PGA Tour turns to the past in New Orleans (Apr 26, 2017)

The PGA Tour is turning a new page this week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans by digging into its past for lessons out of an old book.

Eighty two-man teams will play in foursomes and then four-ball competition beginning Thursday at the TPC of Louisiana in Avondale, La.

It will be the first official PGA Tour team event in 36 years, on the heels of the 1981 Walt Disney World National Team Championship in Buena Vista, Fla.

The PGA Tour has previously held 61 official team events, with two pros paired together. It has also used various formats and has contested 13 official team tournaments where a pro was paired with an amateur in official events, with the pro always earning official-win designation.

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans will feature foursomes in the first two rounds, after which the top 40 teams will advance to four-ball competition in the final two rounds.

Until now, the closest the PGA Tour has come to using a foursomes format in an official event was at the 1934 Pinehurst Pro-Pro. That tournament was held at Pinehurst’s No. 2 course and was won by Tommy Armour and Bobby Cruickshank.

The format change has enticed participation of six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, namely Jason Day of Australia (No. 3), Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (4), Jordan Spieth (5), Henrik Stenson of Sweden (6), Justin Rose of England (8) and Rickie Fowler (9).

In all, 25 of the top 50 golfers in the world (and their partners) will test their games at the tough Pete Dye-designed 7,425-yard layout. Total purse for the event is $7.1 million, with $1.024 million going and 400 FedExCup points awarded to each member of the winning team.

Players picked their own team, with the top-80 ranked golfers in the field choosing their partner.

Some teams are made up of players from the same country, such as Japan’s Matsuyama and Hideto Tanihara, the two Korean pairs — Si Woo Kim/Sung Kang and Seung-Yul Noh/Byeong Hun An, and the two Canadian duos of Mackenzie Hughes/Nick Taylor and David Hearn/Graham DeLaet.

Others relied on college connections — Billy Horschel and Matt Every both went to Florida, while Justin Thomas and Bud Cauley competed for Alabama and local favorites Andrew Loupe and John Peterson both played at LSU.

There’s also two family connections, Brian Stuard and his brother Chris Stroud, and Brooks Koepka and his brother Chase Koepka, the latter of whom is playing on a sponsor’s exemption and making his first PGA Tour start.

“It will be fun, but it could be interesting,” Brooks Koepka said. “By the second hole, we could kill each other — or it could be an awesome week.”

And then there are an odd couple or two, such as Spieth, who played for Texas, and Ryan Palmer, a graduate of Texas A&M, the Longhorns’ biggest rival. The two Texans — Palmer is 17 years older than Spieth — are one of the favored teams this week.

“I’ve gotten to know Jordan and we’ve become good friends.” Palmer said. “We have played a lot of practice rounds together, we all get along and there are some things in our games that can help each other out with.

“Every player will tell you they started really reaching out trying to find a partner they wanted,” Palmer added. “You know I was fortunate enough to grab this guy here (Spieth). I don’t get to go to many media centers, so I’m glad I got to come here with him.”

Another of the more interesting partnerships is Geoff Ogilvy of Australia and Ian Poulter of England. They’ve been friendly since the late 1990s. They each have plenty of team-competition experience — Ogilvy in three Presidents Cups, Poulter in five Ryder Cups.

Poulter has an added incentive this week. His Major Medical Extension to keep his Tour card officially ended last week with Poulter still needing about $33,000 to keep his status. By playing with Ogilvy, he gets one more chance to make the money he needs before relying on sponsor’s exemptions.

“Golf is a funny game,” Poulter said after missing the cut last week at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. “We could easily go out and win with Geoff and things are a little different.”