Before we look at this week’s Wells Fargo Championship let’s take a look back at last year’s tournament. Derek Ernst, age 22, ranked 1,217th on the world ranking, and playing in just his ninth PGA Tour event beat back a crowded leaderboard that included Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. Ernst had never finished better than T-41 in a Tour event, yet managed to maneuver his way through Quail Hollow’s diabolical Green Mile like he was on a buddies trip. Ernst, who ranked outside the top 100 in driving accuracy, greens in regulation, strokes gained/putting and scoring average in 2013, finished in the top 15 in those categories at the Wells Fargo. Simply put, he had the week of his life.
Derek Ernst’s PGA Tour statistics
| 2013 Wells
|285.4 (11)||58.93% (T-13)||75.00% (T-3)||1.287 (11)||68.89 (1)||66.67% (T-9)|
|2013 season||291.5 (61)||60.49 (105)||63.89 (122)||-.217 (138)||72.27 (176)||49.34 (179)|
|2014 season||293.8 (52)||67.04 (29)||64.69 (135)||-.815 (200)||73.31 (199)||46.50 (202)|
The field hit only 51.73 percent of the fairways and 64.33 percent of the greens at Quail Hollow in 2013. The “good drive” percentage – the percentage of times a player hit a fairway or a green (or the fringe of the green) on a hole - was 78.62 percent, making Quail Hollow the 12th toughest course from tee to green on Tour in 2013. Ernst’s good-drive percentage in 2013 was 81.11, but at the Wells Fargo it improved to 85.71, second best in the field. Not only did Ernst improve his strokes gained putting my more than six strokes that week, he increased his “good drive” percentage by hitting fairways at his normal rate and greens a better than average clip when all those around him were being brought to their knees by Quail Hollow.
Courses with the hardest fairways to hit in 2013
|Rank||Course||Driving accuracy pct.|
|1||Torrey Pines (North)||47.01%|
|3||Torrey Pines (South)||49.59|
|4||Glen Abbey GC||51.14|
|5||Quail Hollow Club||51.73|
Good drive percentage leaders in 2013
|Season rank||Player||Good drive percentage|
|Wells Fargo rank||Player||Good drive percentage|
Ernst, though, did continue a trend at the Wells Fargo Championship of young players taking the title. And it many cases it wasn’t just young players. It was YOUNG players. Even though he had yet to turn 23, Ernst was the third-youngest winner of the tournament in the previous six years.
Age of winners of the Wells Fargo Championship since 2008
|2013||Derek Ernst||22 years, 11 months|
|2012||Rickie Fowler||23 years, 5 months|
|2011||Lucas Glover||31 years, 7 months|
|2010||Rory McIlroy||20 years, 11 months|
|2009||Sean O'Hair||26 years, 10 months|
|2008||Anthony Kim||22 years, 10 months|
Youth, as has been discussed by many, has been the order of the day on the PGA Tour this year. Eight players born in the 1990s are in the top 100 on the FedEx Cup standings (Ernst, having reverted to form in 2013-14, is not one of them). Three of them are in the field this week.
Top players born in the 1990s in the Wells Fargo Championship field
|Player||Birthday||FedEx rank||Best Wells Fargo finish|
|Seung-Yul Noh||May 29, 1991||16||T-9 in 2012|
|Hideki Matsuyama||February 25, 1992||55||None|
|Danny Lee||July 24, 1990||92||T-38 in 2009|
But age is just a number and 1990 is just a year. Perhaps the player with the best career record at Quail Hollow was born in 1989. And he just happens to be turning 25 on Sunday.
Rory McIlroy at the Quail Hollow Championshp
McIlroy would have won in 2012 had it not been for the way he played Quail Hollow’s closing holes, the dastardly trioka known as the Green Mile. McIlroy was four-over for the week on the trio – the par-3 17th is sandwiched by a pair of 478-yard par-4s. They lived up to their billing last year as well, playing as the third, fourth and fifth toughest holes on the course, and providing the PGA Tour’s most exasperating closing threat. For the week there were only 99 birdies and one eagle on the Green Mile and only Merion’s finishing holes were harder on Tour in 2013.
Finishing holes on the PGA Tour’s 10 toughest courses in 2013
|Rank||Course||Scoring to par||Subpar scores|
One final thought: This will be the 12th playing of the Wells Fargo Championship and four players in the field will be making their 12th appearance. Stuart Appleby, J.J. Henry, Charles Howell III and Rory Sabbatini are the Charlotte iron men. Appleby is the only one who has never finished in the top 10 at Quail Hollow, with a best of T-15 in 2004. Sabbatini’s was third in 2007 and 2011. Howell and Henry finished as high as T-7 (2010 of Henry and 2003 for Howell).