News & Opinion

Team game gives New Orleans a new party trick

AVONDALE, La. – The team of World No. 3 Jason Day and No. 9 Rickie Fowler are revving to go in the inaugural year of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans as a two-man team event, though you wouldn't know from this exchange between the highly-touted tandem.

"We had a team meeting without Rickie there," Day said.

"My caddie was there," Fowler replied.

"He was busy with his beautiful girlfriend, which is understandable," Day said with a snicker. 

Day, on the other hand, packed orange for Sunday to match Fowler, who described pairing with Day as akin to having the first pick in the draft. Their union is one of the many intriguing storylines at an event that is receiving a much-needed boost from its new format, which attracted six of the top 10 players and 13 of the top 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Texans Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer teamed up after Palmer's caddie, James Edmondson, a former college golfer and four-time club champion at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, won a bet with Spieth during a game of wolf at Trinity Forest in Dallas in November.

"James played good that day," Palmer said. "That turned into being the winning formula for this team, I guess." 

Then there's Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes, whose standard-bearer sign of Holmes-Watson will have fans of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson chuckling. Holmes began pestering Watson, with whom he teamed to great effect at the 2015 Presidents Cup, to be his partner during a dinner at the HSBC Champions in November. Watson being Watson, he didn't even know that the Zurich had switched its format.

"Thursday morning, I asked Rory (McIlroy) and Adam Scott if there's a team event," Watson said. "They said, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'Am I the last person to hear about this team event that's going to happen?' " 

All told, 80 teams are scheduled to compete at TPC Louisiana, and there are some definite themes in the makeup of the pairings. College teammates was a popular way to go, especially among the Southeastern Conference faithful. Among them are Auburn's Jason Dufner and Patton Kizzire, Florida's Matt Every and Billy Horschel and LSU's Andrew Loupe and John Peterson. 

Several members of the same nationality will wave the flag together, including Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Hideto Tanihara, Canadians Graham DeLaet and David Hearn and Mackenzie Hughes and Nick Taylor, Argentina's Angel Cabrera and Julian Etulain and South Koreans Si Woo Kim and Sung Kang and Ben An and Seung-Yul Noh.

For some, it was more like picking a date for the prom, or to keep it in golf terms, a partner for the club member-member. They will play alternate-shot format on Thursday and Saturday and better-ball on Friday and Sunday. Speaking of the better-ball format, Watson said, "It's fun to have a partner. I can shank one in the woods, and if my partner makes birdie it doesn't matter how badly I play. We still get a birdie on the scorecard."

Those who showed up to compete at TPC Louisiana say the format change has sparked interest and curiosity in an event that badly needed a boost buried in the dead period between the Masters and Players. With the exception of the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, professional golf is an individual game. This week brings different strategy into play – Who tees off first in alternate shot? Whose ball to use? – and could make New Orleans a new favorite among players for more than just the beignets, chargrilled oysters and the jambalaya. As one tournament volunteer put it, "It's nice to have something to talk about this week other than where the players are going to eat."

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak