CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There’s an excellent chance that if you showed up at your local muni and plunked down 35 bucks to play a quick 18, only to discover the greens as patchy and scratchy and splotchy and blotchy as they are at Quail Hollow Club this week, you’d soon find yourself back in the pro shop, demanding a refund or a rain check or at the very least an explanation as to whom should be blamed for ruining your afternoon.
In this case, as in the case of so many other pratfalls on the PGA Tour already this season, the blame has fallen to an increasingly stubborn woman named Mother Nature – whether it really is her fault or not. A damp, cold first four months to the year have left these normally impervious putting surfaces looking like something out of Carl Spackler’s worst nightmare.
Competitors in the Wells Fargo Championship can’t demand any refunds, but they can take their balls and go home, which is what several big-name players did prior to the opening round, offering excuses from minor injuries to “personal reasons” that only thinly veiled their true rationale. It left what was already a severely weakened field even thinner, meaning its few marquee stars were needed to carry even more of the load.
There are no hard and fast rules about playing on greens that aren’t hard and fast. There are no step-by-step programs for rolling the rock on greens that are inconsistent from step to step. If there is one trick, though, it would be all about maintaining the right attitude. Like ripping a page out of Chicken Soup For the Putter’s Soul.
So it should come as little surprise that McIlroy (5-under 67) and Mickelson (4-under 68) were among the early leaders on a cool, overcast day if you had listened to their perspectives prior to teeing it up.
McIlroy: “I guess if you start missing putts, then you've got to just accept it. I don't mind because I'm not a guy that relies on my putting, per se. So it will eliminate quite a lot of the field. I don't mind that at all.”
Mickelson: “I just think we should cut the tournament a little bit of slack. It’s not that big of a deal. It should not affect scoring at all. I think we’ll make more 20- and 30-footers because we can be aggressive, and we might miss more short ones, but it shouldn’t affect scoring overall.”
Like the old slogan says: Attitude is everything.
It was Joe Ogilvie who earlier this week said of these bentgrass greens, “If you hit a good putt, it will go in. If you hit a bad putt, it might go in.” That may have been true, but attitude had plenty to do with it, too.
McIlroy needed just 29 putts while posting seven birdies, numbers which helped share not just his first overnight lead of the year, but his first under-par opening round of the year, as well.
“They're not the best greens that we've ever putted on, but they're certainly not the worst either,” he said. “The ball still rolls pretty well on them. As long as you give yourself chances for birdies, that's all you can ask.”
Mickelson struggled from Tee to Green, hitting just six fairways, but flourished where others faltered, taking just 25 putts to tie for the tournament lead so far.
“I hit the ball pretty well today and made a lot of putts on the greens,” he explained. “It was a good round.”
On a leaderboard filled with blue-collar overachievers, journeymen seeing an obvious opportunity and up-and-comers looking to make their mark, McIlroy and Mickelson are those two marquee names needed to keep mainstream interest in the tournament burgeoning throughout the weekend.
Not all elite players witnessed the day through such rose-colored glasses. One top-50 man could be heard muttering as he left the premises, “What a waste. What a waste of a day.”
It can only be assumed that he was speaking about trying to compete on greens that would leave you asking for a refund at the local muni. It obviously wasn’t easy. But if there was a trick to the trade on Thursday, it was all about attitude. So far, McIlroy and Mickelson have figured it out.