Tournament Preview Wells Fargo Championship

2021 Wells Fargo Championship Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Quail Hollow Club Before Tee Off

Sweet Carolina, we are back to the hallowed grounds of Quail Hollow after a 2 year hiatus for the Wells Fargo Championship! This should be a fun week, and reminds me a lot of the Genesis Invitational in that we’re about to see a fully star-studded field for a non-Major or WGC, taking place on an iconic and entertaining track.

A lot can change in 2 years, for starters the 1-2 finishers of the 2019 contest (Max Homa, Joel Dahmen) were vying for their first career victory here then and have each won within the last 3 months. At 7,600 yards, this course is going to play difficult and you can more or less remove anyone who lacks serious distance from contending right off the bat (Carolina native Kevin Kisner is absent from the field, coincidence?). And if you thought last week’s “Snake Pit” closing stretch was tough at the Valspar Championship, get ready for the Green Mile. Quail Hollow’s final 3-hole stretch includes a 506 yard Par 4, 223 yard Par 3, and 494 yard Par 4, which always makes for a climactic finish.

Distance, Ball Striking, and long-range proximity (175+ yards) will go a long way in deciding this week’s winner. There’s a lot more that goes into profiling success for this week, though, so let’s jump straight into it.

Quail Hollow Club Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,600
  • Par: 71 (4x 3’s / 11x 4’s / 3x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Architect: George Cobb
  • Historic Cut Line: +2
  • Comp Courses: Golf Club de Chapultepec, Winged Foot, Stadium Course, Bethpage Black
  • Recent Past Winners: Max Homa (19), Jason Day (18), Justin Thomas (17, PGA Championship at Quail Hollow), James Hahn (16), Rory McIlroy (15, 10)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: JB Holmes (14), Rickie Fowler (12), Lucas Glover (11), Sean O’Hair (09)

This course is looooong, and I write that intentionally with 5 o’s because there are 5 Par 4’s of 480+ yards. The Par 3s are no break either, as 2 of the 4 are over 220 yards, headlined by the 249 yard 6th which will have some players contemplating pulling out the driver. And the Par 5s are no slouches either, sitting at 546, 592, and 577 each. 7,600 yards would be long for a Par 72, so when you consider there are only 3 Par 5s on this Par 71 track, Quail Hollow is an absolutely gargantuan task.

Excluding James Hahn, all other winners here dating back to 2014 (Max Homa, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, JB Holmes) have ranked Top 15 in Driving Distance over their last 50 rounds entering the event. The Top 15 players in Driving Distance in this field entering this week are: Bryson DeChambeau, Wyndham Clark, Rory McIlroy, Will Gordon, Brandon Hagy, Joaquin Niemann, Luke List, Cameron Davis, Tyler McCumber, Jhonattan Vegas, Patrick Rodgers, Will Zalatoris, Jon Rahm, Joseph Bramlett, and Kristopher Ventura.

Rory McIlroy is the clear course horse in the field at Quail Hollow. He’s won the Wells Fargo twice, and has just one finish outside the Top 10 in his last 7 appearances here dating back to 2012 – it was a T16 in 2018. The Wells Fargo Championship has a history of going down to the wire, with 6 championships being decided in a playoff since the inaugural 2003 tournament. There have only been 3 instances in tournament history where the event was won by 4+ strokes, and two of those were won by Rory McIlroy. Despite the choppy recent form, expect Rory to be a popular play this week in DFS and OAD. McIlroy aside, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Pat Perez, and Justin Thomas carry great Course History as well, each with multiple T10 finishes here over the last 5 years.

At this point you may be wondering, “Aren’t you forgetting 2017 Wells Fargo Champion, Brian Harman?”. Well, because Quail Hollow hosted the 2017 PGA Championship, the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship shifted down the road to Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, North Carolina. Eagle Point is nothing at all like Quail Hollow, and so I award Brian Harman no Course History points, may God have mercy on his soul. The 2017 PGA Championship data is still plenty useful however, and beyond Justin Thomas’ victory, Patrick Reed, Francesco Molinari, and Rickie Fowler also finished in the Top 5 there and are in the field again this week. In fairness to Brian Harman, he is credited with a solid T13 finish at the 2017 PGA Championship.

Looking at DataGolf‘s course fit tool, Quail Hollow requires an above-tour average emphasis on Driving Distance, Approach, Around the Green, and Putting, and level-to-average importance on Driving Accuracy. That’s pretty rare to see, as typically there is a trade off between these attributes, but it goes to show that, similar to Major conditions, you’re going to need to gain strokes in all major SG categories this week to contend. Golf Club de Chapultepec, host of the WGC Mexico, is the #1 comp course profile to Quail Hollow, which bodes well for reigning 2019 WGC Mexico champion, Patrick Reed. One of the presumptive favorites this week, Bryson DeChambeau, finished Runner Up at the 2019 WGC Mexico, along with a win at Winged Foot at last year’s US Open. He finished T4 in his last Wells Fargo appearance in 2018, so expect him to be in contention once again in 2021.

Key Stats

  • Driving Distance
  • SG: OTT
  • SG: APP / SG: BS
  • SG: ARG / SG: SG
  • Prox 175-200, 200+
  • P3 200-225, 225+
  • P4 450-500, 500+
  • P5 550-600
  • SG: TOT or T2G (7,400+ Yard Courses)
  • SG: Putting (Bermuda)
  • Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • Driving Accuracy
  • SG: P (TOT)

This week is all about Distance for me. If we have another James Hahn exception week and a tactical non-bomber wins, I will leave the Wells Fargo Championship empty-handed, and I am at ease with that. Distance pre-requisites aside, since every major Strokes Gained stat seems to matter this week, I’m extending my model to put more emphasis on key hole and approach proximity distances than I typically would otherwise. Since these holes are so long, 53% of total approaches come from 175+ yards out. That’s a stark difference from the Tour average of 40% of approaches coming from 175+, so getting exposure to players who strike their long irons well will be crucial. The Top 5 players in this week’s field Prox 175+ are Bryson DeChambeau, Lucas Glover, Justin Thomas, Patton Kizzire, and Peter Malnati.

Proximity aside, the hole distances are concentrated most heavily under P4 450-500, with 8 holes falling in this range. The Top 5 players scoring in this range are Corey Conners, Cameron Tringale, Kyle Stanley, Brian Harman, and Patrick Reed.

Taking the key proximity and concentrated distances of the Par 3, 4, and 5s this week, there are just 7 players who rate out above average across all of these distances: Webb Simpson, Max Homa, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Will Zalatoris, Lanto Griffin, and Cameron Percy.

It’s worth noting that the correlated stats for success at Wells Fargo really don’t stray too far from Tour average. That’s rare, but we can simply translate to say that the best players in the world are going to do best here, with relatively few surprises. The most notable difference to flag however would be the premium on Opportunities Gained (7th vs 13th on average) and SG: SG (9th vs 14th on average).

Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at Quail Hollow

I tend to not put any stock behind course history putting correlations, but it did seem noteworthy that SG: P (10-15 ft) made the biggest jump in correlation to success at Quail Hollow versus Tour average. The Top 5 Bermuda Putters from 10-15 feet are Patrick Rodgers, Johnson Wagner, Keith Mitchell, Brian Harman, and Bryson DeChambeau.

To summarize this week, I’m looking for players who are long off the tee, great ball strikers, solid on Proximity from 175-200 & 200+, and who have the ability to get hot with their putter. There are 6 players who rank T50 in each of those categories: Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Viktor Hovland, Max Homa, Lanto Griffin, and Will Zalatoris.

Spotlight: Will Zalatoris

Will Zalatoris talented – and stupid? (let him explain) – enough to win  Masters as first-timer | Golf Channel

Woah woah woah, what’s this, a new section?! Yes, I love Will Zalatoris so much this week, I’m adding a dedicated Spotlight section to the Tournament Preview article just to talk about him some more.

