The Green Mile: Evil and golf really do co-exist at Quail Hollow Club, site of 2022 Presidents Cup

·8 min read

If you’ve been named after a novel written by horror master Stephen King, there must be an abundance of chilling, eerie features associated with your existence.

Even if the terror in question resides among the soft, rolling hills of a peaceful golf course in the Queen City.

Seriously, can evil and golf really co-exist?

At Quail Hollow Club they certainly do.

During a 1,200-plus-yard stroll covering three holes – that would be the 16th, 17th and 18th – danger, horror and angst refuse to be disguised at the annual home of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina.

While it is certainly not as fatal as depicted in the 1999 movie adaption of the same name starring Tom Hanks, where death row inmates take their final steps to the execution chamber on a floor painted a dull green, the dreaded emerald sweep of land at Quail Hollow leaves players gasping for air and heartily exhaling when all is said and done.

In short, the journey is likely to be a good walk spoiled.

That will surely be the case at the 14th edition of the Presidents Cup, where the U.S. will try to continue its dominance of the Internationals. And organizers of the biennial clash have tossed in a major kicker concerning the trifecta of terror. More on that later.

“It’s got to be one of the toughest stretches in golf,” USA’s Brandt Snedeker said. “There’s no way to miss them. There’s no bail-out on any of the holes really.

“You just have to suck it up and get through it.”

Or as Quail Hollow member and 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson said: “I’ve thought about this many times. I can’t think of a three-hole stretch, including the major championships, that is tougher than the Green Mile.”

How tough is it? Let’s add another movie reference and call on Clubber Lang’s prediction in Rocky II: Pain. Consider: Each hole of the white-knuckle stretch features dangerous water hazards, potentially puzzling elevation changes, strategically placed bunkers and Bermuda greens that are not to be messed with.

This was the result of a major renovation completed ahead of the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship, which included all 18 greens being rebuilt, greens and tee boxes shifted, more than 100 trees removed and length added to the layout.

In five editions of the Wells Fargo Championship since the makeover, the 494-yard, par-4 18th has ranked as the toughest hole in the tournament three times and second once, while the 217-yard, par-3 17th was the toughest hole in 2019 and was never worse than sixth on the list of menacing holes. The par-4 506-yard 16th? It was the third toughest hole in three of those contests.

And yes, the field average for each hole was over-par each tournament, including in 2021 when the 18th played to a 4.456 average, making it the second toughest par-4 on the PGA Tour that year.

“Those are three really brutal finishing holes,” Aussie Adam Scott said. “If you can survive those holes and win, you’ve certainly proved that to yourself because they’re so demanding. There is no breather.”

With that, here’s a quick snapshot of each hole.

Quail Hollow Club
Quail Hollow Club

No. 16 at Quail Hollow Club, which will play as No. 13 in the Presidents Cup (Photo: Ben Jared/PGA Tour)

The 16th is a par-4 playing to 506 yards. The hole could be tipped out to around 530 yards. The green was shifted 80 yards to the left, right smack up against a large lake. A sizeable, deep fairway bunker on the right must be avoiding on the downhill tee shot. Bunkers fronting the green are best to be avoided.

“The tee shot isn’t overly difficult, but then you get to your second shot and see a lot of water. In the right conditions, you can sort of attack. But it’s rarely the right conditions,” said Justin Thomas, who won the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club.

The 17th is a par-3 playing to 223 yards. The hole could be stretched to 235 yards. The tee shot is over water, with only land to the right side of the green offering you safety from the H2O. The green is usually firm – OK, it’s nearly concrete at times – which means even well struck shots to back pins can bounce and then roll into the water.

Quail Hollow Club
Quail Hollow Club

No. 17 at Quail Hollow Club, which will play as No. 14 in the Presidents Cup. (Photo: Ben Jared/PGA Tour)

“Even hitting a fairly good shot at 17, you can still hit it in the water. All you’re trying to do when it’s playing long is hit the green. And if the wind is blowing, you have to make sure to hit land,” Spain’s Sergio Garcia said. (Side note: Thomas’ better-than-good 7-iron in the final round of the PGA Championship basically sealed his victory).

The 18th is a par-4 playing to 494 yards. A creek and heavy rough runs down the entire left side of the hole while a dense collection of trees and problematic bunkers protect the right side of the fairway. The tee shot is downhill and the green is slight raised.

“There’s no bailout on the hole and you just have to come up with your best. You can’t ease up after a great drive. It’s just one tough hole,” said Aussie Jason Day, the victor of the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship.

In summation of the stretch, we offer USA’s Rickie Fowler’s take (he won his first PGA Tour title in the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship): “You just have to buckle up and survive.”

Quail Hollow Club
Quail Hollow Club

No. 18 at Quail Hollow Club, which will play as No. 15 in the 2022 Presidents Cup. (Photo: Ben Jared/PGA Tour)

That’s what Rory McIlroy did in 2021, the most recent time the club played host to the Wells Fargo Championship. In the final round, McIlroy birdied the 14th and 15th holes to take a two-stroke advantage to the start of the Green Mile.

The he made a big mistake as he started to think how great it would be to see his wife, Erica, and 8-month-old daughter, Poppy, behind the 18th green and celebrate with them on their first Mother’s Day.

He survived the 16th and 17th with textbook pars to maintain a two-shot lead. But then he set off alarm bells when he pulled his tee shot on the 18th just to the left of the creek and onto a sidehill of nasty rough.

He was going to try and slash the ball to safety with a lob wedge but his caddie, Harry Diamond, talked him into taking a penalty drop. McIlroy did and from 200 yards found the green with an 8-iron and two-putted for the one-shot win.

It was his first triumph in 553 days. And McIlroy, who won his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow in 2010, became the only three-time winner of the event.

“Those closing three holes are pretty tough, especially with the crosswinds out there,” McIlroy said. “I made it hard for myself, but hit a great third shot into the 18th there and was able to two-putt and get the job done.

“It’s a tough stretch, one of the toughest stretches that we play all year. I think 17 is the most difficult of the closing stretch. Especially off that back tee, you’re raised up and you’ve got that very skinny green. On 16, you have to be aggressive off the tee. You have to take on that bunker on the right and try to get it down there as far as you can. It’s a long enough hole. And the same thing on 18. I think aggressiveness off the tee; you can reward yourself with a little shorter iron shot in and be able to take on something a little bit more on the green.

“I’ve had my fair share of good runs on that stretch and bad runs.”

Now, back to the kicker. Because the Green Mile is the star of the golf course, those in charge of the Presidents Cup rerouted the layout to help ensure that players in the match-play format will reach the three holes.

Thus, the Green Mile will play as holes 13-14-15, with the par-5 10th, the par-4 11th and the par-4 ninth pinch-hitting as the closing three holes.

The Green Mile will follow two risk-reward holes – the drivable par-4 11th (annually the 14th) and the uphill, reachable par-5 12th (annually the 15th). That five-hole stretch – with each hole guarded by water – is sure to please.

But it will be the Green Mile that will shine the brightest – for the good or bad.

“A lot happens on those three holes,” USA’s Jordan Spieth said. “That is where you go to see some triumph and disaster.”

List

Presidents Cup results: Year-by-year history of the biennial bout between the Americans and Internationals

1996 Presidents Cup
1996 Presidents Cup

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek