The place at Quail Hollow where birdies go to die and par is king

Even on an early May day when temperatures ran into the high 80s, this is not how a golfer would choose to cool off his feet.

Billy Hurley III had no choice but to pull off his spikes, hike up his trousers and wade into the creek adjoining the 18th hole at Quail Hollow Club. It was the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday and Hurley was experiencing a disastrous “Green Mile” effect.

Arguably the most diabolical trio of finishing holes on the PGA Tour is in Charlotte. Near the end of a long walk you must calculate how daring you feel walking up to the 16th tee box, the beginning of what is now known internationally as “the Green Mile.” By they time they walk off the 18th green, the losers in this risk-reward assessment typically far outnumber the winners even among the world’s greatest players.

Some startling numbers:

Since 2003 the pros have shot an aggregate 1,144 under par on holes 1 through 15 at Quail Hollow. The same aggregate over holes 16, 17 and 18: 6,305 over par.

Over the 15-year history of this tournament, 1,444 shots have hit water on the three Green Mile holes. That includes 576 balls hitting the drink for the Par-3 No. 17, where the green is encircled by water, and 791 shots finding the creek that runs along No. 18, where Hurley went wading.

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Actually, Hurley’s walk through the mile proved particularly nasty. He bogeyed all three finishing holes, and since his round started on No. 9, the ugliness carried over to No. 1 where he made his fourth consecutive bogey.

Quail Hollow veterans say you just have to make peace with the premise, sooner or later, that par golf on the Green Mile is a good day’s work.

“They’re just really hard holes,” said Phil Mickelson, who has the third-best scoring average in Quail Hollow history (70.18 per round), but has never won here in 15 prior tournaments. “Balls are running toward the water. The ground is kicking balls into the water. So you have to be extra careful.

“It’s a very difficult three-hole finish.”

Mickelson demonstrated as much, with a bogey 5 on No. 16, then made up for that with a birdie 2 on No. 17.

Seamus Power, who lives in Charlotte, nearly had a bogey-free day Thursday until No. 18 scarred his round with a double bogey.

“There is nothing that sneaks up on you about them,” Power said. “No. 17 is an intimidating hole. You can only miss on one side. And 18 with the wind off the left today, you’ve really got to turn it against the wind, and even then it tough second shot.

“It’s a tough stretch. Whoever plays those holes well has a really good chance Sunday.”

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It’s counter-intuitive for the best athletes in any sport to accept good, rather than great, as the goal, but that’s how daunting the Green Mile holes are: Averaging par — over four rounds, and certainly over multiple tournaments — on those finishing holes is enough to win.

Some evidence: Since 2003, only 23 players have gone bogey-free on Nos 16 through 18 for the entire week. Jason Day did that in last year’s tournament, finishing the week with nine pars and three birdies on the Green Mile. Over time, Day has taken a tap-the-brakes approach to attempting to go low on those holes.

“You have to be very patient with this golf course, especially the finish,” said Day, who finished 3-under 68 for his first round Thursday.

“If you can get yourself off to a good start and just kind of play even-par through that stretch, then you’re not losing many shots to the field; you’re probably gaining shots.”