CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gnarly rough, diabolically fast greens, some good scores and a smattering of grumbling. Add up all of that and it says everything about the PGA Championship after day one: It is a true major, through and through.
The condition and setup at Quail Hollow Club, along with the inherent pressure, made it the challenge that major championships are meant to be. There was good play, particularly by Thorbjorn Olesen and Kevin Kisner, the leaders at 4 under par. But their 67s on Thursday were the highest first-round leaders’ scores at a major this year.
Day one was a change of pace after Erin Hills proved a pushover during the U.S. Open and Royal Birkdale yielded a major-record 62 in the British Open. Jordan Spieth, the marquee player this week because he is attempting to become the youngest ever to complete the career Grand Slam, predicted that the winning score Sunday will be in single-digits below par.
“It’s going to play almost like Augusta this year,” Spieth said after finishing the day 1 over. He said it with respect.
There had been speculation that the 7,588-yard layout would be a proverbial “bomber’s course,” especially after rain earlier in the week (with more expected through Sunday).
“I’m going to say every course we play is a bomber’s course anymore,” Kisner said. “But if they’re not playing from the fairway, I wouldn’t want to be doing it. The rough is brutal. I don’t care how far they hit it. If they are having to hit 7- or 8-iron, it’s still going to be difficult to get on the green.”
Kisner kept his shots in play in a round highlighted by three successive birdies, on the sixth through eighth holes. The key for him — and for everyone else, one way or another — was putting. “I love the greens, they’re just like what I grew up on. I feel like I really don’t have to read them,” said the native of Aiken, South Carolina.
Olesen grew up far from here, in Denmark, but seemed right at home. He was one of the rare players to finish with a birdie on the par-4 18th. “It was a little bit of a safe shot into the green. That’s what can happen on this golf course,’’ he said. “When you play safe into the greens, you give yourself very tricky putts, like the one I had, downhill, left-to-right. It was very, very fast. But it was just a very good roll.”
A big weekend could allow Olesen to make a name for himself — again. His given first name is Jacob but he goes by his middle name. “I don’t think I really decided it myself, to be honest,’’ he said. “When I started in school, there were three Jacobs, so everybody called me Thorbjorn and it just hung on from there.”
Big names right near the top of the leaderboard include U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, one shot out of the lead. “I wasn’t very comfortable on the greens,’’ he said. “I think it had a lot to do with the speed of the greens, how fast they were. With some of the pin locations, these greens are the fastest greens I’ve ever played. And the thing is, they are only going to get faster and firmer.”
Koepka bogeyed No. 16, possibly rattled after seeing a marshal sprawled out because he was hit on the head by the powerful hitter’s drive. A PGA of America official said the marshal left for home but was OK. Koepka said he took the man’s contact information and intends to call him Sunday night. “To be honest with you,” he said, “I felt like crap.”
Many players questioned the slope and pin placement on No. 4, a new par 3 constructed for this major championship. One who had no problem there, though, was Joost Luiten, who made a hole-in-one.