An unexpected scheduling change on the PGA Tour places the 2015 Zurich Classic of New Orleans smack dab in the middle of a murderer’s row lineup that begins with the Masters in April and ends with The Players Championship in May.
Whether the change enhances the 156-player field in New Orleans remains to be seen.
But Steve Worthy, CEO of the Fore!Kids Foundation, which produces the annual Zurich Classic, said more international players than usual are showing a keen interest in coming to the Big Easy the week of April 20-26.
The local purse has been increased to $6.9 million this year — among the largest payouts aside from the majors, world championships and PGA Tour playoff events — with $1.242 million going to the champion.
Seung-Yul Noh, a 23-year-old Korean, will return to defend his first and, to date, only PGA Tour championship.
“We are in the middle of a good stretch of tournaments, and guys will have some decisions to make, particularly some of the international players,’’ Worthy said. “I feel good about where we stand. We’re not going to get everybody we want, certainly. But I think we’re going to have a very good field.’’
The quality and depth of the Zurich Classic field may well depend on the course whims and playing schedules of a number of elite international and regular-tour players.
The aforementioned five-week stretch features several prestigious events and more than $40 million in prize money being doled out at The Masters (April 9-12, $9 million), RBC Heritage (April 16-19, $5.9 million), Zurich Classic of New Orleans (April 23-26, $6.9 million), WGC-Cadillac Match Play (April 29-May 3, $9.25 million) and The Players Championship (May 7-10, $10 million).
Last year, the Wells Fargo Championship followed the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
For some of the elite players, the decision of playing a long stretch of golf likely will come down to the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., and the Zurich Class of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana in Avondale.
One incentive is that Worthy has arranged a chartered flight to San Francisco after the Zurich Classic for those golfers who also are competing in the 64-player WGC-Cadillac Match Play at Harding Park.
“Guys will have decisions to make,’’ said Worthy, who plans upcoming recruiting trips to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Honda Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard and the Masters. “We appeal to a lot of them. We’re in steady contact with them.
“I would always like a better field but it’s never for a lack of effort. We didn’t get everybody we wanted last year relative to a couple other years. But I feel good where we are.’’
Worthy declined to name names of potential commitments, wanting to make a bigger splash during the week’s leading up to the event. But some of the players who are associated with the Zurich sponsor likely will be in the field, such as, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler and many past champions. ... Last year, Worthy said Fore!Kids Foundation distributed more than $1.8 million to some 60 local charities with additional donations going out to another 200 organizations. “We make a big financial impact on this community,’’ Worthy said. “We don’t want to beat our chest, but the people who come out to this golf tournament need to realize that the more money we raise, the more money we have to help others in a charitable way.’’