PGA stars: New format in New Orleans boosts fun quotient
AVONDALE, La. (AP) It has the feel of a guys' weekend out in New Orleans for Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and a host of fellow PGA Tour stars at the new team event that the Zurich Classic has become.
Watson expects the revamped format in the Big Easy, which debuts Thursday, to be a treat for fans and players - and good for golf.
''For them to come up with this idea of showing the fun side of golf ... you're going to see a lot of smiles, a lot of laughing and a lot of enjoyment of the game,'' said Watson, who won the Zurich Classic in 2011, when it was a traditional, stroke-play event.
Now there are 80 two-player teams, and the players got to choose their partners.
Apparently, few players performed an exhaustive analysis of which players' games might complement their own best on a two-man team at the Pete Dye-designed, par-72 TPC Louisiana course. In many cases, players paired up with friends - or family.
''I think there was very little research and homework done compared to what you might think in creating these teams,'' said Spieth who teamed up with fellow Texan Ryan Palmer. ''A lot of friends, and that's going to be enticing, too, to almost kind of feel like it's a little bit of a break.''
Englishman Justin Rose, fresh off his second-place in the Masters, teamed with fellow European Henrik Stenson of Sweden.
''If you don't get along, it's going to be a long four days out there,'' Stenson said. ''And of course to team up with a player of Justin's caliber is hopefully going to make that journey a bit smoother.''
Rose, the 2015 Zurich Classic winner, joked that one reason he chose Stenson was because he's ''very handsome,'' and complimented Stenson for wearing pink.
Not to say it won't be competitive. The winning team takes home $1.02 million per player, along with and 400 FedExCup each.
Watson chose J.B. Holmes. The tandem of Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are among the favorites. Brooks Koepka, the 19th-ranked player in the world, chose his brother, Chase, who plays professionally in Europe and is making his PGA tour debut. Branden Grace is with fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen. The pair of Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley is made up of former Alabama players, while the Jason Dufner-Patton Kizzire duo played for Auburn. Defending Zurich Classic champion Brian Stuard is paired with Chris Stroud.
''How would you not want to be here for this event?'' said Watson, who is playing in New Orleans for the first time since 2013, and who treated Holmes to a birthday dinner Tuesday night that included a magic show. ''For (Zurich and the PGA Tour) to step out of the box and do something like this is pretty amazing.''
Here are some things to know about this year's Zurich Classic.
STRATEGY: In the first and third rounds, teams will alternate shots. In the second and final rounds, they'll take the best score per hole. That means strategies will change from round to round - more defensive when they alternate shots, more aggressive when they go with the best score.
BE THE BALL: During the first-and third, alternate-shot rounds, players have to agree on which ball they will use for each hole. The key elements that go into choosing golf balls tend to be things like compression, distance and rate of rotation. And while most balls are white, Watson has been known to use pink. Not this time, though, because doesn't want to throw off his teammate. ''I only brought white balls,'' Watson said. ''It does look different if you're not used to it.''
NOVEL APPROACH: The PGA Tour hasn't had a team event since the 1981 Disney Classic. Day counts himself among a new generation of top golfers who believe the sport needs to experiment with format changes to engage younger fans. For now, many of his fellow players are embracing it. Half of the top 30 players in the world have converged on the TPC Louisiana, giving the Big Easy its best field in about two decades. Likewise, Spieth shot down the notion that the new Zurich format is gimmicky. ''It can be sustainable, and I think it needs to be,'' Spieth said. ''The majority of players are fans of team sports, and we don't get an opportunity to (play on teams) but once a year if we're fortunate enough to be on a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team.''