CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was exactly 10:47 a.m. on Wednesday when metaphors started falling from the sky.
Since this tournament’s inception a decade ago – first as the Wachovia Championship, then as the Quail Hollow Championship, now as the Wells Fargo Championship – it has earned a reputation as one of the best annual spots on the PGA Tour schedule. Good fields, good course, good weather. What’s not to like?
And then this week happened.
More to the point, it hasn’t even happened yet.
Before the first official shot was even struck this week, the event was hampered by a weakened field (only one top-10 player is here); an epidemic of withdrawals (nine and counting so far); patchy, brownish greens (new ones will be installed next week); and a long-awaited procedural announcement (Vijay Singh getting off scot-free after admitting to using a banned substance).
As if that wasn’t enough, at 10:47 a.m., with the weather forecast calling for a zero percent chance of rain throughout the day … it started raining.
In the metaphor game, that’s equivalent to a hole-in-one.
“It’s like that old saying,” explained Gary Woodland. “Crap happens.”
Or like another old saying: When it rains, it pours – at least figuratively. Seemingly nothing has gone right for this event so far. Just a week ago, past champion Tiger Woods decided to skip it, citing scheduling issues that included him taking a three-week break after the Masters. That may indeed be true, but it hasn’t quelled rumors that the inconsistent putting surfaces likewise swayed his decision.
He’s not the only one, either. Eight other players have bowed out of the field, listing nagging injuries and the always popular “personal reasons,” despite rampant scuttlebutt that a desire to not compete on these greens fueled these moves.
In a tournament usually replete with elite studs, it’s telling that every player subject to the reshuffle – which is to say, every Q-School and Web.com graduate from a year ago – was able to get into this week’s field.
Not that the event is totally devoid of any star power.
“I just think we should cut the tournament a little bit of slack,” Phil Mickelson said. “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.”
“Right now, it may be taking away from the tournament,” added Bubba Watson. “But I think when the first ball is struck, when you start seeing names on the leaderboard, nobody is going to be thinking about anything else going on. It will be history. The tournament is going to be the story.”
If nothing else, consider this week’s edition of the Wells Fargo Championship – well, at least the days leading up to the tournament rounds – a victim of the ongoing news cycle. When there’s no golf being played, something else has to make headlines.
“You know, in the age that you guys [in the media] have to talk about something 24 hours a day,” Joe Ogilvie explained, “you’ve got to come up with something.”
“Once the tournament starts, I think all of that stuff will stop and it will be about the tournament, about the shots and the scoring,” said Mickelson. “We’ll see what’s made this tournament great in the past and it won’t be an issue. But I think leading up it will be the talk, because we haven’t had the actual action to discuss yet.”
“One thing I’ve realized is that there’s always a new story,” Trevor Immelman added. “There’s a new story every week. Just when you think you’re going to be able to latch onto something and wear it out for a few months, something else happens. It’s amazing to me. I think it’s just one of those things that we work through and next week there will be another story.”
The pre-tournament issues may be leaving a black eye on the run-up to the event, but the 156 players who are still here contend that it’s only temporary.
“It’s a little bit of a bummer to see some of the guys who have left and a lot of things that distract from the tournament,” Brendan Steele said, “but I think once we tee it up [Thursday], it will be a really good show.”
“This is one of the best weeks of the year,” Woodland said. “Unfortunately, they’ve had a little mishap with the greens. I don’t think it will affect it going forward. This is one of the best stops we have. It’s great for families, a great city and a great host.”
If you’re wondering, yes, there is rain in the forecast during the tournament. Perhaps it would be another fitting metaphor if it unexpectedly stays away, the skies clearing as another significant edition of this event comes into view.