Events & Reviews
TPC Potomac at Avenel is ready to challenge the best players in the world and showcase itself as a championship-caliber course this week for the Quicken Loans National after a ten-year absence from the PGA Tour schedule. Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, and defending champion Billy Hurley III headline a top-flight, 120-player field that also includes 14 of the top-26 players in the FedEx Cup standings and 16 winners on Tour this season. The event is hosted by Tiger Woods and benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.
First opened in 1986 and known as TPC Avenel, TPC Potomac was a fixture on Tour for decades, hosting the Kemper Open and Booz Allen Classic until 2006, when the event died largely due to grumblings from the players about course conditions and layout. Restoring the maligned course would have been a practical option, but TPC Potomac chose instead to go all in, rebuilding virtually from scratch. It underwent a massive $32 million renovation with prominent architects Tom Fazio and Pete Dye contributing their expertise, and Tour professionals Fred Funk and Davis Love III also providing input. To say the transformation is dramatic would be a monumental understatement.
The new par-70, 7,139-yard track now features fabulously manicured Bentgrass tees, fairways, and greens. All holes have been re-graded. Fairway widths have been reduced. Green complexes have been re-contoured, with a number of them raised and protected by deep, reshaped, repositioned bunkers. The “Stadium” concept was removed and replaced by a more mid-Atlantic feel, and ragged-edged bunkers encased by high fescue grass adds a links-style touch as well. It’s the perfect recipe for a top-notch test of golf in our nation’s capital.
Pictured: Hole No. 7 at TPC Potomac at Avenel
Originally conceived as a copy of the par-5, No. 13 at Augusta National, TPC Potomac’s 6th hole is now a 484-yard, dogleg right, par-4 and rated the most difficult hole on the course. A precise tee shot is required for any chance at birdie with thick rough on the left and a marshy grave on the right of the fairway. The green is generously sized, but approach shots long and right will find Rock Run Creek which precariously runs behind the green.
No. 7 is a par-4, 452-yard jewel with the most scenic tee shot on the course. A fairly wide, elevated fairway doglegs to the right, and long hitters who are tempted to shave the right side should beware of the deep bunker waiting to gobble up errant drives. On approach, the green slopes left to right, and a pin position on the right side will cause less precise shots to funnel off the green into a shaved chipping area, making for a tough up-and-down.
The par-3, 201-yard 9th hole, once dropping 40-feet to the green and famously disparaged by Greg Norman, who said, “It should be blown up with dynamite,” has been rebuilt, and while it still plays downhill it’s not nearly as drastic. A new green was built higher on a hill near an old practice green, and no longer has the old brook in play. It’s protected by one bunker on the left, two deep bunkers on the right, and is rated as the 4th easiest hole on the course, but players who find themselves in either of the two right-side bunkers might not even be able to see the flagstick.
GPS View of Hole No.10 from the 18Birdies App
Another enormous change combines the old par-4, 373-yard 10th hole and par-3, 186-yard 11th hole into a new dogleg left, par-5, 560-yard No. 10. Rated the 4th most difficult hole on the course, No. 10 presents a fairly wide fairway off the tee, but chunky rough runs down the entire left side and can blow up the hole for overcooked drives. Shorter hitters will bail out right but a longer approach into a very narrow green puts them at a considerable disadvantage from finding the promised land. The putting surface slopes from back to front, and is guarded by a fatal marsh on the left and dastardly bunkers on the right to wreak havoc. Big numbers loom for all on this hole.
The old par-5, 13th hole was another target of player vitriol and extremely bungling, featuring a blind tee shot with no intelligent area for a second shot. It was replaced by No. 12, a par-3, 168-yard hole that plays uphill to a nearly blind green, and No. 13, a par-4, 360-yard hole providing a strong incentive for big hitters to let it rip off the tee.
The 12th hole is the shortest par-3 on the course, but deceptively difficult with a false front that falls off sharply and two deep bunkers looming on the right of the green. Correct club selection is imperative. The 13th hole features a straightforward drive from an elevated tee to an enormous fairway, and only the worst drives will find wetlands on the left and bunkers on the right. Spin control will be a formidable task on approach into a small, elevated, and sloping green.
With the tournament on the line, par will be a good score on the par-4, 412-yard 16th. Placement off the tee is paramount to distance as the fairway runs out to a landing area that may leave players on approach hitting from a ticklish downhill lie to an uphill green. Protected by seven scheming bunkers, the putting surface is the smallest on the back-nine.
Players To Watch
Billy Hurley was an improbable winner at Quicken Loans National last year in what was the feel-good story of the season, and Hurley’s undeniably enjoyed the spoils of being a PGA Tour champion. He’s only picked up two top-10 finishes in 28 starts since his victory, but the Naval Academy graduate might have a big advantage on the field this week: Hurley routinely practices at TPC Potomac. Even with local knowledge on his side, however, that probably won’t translate to another uplifting story of triumph. Hurley’s in the bottom-third on Tour in Greens In Regulation and Driving Accuracy and precision both off the tee and on approach are all-important this week. My heart says give Hurley a top-10 this week, but my mind says he struggles to make the cut.
After Justin Thomas’ single-round scoring record of 63 at the U.S. Open on Saturday, many thought the 24-year old would take that next step in his evolution into an elite player and join the prestigious club of major champions. However, Thomas fizzled out on Sunday shooting a 75, and then went on to miss the cut last week at the Traveler’s Championship. Thomas has the iron game to win at TPC Potomac, he was 19th on Tour in Greens In Regulation going into Travelers and is ranked 22nd in Approach: Proximity To Hole. However, J.T. hit less than 40-percent of the fairways last week at TPC River Highlands and if he doesn’t improve this week he’ll be facing a similar fate. I’m betting Thomas was exhausted from the U.S. Open grind and inspired by his “good buddy” Jordan Spieth’s win at the Travelers, Thomas should bounce back into form and finish inside the top-15.
Rickie Fowler has all the boxes checked to win this week at TPC Potomac. Fowler’s ranked 19th in Driving Accuracy, 32nd in Greens In Regulation, and seventh in Strokes Gained: Putting this year on Tour. Rickie’s finished in the top-10 in nearly half the events he’s played this season and is slowly evolving into the type of player who’s going to be a favorite every week, no matter the event or track. Unless Fowler’s done something to upset the golf gods since Erin Hills, Rickie should find himself in the winner’s circle Sunday evening.