It would have been enough just having the PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club this week, bringing to life a chapter in golf’s unfolding history at a place that seems created for moments like these.
Then Jordan Spieth did what he did at the Open Championship last month and once the head shaking had subsided, he landed here with a chance to complete the career Grand Slam at a younger age than anyone ever has.
That Spieth’s first opportunity to expand golf’s most elite club from five members to six comes at Quail Hollow is both good fortune and potentially great theatre. Throw in Rory McIlroy’s almost mystical mastery of Quail Hollow and this PGA Championship at least begins with the possibility of a storybook duel, the kind we often imagine but rarely see.
Maybe this is the week.
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It would help if the rain stayed away, the sun came out and the wind blew just enough to keep the sweat down, but there are worse things than muddy shoes and keeping an umbrella handy. The damp, soft conditions just mean Quail Hollow will play a club or two longer in many places and the emphasis is heightened on avoiding the ankle-deep Bermuda rough that’s as thick as oatmeal.
For all the questions and opinions about the most recent set of changes to Quail Hollow, the central plot line this week centers on Spieth and McIlroy, who not coincidentally are the two most compelling golfers to watch in the post-Tiger era.
Spieth’s Sunday saga at Royal Birkdale was captivating enough to boost television ratings by nearly 150 percent and offered direct evidence of why and how the world reacts to the 24-year old Texan.
Several elements separate Spieth from his colleagues, most impressively his intuitive genius with a putter in his hand and his rare knack for forging a good score from sometimes dire circumstances, the bogey he made at the 13th hole on Sunday in the Open Championship being the most recent example.
“Resilience, mentally tough, strong, whatever you want to call it. That’s his greatest asset,” McIlroy said of Spieth.
Where other players see occasional darkness, Spieth seems to play in perpetual sunshine.
That becomes especially handy this week when the weight of expectations should fall heavy on Spieth’s shoulders. A win this week and he will become the youngest ever to win the career Grand Slam.
Quicker than Jack Nicklaus. Quicker than Tiger Woods. Not to mention Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson and Sam Snead, among others, never won the career Slam.
Spieth sees opportunity where others see an impossibly high hill.
Asked Wednesday to rate the three biggest challenges he faces at Quail Hollow – the other players, the golf course or the burden of potential history – Spieth immediately narrowed the list to two. The players and the course. He brushed aside the history thing.
“Expectations, I don’t really feel any,” Spieth said. “This is a chance to complete the career Grand Slam. I’m here so I’m going to go ahead and give it a try, but I believe I’m going to have plenty of chances and I’m young enough to believe in my abilities that it will happen at some point.
“Do I have to be the youngest? No, I don’t feel that kind of pressure. Would it be really cool? Absolutely.
“Expectations I wouldn’t really put on the radar.”
Spieth has played one tournament at Quail Hollow – he tied for 32nd in 2013 – so he doesn’t have the familiarity with the place that McIlroy does. With two wins, a playoff loss to Rickie Fowler and course records of 62 then, later, 61, Quail Hollow has become one of McIlroy’s favorite places.
He briefly considered buying a place in Charlotte but decided against it. That doesn’t change the sense of peace he has at Quail Hollow. Having gone three years without winning a major, this is one McIlroy pinpointed years ago as one of his best opportunities.
“There’s just certain courses that you can see yourself shoot a (good) score on,” McIlroy said. “You don’t have to have your best game and you still feel like you have a chance to win and that’s sort of how it feels here.
“I’ve got some great memories. I think once you go back to a place where you do have great memories, all that starts to come flooding back and makes you feel good about yourself.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as finding a reason to believe.
Spieth and McIlroy have their own reasons this week.
TV schedule (EDT)
Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., TNT.
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., TNT; 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., CBS.
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., TNT; 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., CBS.