There is only one player in the field this week who has played 36 rounds over the last 3 Months, and it’s Will Zalatoris, despite the fact he has taken 2 weeks off since the RBC Heritage to recharge his batteries. He’s replaced Sungjae Im in 2021 as the Tour’s iron man, and he needs to in order to work around the PGA Tour’s stupid qualifying status regulations to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs and/or Ryder Cup, so you know he’s coming motivated to win every week he tees it up.

I usually like going to established players who are coming off of a Missed Cut, because it gives them an extra couple of days to correct problem areas from the prior week. Zalatoris on the other hand has not missed a cut since October 2020, so the only rest he gets is when he skips a tournament. The last two times Zalatoris took off multiple weeks, he came back to finish T7 at The Farmers and 2nd at The Masters. Aside from working on his game with the down time, he also got engaged! Seems appropriate now that he add some additional hardware to go along with that new Engagement Ring.

Getting into the stats over the last 36 rounds, Zalatoris is 8th SG: T2G, 10th SG: BS, 4th SG: APP, 6th Birdies or Better Gained, 24th Driving Distance, 5th GIRs Gained, 2nd Par 4 Scoring, and 5th Par 5 Scoring. He’s also 6th SG: TOT on 7,400+ yard courses. Needless to say, this all bodes well for the Quail Hollow first-timer. This week I’m trying to narrow down bombers who excel in Ball Striking and Approach. Will Zalatoris is the only player in the Field to rank T25 in Driving Distance while also ranking inside the Top 10 in SG: BS and SG: APP.

The only time I’m not going to love Will Zalatoris is on a short, positional course that forces you to club down and neutralizes the strokes you can gain with Distance OTT versus the field. Even then, I’d still like him because his Ball Striking is phenomenal, but when I see him coming off of a mediocre T42 finish his last start at Harbour Town in which he lost 4.8 Strokes OTT, I couldn’t be any less concerned.

Looking human at the RBC Heritage should improve his odds just a hair this week, and so will the quality of players in this field. With Zalatoris’ form and fit for this course, he should be 18-20/1 this week. But the books have to put Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Xander Schauffele ahead of him, so he’ll more likely fall in the 25-35/1 range with the likes of Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, and Patrick Cantlay. I will bet Will Zalatoris regardless of his number this week, but where the books price him will dictate how chalky he becomes.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship

PGA: Max Homa wins Wells Fargo Championship for first career title

Max Homa picked up his first career win here in 2019. He beat a loaded field, that at the time, featured the top 3 players in the world in Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Jason Day. Homa’s win came seemingly out of nowhere, with lackluster recent form, but if you’re going to gain 10 strokes putting over 4 days, that’s always going to help compensate for the rest of your game.

It’s an especially tricky week to pick outrights, as the historical winners at Quail Hollow have been a mixed bag of the game’s best (Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day) and surprise underdogs (Max Homa, James Hahn, Lucas Glover). In any case, you need to be riding good recent form to perform well at Quail Hollow, as this is by no means a get-right track, so I’ll be favoring names at the top of the board more so than usual this week. That is especially the case in DFS, where I’ll be looking for more Stars & Scrubs type builds. Here’s an early look at the players popping out to me by projected pricing tier that I’ll be looking to get exposure to.

  • Tier 1 (<20/1, $10K+): Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm
  • Tier 2 (20-39/1, $9K): Will Zalatoris, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Joaquin Niemann, Viktor Hovland, Tony Finau
  • Tier 3 (40-69/1, $8K): Max Homa, Cameron Tringale, Shane Lowry
  • Tier 4 (70-100/1, $7K): Patton Kizzire, Talor Gooch, Lanto Griffin, Harold Varner III, Matt Jones, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Gary Woodland
  • Tier 5 (>100/1, $6K): Cameron Percy, Vaughn Taylor, Jhonattan Vegas, Roger Sloan, Aaron Wise, Brandon Hagy, Wyndham Clark, Akshay Bhatia, Patrick Rodgers

My model this week, led by a particular emphasis on Driving Distance, has Bryson DeChambeau ranked #1. He’s followed by Justin Thomas, Will Zalatoris, Max Homa, Tony Finau, Cameron Tringale, Viktor Hovland, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy to round out the Top 10.