The PGA Tour’s only team competition format returns to The Big Easy this week for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Dating back 80 years to 1938, the tournament has been an annual event since 1958. The 2017 edition, however, was the first two-man team event on Tour since 1981.
Contested on the Pete Dye-designed TPC Louisiana, this par-72, 7,425-yard course boasts a series of short but compelling par-4 holes to balance the longer ones. The signature hole is the risk-reward par-5, 585-yard No.18, where water runs along the entire right side of the hole and spectacular bunkering around the green complex provides all kinds of compelling shots. Here are five things you need to know about the 69th playing of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Inside the Field
Ten of the top-14 players in the OWGR will tee it up in New Orleans, including the current holders of all four major championships. Brooks Koepka (U.S. Open) returns to action after being sidelined since January with a wrist injury, and pairs with 2008 Shriners Hospitals for Children’s Open winner Marc Turnesa. World No. 3 Jordan Spieth (Open Championship) teams up for the second year in a row with fellow Texan Ryan Palmer. Current FedEx Cup leader Justin Thomas (PGA Championship) joins forces with fellow Alabama alum Bud Cauley. While 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed pairs again with Patrick Cantlay as they hope to improve on their 14th place finish here last year. Other notable teams include Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar, and defending champions Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith.
How it Works
This year’s 72-hole stroke team play format will feature Four-Ball (Best Ball) during the first and third rounds, and Foursomes (Alternate Shot) during the second and fourth rounds. In Four-Ball, the 2-person teams will play one ball with teammates alternating hitting the shots. In Foursomes, the 2-person teams will each play their own ball throughout the entirety of the round with the team marking down the lower of their two scores on each hole. The starting field will consist of 80 teams, which will be cut to the low 35 teams and ties following the conclusion of the second round. In case of a tie after 72 holes, there will be a sudden-death playoff using Foursomes for the first extra hole, Four-Ball for the second extra hole, and then alternate each hole thereafter.
Creative Genius or Demonic Torturer?
No golf course design element separates a great player from a less-than-great one quite like a bunker, and Pete Dye spread 103 of them throughout TPC Louisiana. Some bunkers are longer than football fields, while others are so small players cannot get into the sand to play their shots. Characteristic of a Pete Dye course, you’ll see long fairway bunkers between hazards and fairways (like the par-4, 438-yard 5th hole), greenside bunkers with giant lips (like the par-3, 216 yard 14th hole), and plenty of bedevilling pot bunkers (62 to be exact). Lakes and lagoons come into play prominently on the par-3s and a few other holes, however, players will have to earn their money this week from the sand.
Weekend Rounds will Feature Walk-Up Music
The Zurich Classic will be the first PGA Tour event to feature walk-up music as each team is announced on the first hole over the weekend. No one knows what songs will echo through the fairways until the tournament begins, but here are some I’d like to see. Justin Rose: “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” (Corey Hart). Rose takes a lot of ribbing for wearing notoriously large shades that look like sunglasses you get at a 3D movie. Rose wears them because of allergies, but this would be self-deprecating humor at its finest. Henrik Stenson: “Here Comes the Boom” (Nelly). No one murders their 3-Wood like Stenson, who regularly puts it out there 300 yards-plus. If The Ice Man goes even further and perfectly coordinates impact with the “boom” lyric, he would break the internet. Jordan Spieth: “All I Do is Win” (DJ Khaled). Spieth is too modest to choose this song, but you know who has the most wins on Tour since 2015? Enough said.
TPC Louisiana Giveth and TPC Louisiana Taketh Away
TPC Louisiana is a course waiting to be eaten up. Historically it ranks inside the top-third easiest courses on the PGA Circuit, and yields birdies in bunches. Modest, escapable rough and easy to hit greens require you to go low and give yourself as many scoring opportunities as possible. The flip side of TPC Louisiana is that you can lose strokes to the field just as quickly if you’re aggressive and miss. Bogeys and double-bogeys pile up in a hurry if you find the penalizing bunkers. TPC Louisiana forces you to shape shots and think about landing areas and how your ball will react after making contact. Bermuda fairways are firm with significant roll-out, so you can’t just blast it off the tee and expect perfect results. Limiting mistakes and precision from tee to green is the key to success this week.
An imperative skill on any Pete Dye course is Ball Striking, and the Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello team is one of the best in the field. Garcia and Bello have self-combusted their last few starts, with Sergio missing two consecutive cuts, and Rafa missing a cut and finishing T-38. Putting has been a sizable concern for both Spaniards this season. However, the good news is many of the past winners here have not been great putters and TPC Louisiana is not known for its tenacious greens. Strokes Gained: Approach The Green will be very important this week, and Garcia and Bello are ranked 2nd and 7th on Tour in that statistic respectively. Chemistry also goes a long way in this format and the Europeans are built for this. Look for Sergio to play aggressively, Rafa to have Sergio’s back, and both to pepper greens as they take the title.