Phil Mickelson had just chunked two chips from just short of the green on no. 12 during Wednesday’s pro-am at the Wells Fargo Championship. His missed shots didn’t stop him from pulling Tom Fazio, the esteemed architect who was responsible for overseeing the changes to Quail Hollow Club, out of the gallery and inside the ropes to rave about the new and improved golf course.
Standing together behind the 12th green, Mickelson complimented Fazio, saying, “Fantastic, Tom. Really. It’s perfect.”
Mickelson, who missed the cut earlier this month at the Masters, went a step further, calling this week’s venue, “one of the best tee-to-green golf courses in the world, and what Tom Fazio has done is just perfect, just perfect, and he has enhanced them.
He added: “The beauty of it tee-to-green is the simplicity. Here, you have all the shot-making, and now you have the greens to match it up. Now, I can hit a variety of shots up to the green, rather than just fly it up and try to get it to stop…
“This has become, in my mind, one of the best golf courses I’ve ever played.”
Phil also told Fazio that he was having such “enjoyment” playing Quail Hollow and even went as far as saying it was one of his “favorite courses.”
Mickelson continued with his fawning in his post-round media scrum behind the 18th green.
“I loved it,” he said. “I thought that the greens were beautifully done. I thought Fazio did a great job in bringing out the subtleties. It’s much more subtle, it’s not in your face. When the greens are firm, fast and set up the way the PGA Championship is going to have them, the nuances will come out and the greatness of the course will come out.
“I’ve always thought this is one of the best tee-to-green courses, if not the best tee-to-green course I’ve ever played. I still feel that way, and now that the greens complement it. It’s one of my favorite courses I’ve ever played.”
Now, this was certainly a different tone than the one Mickelson struck in 2010, criticizing the greens with some strong words.
“For as beautifully designed as this golf course is tee to green, the greens are by far the worst-designed greens we play on Tour,” said Mickelson following the third round at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship. “Even though they’re in immaculate shape, I would say that 18 would be the worst green that we have on Tour, except that it’s not even the worst on this golf course. Twelve is.”
One of the main changes made to Quail Hollow in the past year in preparation to host the 2017 PGA Championship was switching the greens from bent grass to a hybrid Bermuda (mini-verde).
Mickelson spoke to Fazio about his fondness for the new “contours” to the greens, which enhances the shot-making component of the course.
“Phil was asking, but also really discussing that he likes the so-called new contours,” said Fazio as we followed Mickelson’s pro-am group. “The shot selections are different from the bent grass to this hybrid bermuda grass (mini-verde), which allowed us to change elevations with pitch and speed, where different pin placements will be.
“(Phil) likes this because in the bent grass, they were a little more severe. Generally, the greens were slower when they got wet, but now, with this firmer turf, we can have longer slopes on the greens, where he feels like he can bounce the ball, roll the ball more to the hole — which he likes a lot.”
Fazio provided another informative tidbit.
“Interesting enough, at (Phil’s) house, he has two putting greens with this kind of grass on it, which he practices on, so maybe that’s another insider thing that he likes,” he said.
Mickelson is mostly thrilled that he can now putt to all the pin locations on the course. (He’s been known to chip from one section of a green to another.)
“Yes, (Tom and I were talking about the contours) and how we now have a variety of shots that we can get close to the pin,” said Mickelson. “The severity of the greens and the repellent greens before wouldn’t allow you to get to the hole. You could only fly it there and stop it. Now when the greens are firm and fast you have an opportunity to create and shape a shot and get it to the hole without having mounds repel it away.”
He added with a classic Phil grin, “You can putt to every pin position on every hole, and I thought there was a lot more pin placement on a lot of the holes.
“12 and 18, which used to be challenging, have become real strengths. I think they’re beautifully designed greens now and really all it had to do is be softened a little bit like he did. I thought Fazio did just a wonderful job of making this a premiere golf course.”
The other renovations include somewhat minor modifications to the 8th, 17th and 18th, and a complete facelift to the 16th hole, where the fairway has probably been moved about 80 yards to the left to provide room for hospitality tents between the 16th and 18th holes. Dirt was also moved to lower the fairway and make the hole downhill, not to mention the green now sits where there was once water.
Phil was also a fan of the brand new par-4 16th.
“I thought it was great,” said Mickelson on Wednesday afternoon. “I thought it was a really hard, challenging hole, yet there is a variety of shots you could hit into that green.
“With the pin back right you’re trying to shape is left to right if the pin is back left you’re trying to run it back there, move it right to left, if the pin is up front, you’re trying to bring it in high and soft, you have a chance to bounce it in. A variety of shots you can now hit into each green based on the pin position and I think it’s a beautiful test of golf.”
Between now and the PGA Championship in 2017, should we expect Fazio to introduce more modifications to Quail Hollow? Don’t rule it out.
“To some people, ‘major’ (changes) is moving a post,” said Fazio. “To me, there’s no such thing as ‘major.’ It’s all easy to do, it’s all part of the process of improvements or I call them ‘additions.’
“We’re Americans — we try to do it better than we think it is… Some of the old never changes, it doesn’t make it good or bad, it doesn’t make it better than new…
“I’m a believer that there isn’t anything we can’t improve on.”