Like most sporting events this year, the Wells Fargo Championship is back — but not quite back to normal.
The prestigious PGA event, held annually at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club, was canceled last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Event organizers estimate that the loss of the tournament, which normally draws an average of 190,000 fans to the course, cost the area $60 million in revenue.
Fans will be allowed this year, but precautions due to the lingering pandemic will make it a different experience from the last time they teed it up in Charlotte in 2019.
Ticket sales are capped at 30% of capacity, or approximately 57,000 people for the week. Shuttles will be available but social distancing requirements will likely cause large delays, organizers warn. There will be no bleachers this year, so fans are encouraged to bring their own chairs.
Food and merchandise sales will be cashless, and players will not shake hands, fist bump or sign autographs for fans.
Still, it will be professional golf and, from the looks of the field, high-level professional golf at that. With 10 of the top 15 players in the PGA competing, the Wells Fargo promises to have the best field at a golf event since last month’s Masters. With the PGA Championship coming up shortly, this is one of the last chances for the sport’s top golfers to get their game in shape for the next major tournament.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is not playing, but the rest of the world’s top five players are all committed. That includes Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau. None of the four have won or finished runner-up at the Wells Fargo before, although Thomas won on the course in 2017 when the PGA Championship was held at Quail Hollow.
No Wells Fargo winner has ever defended his title, but 2019 winner Max Homa is back to give it a try. He won by three shots two years ago over Joel Dahmen, who is also back. Other previous winners looking to take the tournament again include Sean O’Hair (2009), Rory McIlroy (2010, 2015), Lucas Glover (2011), Rickie Fowler (2012), J.B. Holmes (2014), James Hahn (2016), Brian Harman (2017) and Jason Day (2018). The only one of the last 11 winners not in this year’s field is 2013 champion Derek Ernst.
McIlroy will be a player to watch this week. He’s the only two-time winner in the tournament’s history and set the course record in each win. He hasn’t won a tournament since 2019 and has missed two cuts, including the Masters, since switching swing coaches. If anything can snap him out of his recent slump, it’s the Quail Hollow course where he’s seen so much success.
Another former winner hoping the familiar course turns around his recent fortunes is Fowler. He recorded his first career PGA win at the Wells Fargo nine years ago and finished fourth the last time the event was played. Since then, he’s fallen on hard times with just two top-10 finishes in his last 29 events, which helped knock him out of the world top-100 rankings.
Phil Mickelson has never won the Wells Fargo, but the legend has always done well on the course with a dozen top-12 finishes in his 17 appearances.
Two golfers familiar to area fans received the tournament’s sponsor’s exemptions. Akshay Bhatia, a Wake Forest resident who turned pro two years ago, will look to break through at the event in front of his home-state fans. He earned his first career PGA top 10 earlier this year after getting another sponsor’s exemption.
Wake Forest alumnus Will Zalatoris, who had a near miss at the Masters, received the other exemption. He hasn’t missed a cut yet this year and will look to build off his success at Augusta National.
Two other former Demon Deacons are in the field — Bill Haas and Webb Simpson. The 38-year-old Haas has made just three of 12 cuts this season and hasn’t won since 2015. His last top-10 finish was in 2019.
With top-12 finishes in three of his last four events, Simpson is a golfer to watch. He finished runner-up to McIlroy in 2015.
The only other alumnus of a college in the state who will be competing at the Wells Fargo Championship is former Duke Blue Devil Kevin Streelman. He has a third-place finish and two top-10s this year, and he is looking for his first win on the tour since 2014.