Golfers who find their way onto the PGA Tour can sometimes be overwhelmed by the schedule. Not only is it incredibly difficult to cope with the relentless quality of the competition but several PGA Tour events tend to blend into one another as the courses and questions posed are so similar. The Zurich Classic of New Orleans is one of the tournaments that stands apart from that monotony by providing something different thanks to its schedule.
The format of the Zurich Classic is unique on the PGA Tour with 80 pairs competing across a mixture of alternate shot and better ball over the four days. The pairs format is only a tiny fragment of the history of the Zurich Classic though which was first held back in 1938 when England’s Harry Cooper won what was then called the Crescent City Open.
2022: Patrick CantlayXander Schauffele
Films and TV shows have long used the cliché of two people striking up a friendship while sat next to each other on a plane. Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay are proof that this particular trope of storytelling can sometimes be true. The pair’s friendship began while on board the charter plane taking the American Presidents Cup team to Melbourne in 2019. What began over games of gin rummy turned into a strong bond and eventually into a shared PGA Tour victory as Schauffele and Cantlay held on to win the 2022 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
There were times during the final round when the pair’s friendship was tested. A commanding five shot lead at the start of play was whittled down to just a single shot as Sam Burns and Billy Horschel did their best to steal the title away. However, Schauffele and Cantlay held firm, turning the pressure towards the chasing pack. That pressure eventually told as Burns and Horschel made a couple of costly mistakes down the stretch.
The winners were able to re-establish their lead to such an extent that Cantlay was able to laugh off a short missed putt on the final green. A beaming Schauffele walked over to tap in the winning putt and embrace his friend who had helped him earn a first win official PGA Tour win since back in 2019 (Schauffele had won Olympic gold and finished with the low score at the Tour Championship in the meantime). These two will now both hope that success here can be a spur to greater things individually and with majors set to come thick and fast over the next few months, don’t rule out some serious success for this pair.
2021: Marc LeishmanCameron Smith
Each pairing at the Zurich Classic comes together via different routes. Some are put together through association with sponsors, some have played well together in other team events and some are good friends. It was very much a case of the latter for the winners of the 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith.
The Australian duo were very obviously enjoying each other’s company in New Orleans. It was all laughs and hijinks before they teed off as they requested the Mullet Song be played as their entrance music in homage to Smith’s infamous haircut which Leishman made look all the more sublime/ridiculous with a pair of clippers. Leishman said that having fun before the round helped them to relax and was a factor in the stunning golf they produced at times.
Leishman and Smith certainly needed to be at the top of their games to see off the South African pair of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. The four are former Presidents Cup teammates (and surely will be again) but gave no quarter as the scores were tied after the final round of foursomes. Eventually, it was Oosthuizen who cracked under the pressure, putting his tee shot on the first playoff hole into the water leaving the way clear for Leishman and Smith to win courtesy of a routine par.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled.
2019: Ryan PalmerJon Rahm
Team golf is not for everybody. We’ve seen several world-class golfers fail to give their best in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup while others come alive when playing with and for other players. Jon Rahm rose to the occasion when making his Ryder Cup debut in 2018 and he showed his suitability to team golf once again when winning the 2019 Zurich Classic alongside Ryan Palmer.
Rahm was not the only European Ryder Cup star to make a splash at TPC Louisiana for this year’s renewal. He and Palmer were relatively comfortable in the final reckoning with a three-stroke lead but they had Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia in behind in second place. The strength of both pairings was that they were able to take advantage of the better ball rounds whilst dovetailing together in the trickier alternate shot format. There was a swing of just three strokes between Fleetwood and Garcia’s worst round and their best and although that difference was four strokes for the winning pair they shot 64-65-64 in their first three rounds before digging deep for a round of 69 on Sunday.
2018: Billy HorschelScott Piercy
After all of the drama and tension of the previous year, there was another close finish in the second year of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans being played as a pairs event. There was nothing like the sort of inclement weather experienced in recent editions of the Zurich Classic and the team of Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy did not have to return to TPC Louisiana on Monday to see out the win but they were pushed all the way before earning it.
The format for this year was tweaked as the first and third rounds played as better ball and the second and final round as alternate shot. That gave a new edge to the event as the teams were able to set themselves up with lower scores to open up the tournament and the weekend before having to dig deep and work together on Friday and Sunday.
Teamwork was the key for Horschel and Piercy. They were able to play to each other’s strengths and dig each other out of a hole when required to avoid making bogey in a final round of five under par. Teamwork was also vital for the Jason Dufner and Pat Perez and Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel teams who both finished just one shot behind in second place. The win made Horschel the first player to have won the Zurich Classic both as an individual and as part of a pairing.
2017: Jonax BlixtCameron Smith
2017 was the year that it all changed at the Zurich Classic. This year’s renewal was the first official team tournament on the PGA Tour schedule since the 1981 Walt Disney World National Team Championship. Understandably there was a fair amount of cynicism about a move that some felt was little more than a gimmick but those who tuned in were treated to a very good tournament which featured a cracking conclusion.
Like the year before, the tournament could not be decided on Sunday as weather delays did not allow enough time for a playoff. Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt must have felt as though they would not need extra holes after Smith hit an excellent chip on the 18th hole to set up a birdie that would have taken them one shot clear of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown. However, Kisner had a trick up his sleeve, chipping in for eagle in front of the watching Smith and Blixt to leave Smith needing to hole his putt just to get into a playoff.
Smith, who was excellent throughout Sunday, had no problem taking his team into the playoff and it was the young Aussie who eventually made the winning putt on the fourth playoff hole. Both pairs had previous putts for the win to leave viewers on the edge of their seats and the event organisers delighted with their new look tournament.
2016: Brian Stuard
The 2016 Zurich Classic of New Orleans was the last before the change in format. For all that the organisers and PGA Tour felt as though they needed to provide something different, you would be hard-pressed to argue that the 2016 renewal was lacking in drama. The main takeaway was that Brian Stuard earned his first PGA Tour win but that was just one of a number of storylines from the week.
The weather in New Orleans was the main challenge for everybody competing in the 2016 Zurich Classic. Weather delays on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday took an already wet course past the point of waterlogging which required a huge amount of work from the ground staff at TPC Louisiana. That work and the delays had the dual impact of shortening the event to a 54-hole competition and pushing its conclusion to Monday.
By Stuard’s own admission he, “wasn’t playing great” and “king of hung in there all week” but that is downplaying the resilience he showed in tough conditions. The already long 7,425 yard par 72 course was playing even longer due to the effects of the rain but Stuard stood up to the task impressively and kept bogeys off his card for all three rounds. He also came up with something special when it mattered most, first by making birdie on his 54th hole of the tournament and then again on the same hole in the second playoff hole which was enough to see off the challenge of Jamie Lovemark and Byeong-Hun An.