NEW ORLEANS – Jerry Kelly hit the 10th hole at the TPC Louisiana hungry for much more than a win. Just over halfway through Wednesday’s Pro-Am at the Zurich Classic, Kelly knew what he needed before finishing the back nine: three dozen char-grilled oysters.
“Some of the other tournaments serve pretty good food,” Kelly said, “but nothing like this. This is gastronomic heaven.”
The tournament has taken on some of the attributes – good food and get-down music – that have made the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival beginning Friday a fan favorite.
Cuisine, everything from alligator on a stick to beignets, has become a big part of the tournament’s advertising package. The food is available to fans at the tournament around the course and, for a $175 tab, at the Champion’s Club, where a dozen top restaurants dish up specialties.
Still, it’s not all food and fun: Beginning Thursday, it’s down to business players wanting a piece of the $6.3 million purse. The winner will leave with $1.1 million.
This is only the fourth time the Zurich Classic has been played at the TPC Louisiana. The course opened in 2005, only to be flooded in Hurricane Katrina. The classic returned in 2007 and has had a first-time PGA Tour winner every time, including Andres Romero last year.
“I didn’t find any difference,” the Argentine said of the course Wednesday. “The only difference is my game. I’m not with the confidence that I was last year when I played here.”
Romero’s victory came in just his 12th Tour start. He made the cut in all four majors and finished tied for eighth at the Master’s and seventh at the PGA Championship and was voted the PGA Tour rookie of the year.
The tournament will feature 10 of the top 20 money leaders, 10 of the top 20 year-to-date FedExCup leaders, and 30 players who have won tournaments in the past two years.
The Zurich hasn’t attracted many big name players since Katrina, though it has generated loyalty among many – Steve Elkington, Scott Verplank and K.J. Choi among them – who compete regularly in New Orleans.
Food is a big part of the local culture. And it’s a big part of the Zurich Classic.
If oysters don’t fill the stomach, players could have crawfish etoufee from Galatoire’s Restaurant on the fourth hole. Barbecue shrimp and grits from Pascal’s Manale Restaurant on the sixth. Crab and crawfish cake with a jalapeno cheese biscuit from the Pelican Club on the seventh.
“I went to Drago’s Monday night, NOLA last night,” said Kelly, who is playing in his 10th tournament in New Orleans. “And my good friend Branford Marsalis is taking me somewhere special tonight.”
Kelly said his personal best for grilled oysters was 58, which he couldn’t match on Wednesday. But three dozen was enough to make the back nine pass in a haze.
“I knew what would happen, but I couldn’t stop myself,” Kelly said. “The food here is unbelievable.”