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Players return to more familiar Quail Hollow

By Rex HoggardMay 1, 2018, 8:38 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Earlier this year Johnny Harris, the president of Quail Hollow Club, circulated a five-minute video to PGA Tour players.

Although Quail Hollow has been a popular stop on Tour since it first hosted the Wells Fargo Championship in 2003, the message was clear – come back to the golf course you know and love.

There was a concern among tournament officials that last year’s PGA Championship, which was played at Quail Hollow, had left some players unimpressed with the layout, which underwent a series of renovations in the years leading up to the 2017 PGA.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked in the video of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

True to his word, on Tuesday as players made their way around the course to prepare for this week’s event, there was an actual lemonade stand perched on the back of the fourth tee box.

Wells Fargo Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The message was clear. While few, if any, would question the outcome of last year’s PGA, which was won by Justin Thomas, it was not the golf course that made the Wells Fargo one of the circuit’s most popular events.

“The course has maybe gotten a little more criticism than maybe [Harris] is comfortable with,” said Johnson Wagner, who is a member at Quail Hollow. “He said to me that he feels like the course was set up pretty difficult for a major and guys weren’t used to that out here.”

The most glaring changes prior to the ’17 PGA were to the first, fourth and fifth holes, and they all lived up to that billing ranking as the second-, 13th- and ninth-toughest holes last August.

The sum total of those changes, along with much different conditions in August compared to May, was a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017, compared to a 72.95 average for the ’16 Wells Fargo Championship played at Quail Hollow.

The mental impact, however, went much deeper.

While most agree the changes to Quail Hollow made the course harder for the PGA Championship, opinions vary on whether the nip/tucks made the course better.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Scott Brown, who tied for 13th at last year’s PGA. “The golf course the way it was was pretty awesome. Just from hearing guys talk, the vast majority haven’t really agreed with a lot of the changes they made.”

Which explains why Harris and tournament officials were proactive in pointing out that this year’s event would be more familiar for players.

Last month’s “green sheet,” which is sent to players in advance of tournaments, said the par-4 first hole will play 495 yards this week, compared to 524 yards for the PGA Championship; and the back tee at the fourth, well that’s open for anyone who wants some lemonade. In fact, Quail Hollow will play 7,554 yards this week, compared to 7,600 yards for the PGA.

The first hole, which Brown jokingly referred to as a par 5, was the biggest concern for many players. At the PGA, the opener played to a beastly 4.388 scoring average, among the Tour’s 50 toughest holes, compared to a 3.942 average a year earlier during the Wells Fargo.

“It’s easy to mess a great golf course up. They made some great changes, I thought Nos. 4 and 5 were fine, but No. 1 is just an absolute monster hole now,” said Chris Stroud, who tied for ninth place at the PGA. “I understand why players wouldn’t want them to mess with it, but a lot of it has to do with how good players are now.”

For this week’s event the course will also revert to over-seeded perennial rye grass for the fairways and rough, and the greens and approaches will be Bermuda grass. The set up will also be in the hands of PGA Tour officials, not staff from the PGA of America, which should promote a more player-friendly layout.

“We have our own rules officials to set it up however they want, but the PGA [of America] was probably just guarding against conditions in the summer time, a little harder and a little faster, we have to give ourselves options,” Stroud said. “There’s no perfect option.”

The green sheet said rough heights will be maintained at about 2 inches and that “hole placements will also return to the traditional setup used by the Tour since 2003.”

Although Quail Hollow had to endure a few more slings and arrows than officials are accustomed to, the ’17 PGA did provide valuable feedback for future events. The course is scheduled to host the 2021 Presidents Cup, which will be played in late September, and could become an occasional major venue with the PGA Championship’s move to May beginning in 2019.

“We learned a lot about Quail Hollow and that it’s a better golf course when it’s over-seeded and the rough is shorter than it is with Bermuda and deep, nasty rough,” Wagner said.

Judging by this year’s field, which includes six of the world’s top 10 players, Harris also learned the value of guerrilla marketing and how to make lemonade out of perceived lemons.

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Chamblee comments on Choi's unique step-through swing

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 24, 2018, 3:55 pm

The golf world found itself enamored with a largely unknown journeyman this weekend.

Ho-sung Choi went from 554th in the world to No. 1 in the hearts of all those who swing the golf club just a little bit differently thanks to his run at the Korean Open.

The 44-year-old with exaggerated step through impact found himself two off the pace through 54 holes and in contention for one of two available invitations to this year's Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Choi fell out of the hunt for tournament title and the Open exemption with a final-round 74, but nonetheless left an impression with his tie for fifth.

Asked about Choi's swing Saturday night, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee offered the following:

"If Chi Chi Rodriguez and Gary Player had a golf school, what would their first professional golfer swing like? Voila," Chamblee said.

"Both those legends had walk through finishes, but Ho Sung has taken this move to a new level with a borderline pirouette to keep from hanging back.

"In an era when professional golfers get accused of having golf swings that all look alike, I’ve never seen anyone swing quite like Ho Sung Choi.

"I can’t wait to try this on the range tomorrow."

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Wallace holds off Olesen to win BMW International

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 3:43 pm

PULHEIM, Germany - England's Matt Wallace shot a 7-under 65 to hold off a record-breaking charge from Thorbjorn Olesen and win the BMW International Open on Sunday.

Wallace finished on 10-under 278 - just ahead of Olesen, Mikko Korhonen and 2008 winner Martin Kaymer, whose chances took a blow with a bogey on the 17th hole.

Full-field scores from the BMW International Open

Olesen had played himself into contention with the lowest round in tournament history, with nine birdies and an eagle for an 11-under 61. It was the lowest round of his European Tour career and it gave the Dane a three-shot lead before the final group had even teed off.

Wallace turned in 34 but then made five birdies in seven holes from the turn to edge a shot past Olesen. He waited as Kaymer and Korhonen went close with rounds of 68 and 67, respectively.

England's Aaron Rai and Lucas Bjerregaard finished joint-fifth with rounds of 69.

Sunghyun Park (left) and Minchel Choi (right). Getty Images

Choi, Park qualify for Carnoustie from Korean Open

By Nick MentaJune 24, 2018, 2:54 pm

Two players - Minchel Choi and Sanghyun Park - qualified for next month's Open Championship at Carnoustie via the Open Qualifying Series on Sunday.

Choi (69) held off Park (66) to win the Korean Open by two shots.

This was the Qualifying Series debut for the Korean Open, whiched awarded Open Championship exemptions to the tournament's top two finishers inside the top eight and ties who were not already qualified.

Choi, the 532nd-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking, punched his ticket in his first professional win.

Park, the 146th in the world, is a six-time Korean Tour champion who has already won twice this season. 

Both players will be making their first ever major starts.

“I am absolutely honored to be playing in The Open and I wanted to win this championship to give me [that] opportunity," Choi said. "I cannot believe that I have won today. I am so happy and excited."

“It is a great honor to have qualified for The Open and make my first appearance in the championship," Park added. "I’ve watched The Open on television every single year and I can’t really believe that I have qualified, it is amazing."

The Open Qualifying Series continues next week at the Open de France, where as many as three exemptions will be awarded to the three leading players inside the top 10 and ties who are not already qualified.

The 147th Open will be held at Carnoustie from July 19-22.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.