As a worldwide golf ambassador for the company that sponsors this week’s PGA Tour stop, Jason Day obviously doesn’t mind talking up the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
So, along the way, something he said to fellow Australian Adam Scott must have struck a chord that led Scott to have a desire to play in the Big Easy for the first time in his 20-year professional career.
“Scottie came up to me and said, ‘Do you want to play Zurich?’ ” Day said. “I said, ‘That’s great. … I’d love to play Zurich with you.’
“I thought he was doing it because he liked me. But unfortunately, we’re putting a bunch of teams together for the Presidents Cup. So that’s why we’re together.”
Day, of course, was kidding.
But some of the frivolity will end at 7 a.m. Thursday when the $7.3 million Zurich Classic, which will use a two-man format for the third year in a row, begins its four-day run at the 7,425-yard TPC Louisiana layout.
Each member of the winning team will collect $1,051,200 and 400 FedExCup points.
Day and Scott are the favorites to win here at 7 to 1, according to GolfOdds.com.
The 80-team field will play best-ball Thursday and Saturday, with alternate shot taking over Friday and Sunday.
Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy, a pair of longtime golfing pals who won last year by one stroke over Jason Dufner and Pat Perez, are back to defend their title.
But with a Presidents Cup looming this fall, international team captain Ernie Els is using the tournament as sort of a proving ground to help shape their 12-man team, which will participate for the event at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
“There’s still a long, long way to go,” Els said of the qualifying process that will have eight players automatically make the team along with four captain’s picks. “But this event is the only one of its kind and the players that were able to play, we thought that we’ll look at getting some of them paired up.
“It’s not exactly what’s going to be happening in December, but it’s an opportunity for the guys to get used to playing in this format — playing foursomes and four-ball in competition, you know.”
Els, a four-time major winner, will play this week with Trevor Immelman, a fellow South African who was the 2008 Masters champion.
U.S. captain Tiger Woods is not playing here this week.
Els said he originally wasn’t going to play in New Orleans but decided he would commit if Immelman, whom he’s watched since he could barely walk, could make it.
Immelman, of course, jumped at the chance to play with a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“Obviously, to have the opportunity to play with Ernie is a huge thrill for me,” he said. “He’s an icon in our country in South Africa and an icon in the game.”
They are one of three All-South Africa teams playing this week. The others are Justin Harding and Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, who finished third in this tournament a year ago.
In the current international Presidents Cup standings, Oosthuizen is second, Harding seventh and Grace 15th as of last weekend. Eleven of the top 15 players on that list are in the field — including Day (sixth) and Scott (11th).
On the other hand, only four of the top 15 players in the current U.S. standings are in the tournament — Brooks Koepka (fifth), Tony Finau (eighth), Patrick Cantlay (12th) and Bubba Watson (15th).
“Yeah, it’s going to tell you some things,” Fore!Kids Foundation CEO Steve Worthy said of the international strategy. “They’ve got some guys playing together that are going to be great fits. … I think it tells them something; at least it gives you confidence.”
While saying the players like the format as a change of pace, Els said the chance to get an early look at who may be on his team and how they play together was big.
“We’ve got our eye out for December; that’s part of the reason,” he said, “but also we want to do well throughout this week.”