New Orleans pulls out the stops for Zurich
AVONDALE, La. – The city is the story at this week’s Zurich Classic. This event, held during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, is as much about New Orleans’ food and festivities as it is about golf. Fried oysters and gator tail were available on the driving range. Tim Herron wore a Saints jersey while practicing Wednesday. Come Sunday, the focus will turn to crowning another champion, though.
1.) Three of the world’s 10 players – Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Steve Stricker – are here, looking to improve their standing among the world’s elite. This week also is a good opportunity for players to turn their season - and careers - around. All of the Q-School and Nationwide grads were eligible to play this week, and the field was filled by players who finished between Nos. 126-150 on last year’s money list.
At 7,341 yards long and with fairly wide fairways, TPC Louisiana easily could be described as a bomber’s course. Then again, as 2009 champion Jerry Kelly notes, “You can call a lot of places these days bombers’ courses.”
The past two winners here – Jason Bohn and Kelly – never will be confused for long-hitting 20-somethings, though. Both ranked outside the top 100 in driving distance the years they won.
“You’ve got to drive the ball in the fairway here,” Kelly said. “The bunkers are fairly difficult.” McDowell called some of the tiny, flat-bottomed bunkers, “overgrown divots.”
“You probably couldn’t get two more opposite ends of the spectrum, really, this golf course versus Harbour Town,” McDowell said. Tight and turning Harbour Town is known as a golf course that negates any length advantage.
2.) Luke Donald was one shot away from becoming No. 1 in the world last week. He would’ve taken the top spot if he had defeated Brandt Snedeker in a playoff at the Heritage. Donald is trying to focus on the positives of that event. Known for his above-average short game, Donald was encouraged by his ballstriking at Harbour Town. He ranked 10th in greens in regulation and ninth in driving accuracy. “I’m improving and I’m going in the right direction,” said the world’s No. 3 player.
“Every week I note down my stats and try to find the positives from them more than anything,” Donald said. “I think I’m first or second in putting on the PGA Tour. When you stand over a putt, it’s nice to know that you’ve done it before and you have a good chance to make putts because of that.”
3.) After his career year of 2010, McDowell started this PGA Tour season with three consecutive top 10s. But in four Tour starts since, he hasn’t finished better than 42nd. McDowell, never one who has difficulty relaxing, said he was too easygoing after a month-long break earlier this year. He neglected some of the fundamentals, which led to bad habits.
“I came back a little sloppy,” McDowell said. “It’s a tough game. You’ve got to keep on top of it. Just been a little out of sync lately.”
McDowell said his results this year mirror those of 2010, when he won the U.S. Open. McDowell will play Congressional Country Club, site of this year’s Open, on Monday for a media day.
“It’s amazing how my season is kind of a mirror image of last year’s season,” McDowell said. “At this point last year I wouldn’t have told you I was on top of my game.”
In other words, McDowell isn’t panicking. He just needs to make sure he doesn’t get too relaxed.
4.) Snedeker said he never understood why players took time off after a victory. He’d rather make the most of his good play. That’s why he’s in the field this week.
“You just finished playing the best golf of your career and won last week,” he said. “Why don’t you keep going?”
With a playoff victory over Donald at last week’s Heritage, Snedeker earned his second career title. It also was his fifth top 10 in 11 starts this season; he’s seventh on the FedEx Cup points list.
Snedeker had off-season surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He spent 12 weeks away from the game while recovering from the procedure.
“When I came back at the Bob Hope, I was 100 percent healthy, my golf swing felt great and I just really played great golf, you know, all year,” he said.
5.) Louisiana residents are a proud people. They’ll have another native son to root for, in addition to David Toms, at this year’s Zurich. LSU senior Andrew Loupe Monday qualified for the Zurich.
Stop me if you’ve heard this storyline before: Loupe moonlighted as a basketball player before devoting himself to golf. He was an all-state golfer and basketball player at Episcopal High School in Baton Rouge. He is No. 19 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and was a first-team All-SEC golfer this year.
Loupe is just another former athlete to find success in a different sport before turning to golf. Gary Woodland, winner of this year’s Transitions Championship, played college basketball. Dustin Johnson’s ability to dunk a basketball often is used to illustrate his athleticism.