The Zurich Classic of New Orleans concluded Sunday with Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy winning the tournament by one stroke over Jason Dufner and Pat Perez. Horschel and Piercy each won a little more than $1 million and earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption.

Next step in the creative brain of tournament director Steve Worthy: Getting the winners into the Masters.

“I’m not saying I think it will happen next year or the year after or perhaps ever,” Worthy said Sunday morning. “But when I brought it up, I didn’t get a flat no or anyone laughing at me. They said, ‘We’ll take a look at it.’ That’s all I can ask.”

A Masters invite for the winners of what is now the tour’s only team event would be a Grand Slam home run for Worthy and his tournament. Even without the Masters though, it is already a home run.

Sunday’s finish marked the second year the tournament has been played as a team event after 59 years as a 72-hole stroke-play event. That was the problem: New Orleans was always a solid tour stop, played on good golf courses. But with a late April date that came when most top players are looking for a post-Masters break, the quality of its field had suffered.

“In 2016, we had four of the top 30 in the World Rankings,” Worthy said. “This year we have six of the top 10, 10 of the top 15 and 18 of the top 30. Players like what we’re doing. We’re going to keep trying to give them something different every year. What it’ll be, I’m not sure. We’ll sit down and talk about it after we’re done this year.”

The first year of team play was a roaring success, players enjoying the idea of a unique format and the chance to partner up with a buddy. This year, Worthy added walk-up music as the players approached the first tee. Who knows what next year might bring.

RELATED: What entrance music says about the players at the Zurich Classic

Regardless, the success in New Orleans has made other tournament directors start to think outside the box. “I’ve heard guys talked about maybe having a mixed team event,” Worthy said—a notion PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said was, ‘only a matter of time,’ on Sunday.

There’s also been talk about another tour event perhaps going to match play. The WGC-Dell Match Play has been a success since launching in 1999. Perhaps some tournament struggling to get players might make the switch if only to break the monotony of one identical 72-hole stroke-play event after another.

The genesis of the idea came on April 19, 2016 at 6:12 a.m. when Andy Pazder, the tour’s executive vice president and director of operations, had, as he called it, “a crazy idea,” while he was drinking his morning coffee.

Pazder texted Jay Monahan, the tour’s commissioner-in-waiting (that’s how he knows the exact time) and wondered about making New Orleans a team event. Monahan suggested running the idea by CAA—the agency that represents Zurich. If the title sponsor didn’t like it, there was no sense going any farther with it.

CAA and Zurich were intrigued. From there, the idea was passed onto Worthy, who would have to execute it going forward—36 holes of best-ball; 36 holes of alternate shot. He also liked it because he knew something had to change or New Orleans might go the way of other PGA Tour events that didn’t have a title sponsor when the Zurich contract was up in 2019.

“When we all got together after the tournament in 2016 we talked the idea around and, at some point it became apparent there was a consensus in the room that this was worth a try,” Worthy said. “We knew it was different. But that’s what we needed.”

To some, the notion was far-fetched. New Orleans was one of the tour’s oldest events. It was actually first played in 1938, went dormant for 10 years in 1948 and has been part of the tour every year now since 1958.

Steve Worthy
NOLA.comWorthy believes the Zurich Classic’s renaissance is only just beginning.

“All the reports we were getting back on our execution during the week were excellent,” Worthy said. “The players were all very positive about what we were doing for them. But the fact was we weren’t getting the kind of fields we wanted—or needed. Being realistic, that was an issue.”

Worthy had just finished his fifth year as tournament director in New Orleans. He had spent five years as the operations director at the Memorial and then 15 with the USGA, running the U.S. Open. In 2007, he’d been offered the chance to be a tournament director at Pebble Beach.

“I loved it there,” he said. “I mean, come on, it’s Pebble Beach. The people out there were great to me.”

Which begs the question, why would anyone leave Pebble Beach, one of the tour’s most iconic stops, to take over the struggling event in New Orleans? The answer’s simple. “It was home,” Worthy said. “More than a few people questioned my sanity when I took the job but I was turning 50 and, well, home’s home.”

Worthy grew up outside Baton Rouge, was a decent high school quarterback and went to LSU (not to play football). “My last high school game I threw five interceptions,” he said. “Three were returned for touchdowns. My offensive line didn’t tackle very well.”

The good news when Worthy arrived was that the tournament had a solid sponsor—Zurich, which had come on board in 2005 and was locked in through the 2019 tournament. But as the years on the contract dwindled and the fields didn’t get much better, people began to get a little nervous.

After Brian Stuard won the 2016 event in a playoff over Jaime Lovemark and Byeong Hun An, it was time to seriously consider Pazder’s “crazy idea.”

Once Zurich and the Fore!Kids Foundation (Worthy’s bosses) had signed off, the idea had to be taken to the players, starting with the Players Advisory Board. Pazder brought it up formally at a September PAC 2016 meeting.

“I thought it was entirely possible they’d throw me out of the room,” Pazder said. “By the time the meeting was over, guys were pairing up with one another. That’s how much they liked it.”

Zurich Classic
John Korduner/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty ImagesSo happy with the changes in the tournament, Zurich extended its title sponsorship of the New Orleans event through 2026.

This year’s field had 19 past major champions, including all four current major champions: Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed. It also had past Ryder Cup partners in Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson; Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter; Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar; and Sergio Garcia and Rafael Cabrera-Bello. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk played with another former Ryder Cupper, David Duval.

From the tournament’s perspective, the best news of the week came on Sunday, when Zurich announced a seven-year contract extension, meaning the tournament is on solid sponsorship ground at least through 2026.

What’s next? The walk-up music this year was a huge success. The pro-am format was also changed this year so that three amateurs played with a two-man team, rather than one pro. The final round of tournament in 2017 was best-ball, this year it was alternate shot.

“The tour and CBS both thought alternate shot the last day would keep more teams in contention,” Worthy said. It can also knock teams out of contention: the tournament lost the Spieth-Ryan Palmer team on Friday when they finished with back-to-back double bogeys in alternate shot to miss the cut by one.

Worthy was asked if he might approach the tour with the idea of putting mics on the players—a long-time tour no-no.

“We’re not going to do anything that takes away from this being conducted like an important PGA Tour event,” Worthy said. “That’s why we checked with a lot of players about the walk-up music.”

He paused. “I will say this, several of our amateurs said they really enjoyed hearing the players talk strategy during the pro-am. But we’d never do anything unless the players and the tour were ok with it.”

A Masters invitation? Micing the players? Out of the question, right? All Worthy can do is ask. He’s already come a long way in just two short years.


Source: GolfDigest

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus gives Tampa students some lessons on golf and life

TAMPA, Fla. — One by one, the Tampa students stood in front of Jack Nicklaus at Rogers Park Golf Course and tried to do what the 18-time champion once did better than anyone on the planet.They tried to hit a golf ball: far, straight, with poise and strength.Freedom High School senior Helena Noel, who hopes to go pro one day, was soaking it all in.“I hit my driver 250, 260 yards,” Noel said. “I wanna ask him how much farther he could have hit it with modern technology.”Nicklaus eventually told her with a chuckle. The six-time Master champ would have hit it farther than anyone else. But the 78-year-old was not just here to give golf tutorials or brag about his illustrious past.As part of his First Tee program, Nicklaus wanted the students to also excel at life.“When they get out here, they blossom,” Nicklaus said. “They find something they like to do instead of getting on the streets and doing something they shouldn’t be doing.”Kids are his focus now. He told them to be bold, brave and believe in themselves.“You can make a lot of putts. But none of those putts are worth what these kids are worth,” said Nicklaus.As he watched the kids laugh, clap, take good swings and bad, the man known as the Golden Bear smiled.“These kids are going to do all right,” said Nicklaus.Source: ABC Action News

Augusta National creates women’s amateur event

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Masters chairman Fred Ridley announced Wednesday the creation of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship.

The event, set to kick off Masters week in April 2019, will feature the top 72 women’s amateurs from around the world.

The first two rounds of the tournament will be held at nearby Champions Retreat Golf Club. Following a cut to the low 30 players, the final round will be held at Augusta National on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

“This championship will become an exciting addition to the Masters week, and it furthers our effort to promote the sport and inspire young women to take up the game,” Ridley said.

The champion will receive an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open, as well as any USGA, R&A and PGA of America amateur events for a year.

The field will be comprised of all of the winners from the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Ladies’ British Amateur, Women’s Asia-Pacific Amateur, U.S. Girls’ Junior, Girls’ British Open Amateur Championship, Girls Junior PGA Championship. In addition, the top 30 players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking not already qualified will receive invitations to the event, as well as the top 30 players from the United States. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship Committee will fill the remaining positions.

