase as the season is a month past the halfway point.
FedExCup points in New Orleans were divvied up by considering each twosome to have tied for the corresponding spot on a regular leaderboard. For example, the winner of a regular PGA Tour event gets 500 points and second place is worth 300 – creating 800 points for Horschel and Piercy to split.
Patrick Reed has been the big mover of late, not only with his Masters victory but tying for seventh at TPC Louisiana with partner Patrick Cantlay. Reed’s now fifth in the FedExCup table, moving past Dustin Johnson.
1. Justin Thomas (1) – 1,769
2. Patton Kizzire (2) – 1,329
3. Bubba Watson (3) – 1,286
4. Phil Mickelson (4) – 1,248
5. Patrick Reed (6) – 1,216
6. Dustin Johnson (5) – 1,176
7. Jon Rahm (7) – 1,139
8. Tony Finau (10) – 1,074
9. Justin Rose (8) – 1,030
10. Andrew Landry (9) – 1,011
STAT OF THE WEEK
On best-ball days at the Zurich Classic, even a single bogey can put a team behind the 8-ball. In fact, it was quicker to count the best-ball rounds with a bogey last week than those without.
Of the 116 best-ball rounds played last week at the TPC Louisiana, 67 of them did not give a shot back to par – a bogey-free rate of 58 percent. That included a whopping 49 bogey-free rounds in Thursday’s opening round.
By contrast, two days of alternate shot produced just four rounds without a bogey, including Sunday winners Billy Horschel/Scott Piercy and Pat Perez/Jason Dufner. The difference in average score came to more than 7 ½ shots – 65.68 in best-ball, 73.36 in alternate shot.
More than a quarter-century before the creation of what’s now the Wells Fargo Championship, Quail Hollow Club was part of the nomadic history of the Kemper Open.
Quail Hollow, still establishing itself on the golf market, spent 11 years as Kemper host from 1969-79. The tournament actually got its start in Boston, but only lasted one year there despite Arnold Palmer winning the inaugural edition.
Dale Douglass cruised to victory in the first Quail Hollow stop, and two years later Tom Weiskopf captured the first of his three wins in Charlotte. Doug Sanders, Raymond Floyd and Andy Bean were other prominent winners in the Quail Hollow years.
The Kemper relocated again in 1980, moving back north to begin a 27-year run in the Washington market. Kemper Insurance dropped its sponsorship after the 2002 edition, and the tournament itself was gone four years later amid an overhaul of the PGA Tour schedule.
HOLE OF THE WEEK
No.1, Quail Hollow Club
Par 4, 495 yards
2017 average: 4.39 (2nd toughest)
Already boasting what’s perennially the PGA Tour’s toughest closing stretch in the “Green Mile,” Quail Hollow also now features an opening brute that might give Augusta National’s first hole a run for its money.
Created from the merger of two holes in Quail Hollow’s original footprint, the new No.1 was unveiled at last year’s PGA Championship and soon made itself known. After just 15 birdies were recorded in the first two rounds, not one of the 75 players to make the weekend birdied No.1 in Round 3.
All in all, No.1 came in as last year’s eighth-toughest hole on the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy, whose 61 in the 2015 Wells Fargo stood as the old course record, summed it up by suggesting whereas the old 418-yard opener greeted golfers with a gentle handshake, the new version is like a punch in the face.
No.1 will play 29 yards shorter this week than at last year’s PGA (524 yards), so that should ease a bit of the sting. Still, only the longest hitters will be able to cut much corner on a dogleg that doesn’t bend until 250 yards, and a long approach awaits to a small, well-guarded green.
2017 PGA Championship: no eagles, 27 birdies, 240 pars, 179 bogeys, 13 double bogeys, none higher
DID YOU KNOW!?
The second edition of the GolfSixes team event will feature a trio of innovative wild-card entries among the 16 tandems set for the Centurion Club.
Two women’s teams are in the field – an England women’s team of Charley Hull and Georgia Hall (pictured above with Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark), plus a European duo of England’s Mel Reid and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda – a late replacement when a pregnant Suzann Pettersen was advised to sit out.
The draw also features a mixed pairing of Europe’s current captains – Ryder Cup skipper Thomas Bjorn and Solheim Cup captain Catriona Mathew.
AN ENTRY & A DREAM
For the seventh consecutive year, the U.S. Golf Association accepted more than 9,000 entries for the U.S. Open, 99 percent of whom acting on a dream to book a tee time alongside Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth next month at Shinnecock Hills.
The total count comes to 9,049 entrants, including 515 who cast their lots on the final day and 115 in the last hour. Ohio’s Drew Caudill was the last of those, getting his filed 23 seconds before the window closed.
Defending champ Brooks Koepka is among 54 players exempt straight to Shinnecock, with perhaps two dozen more pending via the world rankings. The rest will have to qualify, with Monday seeing the first of 111 local qualifiers taking place. Sectionals are set for May 21.
Meantime, a total of 1,592 entries were filed for the U.S. Women’s Open that begins May 31 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Hopefuls face just one round of qualifying, starting later this week.
“This year has been kind of an up-and-down year for me. I’ve been hitting it really great and not putting well. I had a partner that kind of putted for me all week, so … having the partner there that kind of pick you up – and he did. He was clutch all week.”
– Scott Piercy
“I like to think of myself as playing well this week.”
– Billy Horschel, tongue planted firmly in cheek