The Zurich Classic will feature 80 two-man teams, with those posting the top 35 cumulative scores (and ties) playing through the weekend. Alternate-shot play will be used in the first and third rounds, and best-ball in the second and fourth, with only the lowest score posted by a team member on each hole applied to the cumulative total. The closest the tour has previously come to using a foursome format in an official event was at the 1934 Pinehurst Pro-Pro held at Pinehurst’s No. 2.
Each player on the winning team will get credit for a victory for the first time since Vance Heafner and Mike Holland combined to win the Walt Disney World National Team Championship in 1981. The winning team will be awarded a two-year tour exemption, 400 FedEx Cup points and invitations to the Players Championship next month, the P.G.A. Championship in August and the Tournament of Champions in January. But the winning tandem will not earn Masters berths or any ranking points.
The PGA is not the only tour to embrace team golf this season. The European Tour’s commissioner, Keith Pelley, has shown a willingness to think differently, including the addition of night events and music on the first tee. His latest brainchild, GolfSixes, which consists of six-hole matches, will make its debut on May 6 and 7 at the Centurion Club north of London. Two-man teams from 16 different countries will compete for a purse of 1 million euros.
“We have said for some time that golf needs to modernize, and introducing innovative new formats is a major part of achieving that aim,” Pelley said in a statement this year. “We are in the entertainment content business with golf as our platform, and GolfSixes is the perfect illustration of that.”
Team golf is not a novel concept. Among other events, the biennial Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup competitions use team play, as does the PGA Tour Champions Legends of Golf, which was held for the 39th time last week. All told, the tour has held 61 previous official team events, using various formats.
The tour also recognizes two nontraditional events, the World Golf Championships match-play tournament and the Barracuda Championship, which uses a modified Stableford format, allocating points based on the number of strokes taken at each hole, with the goal of achieving the highest overall score.
Should there be more breaks with tradition? It depends whom you ask. Jordan Spieth campaigned for a couple of more breaks from the monotony of 72-hole stroke play, while Justin Rose supported the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“I’ve always believed that 72-hole stroke play is the purest form of the game, and that’s how you often get the best champion and the truest winner,” Rose said. “That should be protected, I think, for the most part.
“There were gaps on the European Tour schedule where there were opportunities to do something different and strengthen weaker tournaments by creating more fun and excitement around them. I think they’ve done a great job of identifying those tournaments. But they’re not messing with the strong tournaments on the European Tour.”
This week, Spieth will play with his fellow Texan Ryan Palmer after losing a golf bet in November with Palmer’s caddie, James Edmondson, a former college golfer. There also are pairings of brothers (Brooks and Chase Koepka), Ryder Cup teammates (Rose and Henrik Stenson) and college teammates (the local favorites John Peterson and Andrew Loupe from Louisiana State, Georgia’s Harris English and Hudson Swafford and Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans and Richy Werenski, to name a few). The highest-profile team is Jason Day and Rickie Fowler.
For some, securing a partner has been akin to finding a prom date. Asked to explain in up to three words why he had chosen Luke Donald as his partner, Jamie Lovemark counted on his hand while saying, “Des-per-ation.”
Bubba Watson, who is playing with J. B. Holmes, said: “It really doesn’t matter how they partner up. They’re going to be buddies for a couple days, and you’re going to see a lot of smiles, a lot of laughing and a lot of enjoyment of the game of golf.”
The NBC golf analyst Peter Jacobsen played on two Ryder Cup teams for the United States and was Arnold Palmer’s partner as host of the Fred Meyer Challenge, an unofficial team event held from 1986 to 2002. Jacobsen described the team format as twice the pleasure, but also twice the pain.
“It’s so uplifting when you make a birdie for your partner,” he said, “but also agonizing when you miss a putt that costs you and your partner a hole.”
The new team format brings a different strategy and intrigue to the decision-making process, which explains why so many players are talking about the importance of team chemistry and complementing each other’s game. That could be either a blessing or a burden for the Koepkas.
“We could kill each other on the second hole,” Brooks Koepka said, “or it could be awesome.”
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