The Flawed Greens Flu

David Toms, Jeff Overton, Mark Wilson, Freddie Jacobson, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen did not get off to a very good start at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. They all withdrew and headed home.

A few of them cited physical problems — Dustin Johnson, wrist; Vijay Singh, back — but there is also some conjecture that in some cases, it could be a virulent case of the “Flawed Greens Flu.” 

As Steve DiMiglio reported in USA Today:

Presently, six greens could create potential problems — and alter approaches to the greens. Patches of troubled grass could lead tournament officials to shorten some of the holes to allow players to use wedges and 9-irons for shots into the greens instead of 4-irons and 3-irons.

Nine days before the start of the tournament, the greens at Nos. 8 and 10 weren’t just dormant, they were dead. A bad winter, unseasonably cool temperatures during the spring and little sunshine exacerbated the problem.

All matters of rescue did not help, including having both greens tented. With barely a blade of living grass to be found on the two holes, officials dug up the greens and re-sodded both on April 21. Cal Roth, senior vice president for agronomy for the PGA Tour, said it was the first time in his 30 years that entire greens had to be repaired.

There’s more. Nos. 9, 12, 13 and 16 have trouble spots. In Monday’s pro-am, temporary greens were used at 8, 10, 12 and 13. Players were asked not to hit more than one approach shot into those four greens during Tuesday’s practice rounds. They were asked to limit putting on the greens, as well.

This is not the sort of news you want to be greeted with when you blow into town full of the promise of a new week.

When I was Monday qualifying on the Champions Tour, I was assured by a very nice volunteer that the private club the qualifier had been moved to that year was her club and she was sure that I would enjoy it. So I entered.

I got to town on a blustery Tuesday, perfect for walking the course with my laser and notebook to make my yardage book. Private clubs aren’t always a guarantee of quality, especially when the course was designed by a founding member or owner. The tip-off on this one was that there was no driving range, but it didn’t take walking the entire 18 holes to confirm that it was a disaster; it was one funky or egregious hole after another. I would describe the worst one, but it was so distinctive it would easily identify the course and that’s not my purpose here.

When I came off the course, I went to the car, called the tournament office and withdrew. I was on a plane home the next morning. When I told one of my buddies what happened, he told me that he’d played it in previous years and it was one of his favorite courses. Go figure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Almost all of the courses the Champions Tour had us on were just fine, some just fabulous. The courses were well-designed, maintained and groomed with care. The greens were excellent within whatever speed range they could get them to. So that’s what you come to expect.

So when you don’t get that kind of quality, not only are you fighting the vagaries of your game, you are fighting the pronounced deficiencies of the course. Not a good environment in which to go forth with confidence.

Rory McIlroy was not as critical of the greens as those who may have voted with their feet:

Yeah, I mean, they’re not as good as they usually are.  We come to Quail Hollow and they’re, for me, probably the best greens on Tour usually.  It’s just unfortunate that they’re not quite up to the standard that they usually are, but it’s no big deal.  The rest of the golf course is in phenomenal shape.  It’s going to be the same.  Everyone has to putt on them, and the best player at the end of the week is still going to win.  They’re not as good as they usually are, but I don’t think there is a big problem at all.

Rickie Fowler, the defending champion, was a little more forthright:

Yeah, I played nine yesterday.  I played the front nine.  I mean, you can’t lie about it, the greens are shaky.  But I feel like come tournament time with the way they’ll be able to possibly cut and roll the greens, I mean, you’re still going to be able to make putts.  There is still a hole out there.

So the way I’m going into it, someone’s going to have to make putts this week.  Someone’s going to win the golf tournament.  They’re still giving out a trophy and a jacket at the end of Sunday.

And he was less sympathetic to those who choose not to try to play:

Some guys may not go into it with the right attitude.  They’re automatically going to be out of the tournament.  I think it would be similar to playing in tough conditions across the pond, and go into it trying to have some fun, make some putts and see if we can win a golf tournament.

But when asked if he was surprised by the unusual number of withdrawals, he let them off the hook a little:

Yes, and no.  Some guys get used to maybe certain conditions or may not think it’s the best way to prepare for [The Players Championship] next week.  But I’ve got some good memories here, so I’m looking forward to it.  Compared to the greens I grew up on around home and played when I was a kid and through high school golf, these are pretty good.

So it remains to be seen whether the greens will be a recurring theme all through the week. I don’t know a great deal about agronomy, but it will be very interesting to see how they manage to smooth the seams in the two greens they had to re-sod. Will just rolling them be enough or will it take something more?

The most important thing to keep in mind as we watch is that this is nobody’ fault — it was the fluky weather — and the agronomy staff is working night and day to make the best of a bad situation. And that they are as upset about this as much as any of the players because they take it personally.

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