Zurich Classic of New Orleans Preview

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An event once known for its great food and sloppy weather, it is now best known for being the only team event on the PGA TOUR schedule.

That would be the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, of course, played at TPC Louisiana.

This tournament also features the largest field on the TOUR schedule with 160 golfers lined up to begin the week. They play in teams of two and only the Low 33 teams and Ties move on to play the weekend.

As for the format, they open with Four-ball on Thursday, play Foursomes on Friday, and continue that pattern over the weekend.

The course

From one Pete Dye design to the next, the PGA TOUR heads from Harbor Town Golf Links to TPC Louisiana this week.

This par-72 layout stretches out past 7,400 yards (7,425 yards on the scorecard).

Aa you might expect from a Pete Dye design, the course doesn’t encourage a bomb-and-gouge approach. Historically the field has averaged just 275 yards on the par 4s and 5s which is the shortest on TOUR behind only Pebble Beach and Harbor Town. That tells us there are plenty of holes where less-than-driver is the recommended route.

Looking at the list of past champs at this event, it’s been a mixed bag of big hitters and plodders. That tells us that distance is nice to have but not a requirement this week.

There is a fair amount of trouble that comes into play on this layout with water lurking on eight holes and the number of bunkers exceeding 100 (averaging more than 5 bunkers per hole).

Back when the course was used for stroke-play events, the field average was nearly 2 shots under par which tells us this course is ripe for the taking under calm conditions.

For an expected scoring environment this week it all comes down to the format. During four-ball we should expect the field average to sit around 6-under for the day while 1-over is about what we should expect when they flip to the alternate-shot format (foursomes). At least, that is what we have seen over the last three editions.

Looking at grasses this week, we’ll see bermudagrass from tee-to-green with overseeded bermuda (poa triv) on the greens. The greens can get speedy here with a target stimp that sits around 12 feet.

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Quotes on the Course

Collin Morikawa: “You have some small greens out there, some subtle undulations on the side of the greens, some runoffs, like you see right here on 9, and overall like you got to be able to control your ball. If you put yourself in some grainy spots, it’s a little wet out here from, I guess they had a lot of rain last week, you’re going to have some tough chips. And in alternate shot you don’t really want to give yourself or your partner that. But there’s a lot of gettable holes and I think that’s what makes this week really fun”

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.”

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.”

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 .”

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.”

Disappointment and trouble on wayward shots. People talk about the classic Pete Dye tricks.

Correlated Courses

Using historical data from this week’s venue, we can look for other courses across the PGA TOUR schedule with crossover success (or failure). Here are the courses that pop up frequently:

Torrey Pines
Quail Hollow Club
Chapultepec GC

It’s hard to find the link here but these are the courses that show a lot of overlapping success. One thing that pops to my head is the small penalty of playing from the rough at these courses.

The Weather

Thursday: Mostly Sunny with a high of 83 degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH.

Friday: Mostly Sunny with a high of 82degrees. Winds at 10 to 15 MPH.

The good news is that the forecast looks relatively dry this week. That is always a relief when heading to this event which has been known to e stormy. It also looks like a fair bit of wind on the docket, so scoring may not be as easy as usual.

Teams to Watch

Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman
Smith has won this team event twice while Leishman was by his side for last year’s win. This time around, Smith arrives with two solo wins in his last seven worldwide starts with a close call at the Masters, as well. It’s easy to see why this is one of the teams with the highest expected win equity.

Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia
Fleetwood flashed up the RBC Heritage board with a stellar 64 on Moving Day last week. He converted that into a T10 finish. For Garcia, he has been quiet but steady this year. He’s racked up top 40s in nine straight stroke-play events, worldwide. They also have past success at the event with a runner-up finish back in 2019.

Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown
They didn’t make my top 20 list based on stats alone but it’s hard to overlook their team chemistry. For years we have heard about their money-snagging abilities in Tuesday practice rounds and it’s translated to this team format with three top 15s in four tries as a team. That’s why I snuck them in as No. 20 on my board this week.

Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira
The Chileans are both on the record for really loving Pete Dye’s Harbor Town layout where you have to don’t get heavily penalized for playing from the rough and you get rewarded for the ability to shape your ball. This week’s course is similar but it also rewards power more than Harbor Town and neither of them is lacking in that department. I would be pretty surprised if this team wasn’t sitting inside of the top 25 for most of the week.

Byeong Hun An and Sungjae Im
It’s likely been a humbling experience for An to drop down to the Korn Ferry Tour but he’s handled it well with a win, a runner-up finish, and two other top 25s in his last five starts. Now he’ll team up with his fellow Korean who played well at the Masters (T8) and has eight other top 25s on his resume this season. Not a bad combination of steady play and winning upside.

Ranking the Field

1. Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa
2. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauele
3. Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith
4. Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia
5. Sam Burns and Billy Horschel
6. Ryan Palmer and Scottie Scheffler
7. Shane Lowry and Ian Poulter
8. Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira
9. Talor Gooch and Max Homa
10. Harold Varner III and Bubba Watson
11. Byeong Hun An and Sungjae Im
12. Tyrrell Hatton and Danny Willett
13. Davis Riley and Will Zalatoris
14. Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele
15. Chris Kirk and Brendon Todd
16. Greyson Sigg and Sepp Straka
17. Doug Ghim and Matthias Schwab
18. Martin Laird and Robert MacIntyre
19. Adam Hadwin and Adam Svensson
20. Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown

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