Jay Monahan promised changes when he took over from Tim Finchem as commissioner of the PGA Tour late last year and the biggest so far will be on display this week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.
The tournament, which dates to 1938, will feature a two-man team competition, the first of its kind on the official Tour schedule since 1981.
“There’s a new commissioner in place for the PGA Tour, so I think the Tour, in trying to grow the game and keep interest up, will be looking at some different things,” said chief executive officer Steve Worthy of the Fore!Kids Foundation, which manages the tournament. “We were looking to improve, and out of the brainstorming we did, the team format is what came out of it.
“Golf is just looking to do different things to bring new fans in. Timing-wise, I think it just happened because we were having the discussion this year and they were willing to do something different.”
The 80 two-man teams will play a round under the alternate-shot format on Thursday and a round of best ball on Friday before the 36-hole cut is made.
The top 35 teams will play another round of alternate shot on Saturday and best ball on Sunday to determine the champion.
The players who have committed seem excited about the tournament format.
“I’ve loved being a part of team events throughout my amateur, collegiate and now professional career,” Rickie Fowler said. “I’m so excited that the Tour and Zurich are making this part of our schedule and can’t wait to tee it up.”
Players qualified according to their PGA Tour ranking, with the highest-ranked player on each team selecting a teammate. Players must have PGA Tour experience in the current season, although there are some players in the field on sponsor’s invitations.
Among the top teams are Fowler and Jason Day of Australia; Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer; Ryder Cup teammates Justin Rose of England and Henrik Stenson of Sweden; Hideki Matsuyama and Hideto Tanihara, both of Japan; Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley; Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes; Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay; Daniel Berger and Thomas Pieters of Belgium; Tyrrell Hatton of England and Jamie Donaldson of Wales; Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair; Russell Knox of Scotland and Kevin Streelman; Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, both of South Africa; Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly; Charley Hoffman and Nick Watney; Jason Dufner and Patrick Kizzire; Luke Donald of England and Jamie Lovemark; Billy Horschel and Matt Every; and Seung-Yul Noh and Byeong Hun An, both of South Korea.
Rose, Noh, Horschel, Dufner, Watson and Kelly are among several former champions in New Orleans who are part of the field.
Brian Stuard, the defending champion, will team with Chris Stroud, while 2010 champion Jason Bohn will play with Carl Pettersson of Sweden. The 2002 winner, K.J. Choi of South Korea, is matched with Charlie Wi.
Brooks Koepka will team with his brother, Chase, who received a sponsor’s exemption.
“As a longtime ambassador (of the New Orleans event), the Zurich Classic is already a special tournament for me,” said Rose, who beat Stenson by two strokes to win the Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro last year.
“The addition of a team format adds a new, incredibly exciting element to the event. Henrik and I are very excited to tee it up together, and hopefully we can continue our longstanding chemistry and success in team formats.”
Members of the winning team will receive two-year PGA Tour exemptions and 400 FedEx Cup points each.
PGA Tour pros generally compete in team play only at the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and the World Cup of Golf.
“We are thrilled to bring this new format to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and to introduce an annual team event to the PGA Tour,” said Andy Pazder, chief of operations for the PGA Tour.
“We have seen the growth of popularity with the biennial team competitions like the Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup and World Cup, and the excitement that they produce. We believe the fans will love to see this sort of competition as a regular part of our season.”
If the new Zurich Classic is a hit, there could be more to come.
–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre