- The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is the only PGA Tour event to feature a team format. Here's everything you need to know ahead of Thursday's first round.
That's the theme of this week's PGA Tour event, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which is the only tournament on the current schedule that employs a team format. Players in the field this week are paired up into 80 two-man teams—yes, they got to choose their partners—and will be playing a mixture of best ball and alternate shot.
Because of the nature of the format, no Official World Golf Ranking points are at stake this week, and the winners do not get a berth into next year's Masters. The logic here is that Player A might carry his team to victory while Player B doesn't play nearly well enough to win a PGA Tour event. Is it fair, then, for Player B to get all the perks that come with a win? No, it's not, even if Player A gets the short end of the stick in that hypothetical scenario.
The Zurich Classic is, however, an official PGA Tour event, so winning does come with its share of riches. Namely: more than $1 million to each player, 400 FedEx Cup points each and a two-year Tour exemption. (FedEx Cup points are distributed as though the teammates tied, so the 500 for first + 300 for second is split between the two. That's how you get 400.)
Another fun thing in play this week: Walk-up songs on the weekend. Yep, each pair will get to choose a song to play while they approach the first tee should they make the cut. Some of the best choices so far:
Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown: "Slippery" by Migos
Gary Woodland/Daniel Berger: "Forever" by Drake
Charlie Wi/K.J. Choi: "Gangnam Style" by PSY
Charley Hoffman/Nick Watney: "California Love" by Dr. Dre
Harold Varner III/Robert Garrigus: "Ebony and Ivory" by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
This week, you'll see two formats of golf that until last year were limited to the Ryder and Presidents Cups. The first and third round will be best ball. In this format, both golfers play their own ball, with the best score between the two counting. If Player A makes a 4 and Player B makes a 5, the team's score for the hole is Player A's 4. Friday and Sunday will be alternate shot, which is exactly what it sounds like. One player tees off, the next player hits the second shot with the same ball, so on and so forth. If one player finishes a hole by making a putt, the other player tees off the next hole.
The past champions
This is only the second year that the event has featured this team format; the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was a traditional stroke-play event for many decades prior to the switch. In fact, the first edition of the tournament was known as the Crescent City Classic and was played in 1938.
Last year's event was won by the team of Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith with a four-day total of -27. The team of Blixt/Smith beat Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff that lasted four holes, and both teams were four shots clear of the third place team of Kelly Kraft and Kevin Tway. Blixt and Smith's round-by-round scores were as follows: 67-62-68-64. This is a pretty typical pattern, as you'd expect teams to score better on the best-ball days, when they get to count the best of two scores on each hole.
After a relatively weak field in the first year of the team format, five of the top 10 and 18 of the top 30 golfers in the world will tee it up in NOLA this week. This is all the evidence you need that players view this week as a fun departure from the stroke-play grind.
Justin Thomas is teaming up with fellow Alabama grad Bud Cauley. A year after they finished fourth, Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer are giving it another go as a pair this year. Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are teaming up this week in what could be an audition for a Ryder Cup pairing. Jon Rahm, one of the longest players on tour, will play alongside Wesley Bryan, one of the shortest. And Brooks Koepka is making his return from a 15-week absence due to a wrist injury. He'll play with Marc Turnesa. Masters champ Patrick Reed is back in action for the first time since that massive victory, and he's teaming up with Patrick Cantlay.
Some other fun teams: David Duval and Jim Furyk, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson, Jason Day and 19-year-old Ryan Ruffels, Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
Full tee times can be seen here.
The Zurich has been played at TPC Louisiana since 2005, though the event was moved to English Turn Golf and Country Club in 2006 due to damage from Hurricane Katrina. TPC Louisiana is actually located in Avondale and is about a 30 minute drive from the French Quarter. It's a 7,425-yard, par-72 layout designed by Pete Dye in conjunction with 1995 PGA Championship winner Steve Elkington, and it opened in 2004. It finishes with a 589-yard par-5 with water all along the right side, a hole designed with Sunday drama in mind.
Scores have been low in recent years. Before the -27 put up last year by Blixt and Smith, the average winning score for the five years prior (when it was a normal stroke-play event) was -19.
Cauley/Thomas +1000 - Cauley has quietly had a solid season, ranking 61st in the FedEx Cup standings.
Watson/Kuchar +1400 - One of three teams that feature two top-25 players (Garcia/Cabrera-Bello, Stenson/Rose).
Cabrera Bello/Garcia +2000
Day/Ruffels +3300 - Ruffels is a 19-year-old pro with a picture-perfect swing.
Brown/Kisner +3300 - Probably listed so low because Brown has missed six of nine cuts.
Oosthuizen/Schwartzel +4000 - Seems like good value, thought Schwartzel has struggled of late.
Last week's choice, Charley Hoffman, made the cut on the number, and my pick the week before missed the cut altogether. Time for a turnaround. I'm going with Sean O'Hair and Jimmy Walker. Both players finished in the top 5 at last week's Valero Texas Open, and Walker finally seems to be back to full strength after a lengthy battle with Lyme disease.