From the Bayou to the land Down Under: All eyes on team events in men’s pro golf

From the Bayou to the land Down Under: All eyes on team events in men’s pro golf

Despite the lack of teamwork between the PGA Tour and the upstart LIV Golf League over the past two seasons, it’s all about the team in men’s professional golf this week.

The PGA Tour heads to New Orleans for the Zurich Classic, the only two-man team event on the schedule.

The LIV Golf League heads to Australia for its first event in the land Down Under.

Here’s what to watch in men’s professional golf this week:

What’s next on the PGA

Tour Zurich Classic of New Orleans

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: TPC Louisiana, Avondale, Louisiana

Defending champions: Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele

Purse: $8.6 million

Storylines to watch:

No “I” in team: The PGA Tour’s lone two-man team event tees off for the sixth time outside New Orleans this week. The teams will play four-ball (best ball) in the first and third rounds, and foursomes (alternate shot) in the second and final ones. There are 80 teams competing in the field and each of the winners will receive about $1.2 million. The winners won’t get Official World Golf Ranking points or an invitation to the 2024 Masters, unlike winners of other full-point PGA Tour events.

Both captains of the upcoming Ryder Cup team are playing with their vice captains. U.S. team captain Zach Johnson is paired with Steve Stricker and European team captain Luke Donald with Edoardo Molinari. Max Homa and Collin Morikawa, both Cal-Berkeley graduates, are also on a team together.

“You see partnerships,” Homa said. “A lot of people don’t know who [are] friends out here. You just see us play, so now you get to kind of see that. So it’s different.”

Brothers in arms: Fresh off his playoff victory at the RBC Heritage, Matt Fitzpatrick is playing with younger brother, Alex, who will be making his second PGA Tour start. He missed the cut at the 2022 Valspar Championship. Alex played at Wake Forest and is ranked 705th in the world. He was a member of four Walker Cup and Palmer Cup teams.

If the Fitzpatrick brothers were to pull off a win this week, Alex would receive a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. He currently plays on the Challenge Tour in Europe.

“I would say we’re pretty close,” Matt said. “I think we’re polar opposites. I’m organized, he’s unorganized. He’s happy, I’m miserable. Yeah, that’s probably a good way to put it really.”

Matt said Alex probably has a better iron game and short game, while he’s better off the tee and on the green.

“Hopefully I kind of piggyback off him this week, and yeah, we kind of ham-and-egg it and hopefully a good result at the end of the week,” Alex said.

“Ham-and-egg it,” Matt said to his brother, who grew up in Sheffield, England. “Wow, you turned very American in your four years at college.”

Tough to beat: Cantaly and Schauffele, the defending champions, have been difficult to take down in team formats. They’re 6-3-1 as teammates in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. They were wire-to-wire winners of the Zurich Classic in 2022, setting tournament records for scores after 18, 36, 54 and 72 holes. They’re only the second team to consist of two top-five players in the world rankings in the six-year history of the event.

While Cantlay and Schauffele might be good at golf, they’re apparently not adept at trash talking.

“I don’t think Pat talks trash,” Homa said. “I don’t think he’d be the greatest person to get into a trash talking spat with. Xander is the most underrated person out here when it comes to that. Pat is pretty quiet, so I think you could say the meanest thing ever to him and he’d just nod at you and continue to walk.”

What’s next in the LIV Golf League

LIV Golf-Adelaide

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: The Grange Golf Club, Adelaide, Australia

Purse: $20 million

Three storylines to watch:

Down Under: The LIV Golf League is staging its first tournament in Australia this week, and league officials are expecting huge crowds in CEO Greg Norman’s native land — so much so that there’s talk of adding a second event in Australia in 2024.

“I think it will happen,” Australian Marc Leishman told the Sydney Morning Herald. “You’ve got to go where the support is. I know they’ve been limiting crowds in America for the disruption, but this has been supported hugely. If you can get 30,000 a day into a golf tournament, and that’s where you’re going to make your money, I don’t see why you wouldn’t go to a market that’s supporting you.”

Leishman said he’d like to see LIV Golf tournaments in South Africa, South America and other parts of the world. The circuit is headed to Singapore next week.

“You don’t want to flood it too much,” Leishman said. “Being away for three weeks is a long time, especially if you’ve got kids. I think two [a year] would be a great number to start with and see how the support goes, and then see what happens down the road. There’s a lot of other markets we haven’t hit yet.”

Welcome home: The all-Australian team, Ripper GC, will undoubtedly be heavy favorites this week. Along with Leishman, captain Cameron Smith, two-time Australian Open winner Matt Jones and Jed Morgan are playing at home this week.

