Even though he’s known since September that he’d be playing in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Neal Ajubita will be living a dream when the $6.8 million tournament starts Thursday.

Ajubita, a New Orleans native and Jesuit High School grad, has been a member of TPC Louisiana since it opened in the fall of 2004. A Clemson graduate who never played collegiately, the 26-year-old Ajubita will tee it up for the first time in a PGA Tour event on the No. 1 tee at 2 p.m.

Ajubita earned an automatic spot in the Zurich Classic with a win in the PGA Gulf States Section championship last fall.

“This is a one-in-a-kind experience,” a wide-eyed Ajubita said Wednesday. “This is a pretty big step up from my career path.”

Ajubita, who was on his high school team at Jesuit, said he played recreationally in college and wanted to become a club pro after majoring in parks and recreation with an emphasis on pro golf management.

“I thought I was done playing golf, but realized I wasn’t,” said Abujita, who earned $1,085 in eight events as a fulltime member of the Adams Pro Tour in 2013. “I’ve had chunks of success and failure, but at other times I’ve felt like I can be on this tour.”

Fowler the favorite

It’s been an up and down season for popular PGA Tour star Rickie Fowler, who’s either in contention or sitting at home on the weekend.

But he’s on an upswing coming into the Zurich Classic after a sixth-place finish in Houston and a tie for fifth two weeks ago in the Masters. Based on that, Fowler is arguably the man to beat in this week’s field.

“This is probably the first time I’ve been a favorite this year,” said Fowler, who credited his good play to his work with renowned teaching pro Butch Harmon. “It’s nice to be back up kind of near the top where people are actually talking about me and I’m not off on the weekend.”

Zurich funds local grant

Zurich Insurance Group announced a $3 million grant Wednesday from its Z Zurich Foundation to the St. Bernard Project to help the local organization fund a disaster resilience and recovery lab.

Announcing the grant were PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, Zurich North American CEO Mike Foley, St. Bernard Project co-founder and CEO Zach Rosenburg and St. Bernard supporter and PGA touring pro Ben Crane.

“It’s going to let us staff up and hit 10 communities a year to make sure they’re understanding and mitigating risk and ... have access to the best practices and training to expedite recovery,” Rosenburg said.

SEC strong

The last four Zurich Classic winners played collegiately at Southeastern Conference schools.

The trend started in 2010 with Jason Bohn (Alabama) and continued with Bubba Watson (Georgia) in 2011, Jason Dufner (Auburn) in 2012 and Billy Horschel (Florida) in 2013.

L’Auberge Pro-Am

Former LSU All-American John Peterson led four local amateurs to a win in the L’Auberge of Baton Rouge Pro-Am at University Club.

Joining Peterson were Ronnie Rantz, John Landry, Dennis Vaughn and Donald Black joined Peterson for the win.

Former LSU golfer Ken Looper teamed with Gordy Rush, Brock Triche, Woody Bilyeu and Ben Broussard for second place, while the Miguel Carballo-led team of Jay Little, Cameron Little, William Myers and Vernon LeBlanc was third.

On the bag

As they have in the past, members of the LSU women’s golf caddied for two PGA Tour players in the Zurich Classic Pro-Am at TPC Louisiana.

Carly Ray Holdstein and Caroline Nistrup caddied for Fowler, while Lindsay Gahm, who placed second in the medalist standings at the SEC tournament Sunday, Ali Lucas and Elise Bradley caddied for Derek Ernst.

Lagniappe

Fred Funk, who at 57 was the oldest player in the 156-man field, withdrew from Wednesday’s Pro-Am and the main tournament because of a knee injury. … Tickets will be available at the main entrance to TPC Louisiana. Admission is $25 although a weekly badge is available for $75 ($25 for seniors). Military personnel get in free and children under 17 get in free when accompanied by a paying adult.