By Dave Shedloski
The $7.1 million Quicken Loans National has moved around throughout its history. This week the prestigious invitational tournament hosted by Tiger Woods ventures to TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, a site familiar to PGA TOUR golfers and yet sporting a new identity.
Opened in 1986, the formerly named TPC Avenel hosted the Kemper Open on the PGA TOUR until 2006. It has since been redesigned and now is a par-70 layout of 7,124 yards, though it’s still a scenic beauty that meanders through wooded terrain and the Rock Run Stream Valley, one of the Potomac River’s main tributaries. All 18 holes were tweaked to varying degrees, including a complete redesign of holes 10, 11 and 13.
Following the renovation, TPC Potomac hosted the 2010 Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship. Mark O’Meara won, defeating Michael Allen in a playoff after they finished at 7-under 273. More recently, TPC Potomac hosted the Web.com Tour’s Mid-Atlantic Championship in 2012 and 2013.
Billy Hurley III, who served in the Navy, is the defending champion, having produced a wonderful feel-good story a year ago at Congressional. He’s joined in the 120-player field by world No. 9 Rickie Fowler and No. 12 Justin Thomas, both top-10 finishers at the U.S. Open, and 14 other winners on the PGA TOUR this season.
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Veteran CBS Sports broadcaster Gary McCord assesses the field, the golf course and what to watch for in the 11th edition of the Quicken Loans National.
You tied for 11th in the 1989 Kemper Open at TPC Avenel. A lot of changes since then, but it’s the same picturesque setting. What do you remember?
Well, it was always an okay golf course that never met with rave reviews. But in recent years, when the event was played at Congressional, we have had a chance to practice there and man alive, let me tell you it is now one heck of a golf course. It’s very challenging, and guys had better bring their games. It’s going to be interesting how the guys like it and handle it, because it has been toughened up. It’s always in good shape. But this is hard.
Billy Hurley provided a heartwarming story with his win a year ago. How hard is it emotionally to try and come back and do it again?
You couldn’t ask for a better story last year. No question. You’re rooting for America there. He’s such a great guy, an upfront guy, and he’d been through a lot. So you couldn’t help but root for him in that situation, when he put all the pieces together. Good for him.
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Rickie Fowler is the highest-ranked player in the field. He nearly won this event two years ago, finishing second behind Troy Merritt. He missed a chance a few weeks ago at the U.S. Open. Where is he headed?
That is a really good question. He’s on that fine line between doing what he needs to do to keep his brand going and playing good golf. You look at his stats, and they’re really, really good. So you can’t fault him for the things he’s doing with his golf game, because he’s playing well. He seems to be going in the right direction right now. He’s 28, and he needs to win a major. It doesn’t matter how he does it. He’s at a point where that’s what people expect of a player of his caliber. He’s doing a hell of a job with everything that he is doing. But whatever else you need to put in that soup — whatever those last ingredients — he has to go do it. He’s a great guy, and he stirs up a lot of conversation. We all want to see him get there.
Let’s talk about this event played near the nation’s capital around the Fourth of July. It’s a great atmosphere.
It’s a nice tradition that has been started. That’s kind of what made Billy Hurley’s win so neat was watching him do that as we celebrate what’s great about America. Going down the list, it’s great we have a strong field that supports what’s going on with this event and the unique aspect of it on the PGA TOUR.
Give us your favorites and dark horses.
A guy who is about ready to win again is Justin Thomas. It’s a big golf course with zoysia fairways, so the ball doesn’t run a lot. I like a guy who hits it a long way in the air. [Thomas] just shot 63 and should be ready after the U.S. Open. Patrick Reed is getting close, and he’s going to be knocking on the door in the next few tournaments he plays. Not a long shot, but Kevin Chappell is going to play well on that golf course.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.