By Dave Shedloski
The last time the PGA TOUR held an official team event using a team format was 1981 at the Walt Disney World National Team Championship in Orlando. And if you remember Vance Heafner and Mike Holland were the winners, then you earn bonus points.
Last November the TOUR voted to revive the format for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which returns this week to the Pete Dye-designed TPC Louisiana, a player-friendly layout in suburban Avondale, Louisiana. Brian Stuard is the defending champion, but that matters little now that tag-team golf is the plan at the $7.1 million event.
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The field this week, which features six of the top 10 in the world, is made of 80 two-man teams. They will play two rounds of foursomes (or alternate shot) on Thursday and Saturday, and two rounds of four-ball (or better ball) on Friday and Sunday.
The cut will be low 35 teams and ties. In case of a tie after 72 holes, there will be a sudden-death playoff using the four-ball format. The winners each receive a two-year TOUR exemption and get into the PGA Championship, among other events (but not the Masters).
Among the intriguing pairings are: Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, Zurich ambassadors, who have the highest combined world ranking between them, with Day No. 3 and Fowler No. 9; Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, Olympic gold and silver medalists respectively, who have been Ryder Cup teammates for Europe; and brothers Brooks and Chase Koepka. Stuard, by the way, teams with Chris Stroud. Also worth watching are Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly, who last week competed in the Bass Pro Shops on the Champions Tour.
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CBS Sports veteran broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, manning the 17th tower this week, looks at the course, the 80-team field and what we might expect to see at TPC Louisiana.
We haven’t seen an official team event on the PGA TOUR in 36 years. What are the positives to this format change for players?
Something different. It breaks up the season a bit. The guys you see there have embraced the format. I’d like to see it be one of the more sought-after events. See all the top players there eventually.
How about for viewers?
People are looking forward to it. I’m hearing they love the format change. People are going to tune in to watch with a different enthusiasm and curiosity.
TPC Louisiana was the fourth easiest course on the PGA TOUR last year, yielding a 69.95 scoring average, but no course gave up more birdies than the 1,895 converted last year. Is that a positive for a team event?
Yes, I want to see birdies and eagles. I hope they move the tee up at 16 to encourage guys to go for that green. Four par-5s and three reachable par-4s if you get the eighth down breeze, so there will be some chances for scoring when guys play their own ball. I want to see a 59 in the four-ball.
How much of an advantage do you give to former Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team members?
It’s definitely an advantage. Especially if they’re playing with a teammate, which is why I like Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, two Ryder Cuppers and the gold and silver medalist in the Olympics. Guys like that, they’ve been through it all before. A lot of guys in this field might not have played alternate shot as a professional. There’s a lot of pressure on alternate shot.
Which teams look most formidable to you? And which teams could surprise?
Those few favorite groups. Bubba and J.B. Holmes, who played in the Presidents Cup together, they should be awesome to watch. A strong, talented and fun-loving group will be Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. Obviously, Rose and Stenson. Brooks and Chase Koepka is a potentially good story, with Chase having a chance to earn his PGA TOUR card. An interesting match to me is Geoff Ogilvy and Ian Poulter, a couple of intense characters who show emotion in different ways, and they have been through those team events. Then I like Boo and Bo… Boo Weekley and Steven Bowditch. They’ll have fun together, and they will bring out the best in each other, which is what a good partner does.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.
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