For the first time, LIV Golf team captains are playing together in threesomes, while teammates will play together in threesomes as well. Smith will play with Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter. Former world No. 1 golfer Martin Kaymer, captain of Cleeks GC, is returning this week after missing the first three events while recovering from wrist surgery.

“Obviously, I’d say pretty much everyone is going to be rooting for them, which is a good thing, right?” Koepka told reporters in Australia. “They should. They should have the hometown advantage, the support, and everybody should be out there cheering for them, which will be good to see, just as far as like on a league level. I think that would be fantastic.”

Eyeing the U.S. Open: LIV Golf League players Sergio Garcia, Harold Varner III, Matthew Wolff and Leishman were among the record 10,187 entries for the U.S. Open, which is scheduled for June 15-18 at Los Angeles Country Club. Local qualifying started this week.

Among the LIV Golf players who didn’t sign up to try to qualify for the U.S. Open were Paul Casey, Charles Howell III, Poulter, Charl Schwartzel and Lee Westwood.

At least seven LIV Golf players will be eligible to compete in the U.S. Open: Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Kaymer and Koepka as U.S. Open champions in the past 10 years; Phil Mickelson as a PGA Championship winner in the past five years; Smith for winning the Open last year; and Joaquin Niemann for being eligible and qualifying for last year’s Tour Championship.

The top 60 in the OWGR on May 22, the Monday after the PGA Championship, will also earn exemptions. Abraham Ancer is currently ranked 36th, Patrick Reed is 44th, Thomas Pieters is 46th, Mito Pereira is 55th and Talor Gooch is 57th. Since they won’t receive world-ranking points for LIV finishes, those competing in the PGA Championship will probably have to play well to maintain their rankings.

As the tours turn

McKenna & Associates, a nonpartisan firm hired by LIV Golf to help it shake up the professional golf world, is pushing back on a third-party subpoena it received from the PGA Tour as part of the circuits’ ongoing legal battle in federal court.

According to court documents, McKenna & Associates has asked the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia to quash or modify the subpoena. Among other things, the PGA Tour has asked for documents and communications related to the firm’s “research and analysis … to uncover the PGA Tour’s weaknesses and pressure points” and the firm’s analysis regarding “PGA tax status, claimed diversity and inclusion, lobbying status, financial structure, and contracts with players, vendors and others.”

The PGA Tour is also seeking documents and communications related to an alleged “investigation of [PGA Tour commissioner] Jay Monahan,” “[mobilizing] interest groups aligned with the theme of inclusivity (women, minorities, broader socio-economic groups),” “[mobilizing] players and agents dissatisfied with the status quo, and the PGA limiting their earning potential,” and “[creating] unattributed public debates with golf’s sphere of influence, [including] with sports media, equipment manufacturers, venue and course owners, sponsors, golf trade associations, among others.”

“After months of efforts to meet-and-confer, the PGA subpoena still includes sixteen requests for documents and thirteen deposition specifications, many of which bear no material relevance to the core allegations in the antitrust litigation between the PGA and LIV Golf, Inc., and/or seek information that could just as easily be obtained from LIV itself,” McKenna & Associates’ attorneys wrote in the motion. “The PGA has thus far refused to justify its failure to pursue this discovery it claims to need directly from LIV before burdening McKenna; nor has the PGA engaged in any meaningful efforts to narrow the instant subpoena to seek only those materials relevant to the underlying litigation and not available elsewhere.”

McKenna & Associates, a nine-employee consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia, was hired by Performance 54, an international golf consulting firm that helped secure billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to launch LIV Golf. Andrew McKenna, president and CEO of the firm, previously worked in U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration.

The Watering Hole

The LIV Golf League, borrowing a page from the WM Phoenix Open, is going to have its first “party hole” on the 12th at The Grange Golf Club. LIV Golf is hoping about 5,000 fans will be in the stadium-like seating. Each player will have his own walk-up music. Koepka went with Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares.”

“I just love it,” Koepka said. “I love when the fans get a little rowdy. They’re screaming, they’re booing you when you hit a bad shot and cheering you on when you hit a good one. It’s going to make that hole exciting. I think it should bring a different atmosphere, which will be cool.”

The Shark goes diving

Norman, known as The Shark during his playing days, went cage diving off the Eyre Peninsula on Tuesday. Norman said he saw four great white sharks. In a video posted to the LIV Golf website, Norman said the species has unfairly been given a bad name since “Jaws” came out in 1975.

Koepka said he was going with Norman until he learned it was an all-day excursion.

Tumbling again

Quarterback Russell Wilson, who had a rough maiden season with the Denver Broncos, avoided injury when his golf cart flipped over near a bunker at Arrowhead Golf Course in Littleton, Colorado, on Saturday.

Wilson confirmed reports of the incident in a tweet on Tuesday — and added that he had a heck of an up-and-down for par.

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