The PGA TOUR heads to the New Orleans area this week for the Zurich Classic.
This event has been running since 1938 but it will be the fourth edition since switching to a team-based format.
There are 80 teams of two in play this week. They will play Four-ball (best ball) during round one and round three while rounds two and four will use the Foursomes (alternate shot) format. The top 33 teams (and ties) after 36 holes will make it through the cut line. From a percentage standpoint, that makes it one of the toughest cuts to crack all year (as little as 41% of golfers will play all four rounds, depending on how many ties stack up).
TPC Louisiana returns to host another edition of the Zurich Classic. It has played host here since 2005 (barring exceptions due to Hurricane Katrina and COVID-19). It's a par-72 Pete Dye design that stretches out to 7,425 yards on the tournament scorecard.
Historically, the field has averaged less than 280 yards off the tee on more than a third of the holes here, so driver is not always the answer. You could consider it a less-than-driver course although big hitters do still get an edge as they can feast on the par 5s and also attack the short, par-4 8th.
Past champs at the course include short knockers like Brian Stuard, Jason Dufner, Jerry Kelly, and Jason Bohn but also on that list are some guys that can rip it off the tee like Bubba Watson, Seung-Yul Noh, Andres Romero, and Justin Rose. Basically, distance is nice to have this week but it's certainly not a requirement.
For hazards, golfers will see more than 100 bunkers littered across the property, and they received a facelift since the last edition in 2019, returning them to their original size. Golfers will also see five water hazards that come into play on eight holes.
For grasses, we have a similar look as last week at Harbour Town Golf Links. It is TifEagle Bermuda on the greens this week with some overseed poa trivialis and velvet bentgrass. The greens were reseeded after the 2019 edition so they may play firm as they've only had two years to mature. The fairways and rough are bermudagrass, as well. Comfort on bermuda should be considered as a nice tiebreaker this week.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Hudson Swafford: "Pete Dye courses, they’re visually very intimidating and very tough. You know, I feel like you kind of have to take the trouble off the tee. If it’s water, you might want to shy a little away from it. But fairway bunkers, stuff like that, holes like number 12, you’ve got to press that left fairway bunker to have a good shot into the green."
Daniel Berger: "I think the fact that it kind of reminds me of a Florida-style golf course, so I’m used to kind of seeing water on one side of the hole. You’ve just got to pick your targets and get good shots."
Sergio Garcia: "the greens were really, really fast. They were very firm. They were difficult to handle. It was difficult to be aggressive with your putting because every time you hit a little bit of an aggressive putt, you hit it six feet by, and you don't want to leave your partner six-footers over and over."
Billy Horschel: "With his [Pete Dye] designs, it’s a visual intimidation that he does off the tees and into greens and everything. And then when you get out there, you realize, man, there’s a lot more room or there’s a lot more green to hit to. I think it’s a mind game he plays with you."
Peter Malnati: "this course tends to favor guys that can hit it a little farther, I think, because it's fairly wide and there are some long holes."
Golfers talk a lot about how tricky the course can play, just like most Pete Dye designs. As Garcia noted, the greens can get really fast here at times.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Harbour Town Golf Links
Sea Island Resort
TPC San Antonio
Looking at the performance at other TPCs is usually a good pointer as they share a lot of the same agronomy practices. The Superintendent at TPC Louisiana was previously at Scottsdale and San Antonio, so that overlap checks out. Where does Torrey Pines come into play? Perhaps it's the ability to play from the rough without too much penalty, or maybe it's the fast greens. There does seem to be a lot of overlapping success on the two courses though.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 69 degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH.
Friday: Light rain with a high of 72 degrees. Winds at 12 to 18 MPH.
It wouldn't be a true Zurich Classic without the threat of storms. Saturday brings the largest threat with storms possible in the late morning or early afternoon. Overall, this looks like a fairly clean forecast, by this event's standards.
Teams to Watch
Kevin Kisner & Scott Brown
You can't talk team golf without mentioning Kisner and Brown. This duo is known for taking people's money in pre-tourney practice rounds. The success has translated to this event with a runner-up finish, T15, and T5 in three appearances. If you're investing in this team you are banking more on team chemistry and event history rather than lead-up form as they will rank around middle of the pack if you lean solely on stats.
Xander Schauffele & Patrick Cantlay
On the flip side, you have Schauffele and Cantlay who probably are the top team from a raw stats point-of-view. However, this is their first time teaming up together at the Zurich. Schauffele's lone appearance was a T11 in 2017 when paired alongside Tag Ridings. Cantlay has a pair of top 15s in three tries, while playing alongside Patrick Reed.
Jon Rahm & Ryan Palmer
Perhaps finding the perfect balance, this duo brings a strong resume in terms of lead-up form as well as team chemistry. They are playing the role of defending champs this year as they won the 2019 edition and last year's event wasn't played due to COVID-19. Rahm is currently 12th in the FedExCup race while Palmer is 37th so both are having solid seasons.
Billy Horschel & Sam Burns
This event is always going to be special for Horschel because it's the site of his first PGA TOUR title (2013). That was an individual win but he also joined forces with Scott Piercy in 2018 to hoist the hardware again. As for Burns, he's a Louisiana native and LSU alum. He should be comfortable with the turf and the climate. He is still searching for his first win.
Viktor Hovland & Kristoffer Ventura
This Oklahoma State duo brings a lot of upside to the table. Hovland is one of the best ball-strikers on TOUR and Ventura won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour on his way up to the big leagues. The problem? Ventura ranked 193rd around-the-green last year and Hovland was 168th. To be fair, Hovland has improved in this area but they may find trouble in the short-game department if the course is playing tough. A good boom-or-bust squad to keep your eye on.
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm & Ryan Palmer
2. Xander Schauffele & Patrick Cantlay
3. Scottie Scheffler & Bubba Watson
4. Cameron Smith & Marc Leishman
5. Tyrrell Hatton & Danny Willett
6. Billy Horschel & Sam Burns
7. Max Homa & Talor Gooch
8. Chris Kirk & Brendon Todd
9. Tony Finau & Cameron Champ
10. Lanto Griffin & Joel Dahmen
11. Kevin Streelman & Dylan Frittelli
12. Collin Morikawa & Matthew Wolff
13. Keegan Bradley & Brendan Steele
14. Harold Varner III & Branden Grace
15. Doug Ghim & Justin Suh
16. Sungjae Im & Byeong Hun An
17. Matthew NeSmith & Chase Seiffert
18. Kevin Kisner & Scott Brown
19. Will Gordon & Michael Thompson
20. Viktor Hovland & Kristoffer Ventura