The Zurich Classic in New Orleans is bringing team competition to golf, minus the uniforms.
This will be the first official team competition on the PGA Tour since 1981 at the Walt Disney World National Team Championship. It was won by Vance Heafner and Mike Holland, which turned out to be their only PGA Tour victory.
They each earned $36,000. The winners of the Zurich Classic each get $1,022,400. So yes, it’s been a long time.
The first and third rounds at the TPC Louisiana will be foursomes (alternate shot), with fourballs in the second round and final round. That was the same format used in the World Cup of Golf last fall in Australia. The winning score from Thorbjorn Olesen and Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark was 20-under 268 . To give an idea of what to expect in New Orleans, they were 18 under in fourballs, 2 under in foursomes.
Two teams stand out.
Jason Day (No. 3) and Rickie Fowler (No. 9) combine to have the best world ranking. They also have corporate deals with the title sponsor. More compelling is Justin Rose (No. 8) and Henrik Stenson (No. 6), who happen to be the gold and silver medalists from the Olympics last summer in Rio.
And the strangest pairing is Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer, but only because of the story of their partnership. Both live in the Dallas area and are close friends, and Spieth said Palmer is the only partner he would have wanted if he chose to play. But there also was a bet last winter when Palmer’s caddie, James Edmondson , told Spieth he would have to partner with Palmer if Edmondson beat the two-time major champion.
Edmondson apparently got him on the last hole.
”That turned into being the winning formula for this team,” Palmer said.
One state over, the LPGA Tour returns to the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout outside Dallas, and it could be every bit of that. Lydia Ko is in danger of losing the No. 1 ranking she has held for the last 79 weeks. So Yeon Ryu has a mathematical chance of replacing her by finishing second, while Ariya Jutanugarn would have to win to have any chance of being the first Thai at No. 1 in women’s golf.
The European Tour stays in China for another week at the Volvo China Open.
The PGA Tour was looking for a new format, and the Zurich Classic was more than willing to try. It already has paid off in the field, which has features six of the top 10 in the world. New Orleans, even with Zurich’s corporate deals with top players, rarely gets a field this strong.
Some of the teams are based on countries, and perhaps the most feared would be Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace of South Africa. They went 4-0 as a team in the Presidents Cup two years ago, with their last three victories coming against Spieth and Dustin Johnson, Fowler and Patrick Reed, and Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes.
A few teams have players from the same state, none more prominent than Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly of Wisconsin.
Reed, meanwhile, loves team competition even though he won’t be wearing the Stars & Stripes. He’s playing for money and FedEx Cup points. And he’s playing with Patrick Cantlay, which makes for an interesting team. Reed is as emotional as they come. Cantlay is as stoic as they come.
No world ranking points are on offer at the TPC Louisiana. Each team will get prize money and FedEx Cup points that will be determined by combining every two positions in descending order and dividing the points and money.
The team that finishes 18th gets $37,452.50, which is more than Heafner and Holland received for winning in 1981.
While there is a battle for No. 1 in the world, the attention figures to be on the No. 5 player at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout.
That would be Lexi Thompson, who wept in her first press conference since she was given a four-shot penalty with six holes to play in the ANA Inspiration – two shots for not replacing her golf ball in the right spot on the 17th green, two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard because it happened on Saturday and it wasn’t detected by a TV viewer until Sunday. She wound up losing in a playoff to Ryu.
Ko is coming off a runner-up finish in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, her best result in her last 15 starts on the LPGA Tour. And then she fired her caddie, so she will have her 10th caddie of her LPGA Tour career in Texas. Ko turned 20 on Monday.
Ryu is the hottest player in women’s golf. Along with her playoff victory in the ANA Inspiration, she has not finished worse than a tie for seventh all year. This is somewhat of a home game for the South Korean. Ryu moved from Los Angeles to Dallas last year to be near her coach, Cameron McCormick, who also works with Spieth.