The new Augusta amateur event could pose an issue for the LPGA. The tour’s first major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, is held the week before the Masters, and the tournament already invites six of the top amateurs in the world, and a seventh qualifies as the winner of the ANA Junior Inspiration.

Ridley said Wednesday that he has already spoken to LPGA commissioner Mike Whan about the conflict and that Whan “understands our motivations for doing this, our motivation to help grow the game. He also agrees wholeheartedly that, from a big picture, this is a win for women’s golf.”

More details about the event – including a global television partner and the winner’s trophy – will be announced at a later date. The club intends to offer a lottery for a “significant” number of tickets.

“This is a dream come true,” said Annika Sorenstam, who attended Wednesday’s announcement. “It’s a carrot for these young girls.”

The Women’s Amateur Championship is the latest grow-the-game initiative by Augusta National Golf Club, which also created the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the Latin America Amateur Championship and the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.


Source: GolfChannel

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson Warm Up Together, and to Each Other

Woods has gotten the better of Mickelson on the course many more times than not, but according to their peers, it is a toss up as to who is ahead in the war of wit.
“It’s pretty even,” said Jordan Spieth, who has heard them up close at Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups.
He added, “Tiger has more accolades than just about anybody in the sport — you know, nobody wants to go out there and just say, ‘I’ve won this or this or this or this,’ and Phil’s kind of better at getting under people’s skin.”
Woods, 42, is an introverted only child. Mickelson, five years his senior, is an extroverted firstborn with two siblings. The one important thing they have in common — a burning desire to win — is probably the primary factor behind their lack of closeness all these years. Remember: Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer became fast friends only after they stopped banging heads on the golf course.
“Oh, man, he’s very, very, competitive,” Woods said of Mickelson. “He’s feisty. He’s determined. He always wants to win.”

Mickelson’s shirt brought out Woods’s wit. “The only thing that was missing was a tie,” he said.

Credit Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Woods, of course, could have been describing the man in the mirror. Justin Thomas, whom Woods mentored while on the mend from multiple back surgeries, played a practice round with him on Monday. Thomas noted a change in Woods’s demeanor as they prepared to compete with each other. Woods, he said, was “a little harder to get stuff out of than when he was hurt and I was asking him questions.”

Mickelson has tour victories in four decades, but younger players like Thomas, the reigning P.G.A. champion, almost universally looked up to Woods when they were growing up.
“He was winning about every other tournament he played in,” Thomas explained.
In some ways, though, Mickelson had the more auspicious start to his career, winning his first PGA Tour title when he was still an amateur. He has won 43 Tour titles, including five majors, while Woods has 79 tour wins, including 14 majors.

He’s covered Jordan. He’s covered Kobe. And LeBron vs. the Warriors. Go behind the N.B.A.’s curtain with the league’s foremost expert.
If Mickelson hadn’t played in the same era as Woods, he might have “10 to 12 majors,” Couples said.
Mickelson isn’t so sure. “It’s very possible that that’s the case,” he said, “and it’s also possible that he brought out the best in me and forced me to work harder and focus to ultimately achieve the success that I’ve had.”
Six golfers in their 40s have won a Masters title. Led by Mickelson and Woods, at least a half-dozen here this week have a chance to become the seventh. The others include the 2007 champion, Zach Johnson, 42; Charley Hoffman, 41, who led after the first two rounds last year; Paul Casey, 40, who has top-six finishes in each of the past three years; and Ian Poulter, 42, who secured the final berth with a playoff victory Sunday in Houston.

The 40-something superstars making the trip over the Hogan Bridge across Rae’s Creek at Augusta National. Credit Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock
After Mickelson won the World Golf Championships event in Mexico City last month in a playoff against Thomas, Woods described Mickelson’s first victory since 2013 as “very, very cool to watch.”
Woods tied for second a week later at the Valspar Championship outside Tampa, and Mickelson said he sent Woods a text message after he played his way into contention. Mickelson said he had told Woods that it felt “like it was a different time continuum, because I found myself pulling so hard for him.”
This week they are less rivals than two men united against Father Time, a much more formidable opponent than Couples and Pieters combined.
“I find that I want him to play well,” Mickelson said, “and I’m excited to see him play so well.”

At the start of the practice round, Woods teed off first. Someone asked how the group had decided who got that honor. An impish smile creased Mickelson’s face.

“We just went right in order,” he said. “He has four jackets, I have three jackets, Fred, then Thomas.”
Mickelson winked. “It’s a respect thing.”

Source: NY Times