Is the Zurich Classic’s team format still fresh in Year 3, or is it already tired?
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Historically a ho-hum event, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans transformed into one of the more intriguing affairs of the spring slate in 2017 thanks to a revamped team configuration. It was the first time since 1981 that the PGA Tour hosted an official team event, and the tournament was able to corral an impressive list of names like Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Henrik Stenson—marquee attractions that usually skipped the Louisiana tour stop—to compete.
However, the format (two rounds of best ball, two rounds of alternate shot) came off as gimmicky and contrived to some, a sentiment further fueled by an awkward entrance music introduction last season. There has also been an unfortunate upshot to allowing players to pick their own squads, as a number of upstarts and Web.com Tour graduates are on the outside looking in while a startling amount of fringe players and lesser knowns whose careers seemed to already peaked are teeing it up. That TPC Louisiana remains one of the more bland venues on tour hasn't helped.
So in Year 3 of the team configuration, does the Zurich Classic of New Orleans still work, or should it be scraped? Two of Golf Digest's own, assistant editor Chris Powers and staff writer Joel Beall, speak for each side of the debate.
Without match play being brought into the equation, the Zurich Classic team format loses much of its appeal. The fun of the Ryder Cup (and yes, even the Presidents Cup) is the idea of pitting two two-man teams against one another, with every match mattering and both teams in full-attack mode. Take that away and I’m not so sure watching Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves play alternate shot together in the second round is all that exciting.
So what’s the answer? I think a 16-team bracket could be very interesting, with each round alternating between fourball and alternate shot. You can keep the 78-80 teams in the field now and have one day of fourball or alt. Shoot stroke play, and the top 16 teams advance and get seeded based off that. I’m basically making the argument for what the WGC-Dell Match Play should be like, but since that’s probably not changing, why not use it for this event?
Again, apologies to the law firm of Reeves and Albertson, but a first-round match between Ireland (Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry) and Australia (Jason Day and Adam Scott) would be a bit more intriguing. —C.P.
Keep It, But ...
Even in its new condensed version, the tour schedule is one that remains static and, at times, stale. With a 46-tournament calendar, there are going to be certain rhythms in the year, and in the shadow of post-Masters glow and PGA Championship lead-up, this is a period mostly of indifference to the casual fan. We should be thankful that the Zurich Classic, if only in spirit, attempts to break this ennui.
Part of the issue is the Zurich is supposed to be experimental, but it's not experimental enough. It would be interesting to see how low these cats could go in a scramble, or if you want to get real weird with it, a worst-ball format. And this is New Orleans; it should be less tournament and more tailgate. The Phoenix Open loses its luster if other tournaments try to replicate the rowdy atmosphere, but a shot of Mardi Gras into the proceedings would do this tournament well.
As for the Zurich field, the Wanamaker Trophy's new home in May is going to zap some of the star power in late April. Nevertheless, Tony Romo could be on sponsor's exemption and not be the most questionable entrant. Let players continue to pick their teams, but enforce tougher guidelines on what constitutes an eligible player.
That there have been some bumps in the tournament's rollout is to be expected; the aforementioned WGC-Match Play has been around for two decades and it continues to undergo tinkering. Let’s let the Zurich get a chance to live before we kill it off. —J.B.
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