The future of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans remains bright despite landmark changes on the PGA Tour.
The tournament’s non-elevated status is creating new challenges for the local PGA Tour event, but so far, they’ve been minimal ones, tournament director Steve Worthy said Monday at the event’s annual media day.
Worthy said he is confident the tournament's unique team-play format along with New Orleans’ world-renowned nightlife and hospitality will continue to attract elite players to the event.
Led by reigning champions and Top 10 players Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, Zurich officials expect another banner field for this year’s tournament, which will be held at the TPC of Louisiana on April 20-23.
“Whether we’re elevated or not, we’re still going to have a really good field,” Worthy said. “We’re still going to have a lot of big names here this year, and we’re happy about that. Being different helps.”
The PGA Tour, in response to the competition from the nascent LIV Golf Tour, recently announced plans to conduct 17 elevated events on the 2023 schedule with bumper-prize purses of $20 million. These tournaments include the four major championships: The Masters, PGA Championship, U.S. Open and The (British) Open Championship. The Zurich Classic, with a purse of $8.6 million, was not one of the so-called elevated tournaments.
As a non-elevated event, the Zurich Classic finds itself positioned in a less-than-ideal spot on the PGA Tour schedule, directly after and before three elevated events: The Masters, April 6-9; RBC Heritage, April 13-16; and the Wells Fargo Championship, May 4-7.
However, the Zurich's unique team competition, where the field of 80 two-man teams compete in alternating days of best ball and alternate shot play, helps distinguish it from other events, Cantlay said.
“I think that (the new schedule format) is a good thing,” said Cantlay, the fourth-ranked player in the latest World Golf Rankings. “I think you’ll see guys round out their schedules with tournaments that maybe aren’t elevated but are tournaments that they’ve played at, or tournaments that are hometown tournaments, and this tournament (the Zurich), with it standing out as one of the tournaments that’s different with the format. It just seems like a natural fit for Xander and I to play together, and so that’s why we’re playing together this year and why we played together the last couple years.”
With match play going away next year, there will be 16 elevated events and 12 have already been designated, Worthy said. The other four are “wild cards to be determined.”
The Zurich would likely need to significantly increase its purse from the record $8.6 million this year to as much as $20 million to be designated as an elevated event.
“There has been talk about, could events be elevated every other year or more than that,” Worthy said. “The Tour wants to come up with the best plan for the players. They’ve got sponsorship to keep happy. … Whether they’re rotated, whether because you’re elevated in one year, a year or two later, will you still be elevated? I think that’s an ongoing process. They’re still trying to figure all that out right now.
“As we go forward, elevated or not elevated, the fact that our guys enjoy coming to New Orleans and playing in this golf tournament will keep us in a good place going forward regardless. … I feel like we’re going to be in good shape either way.”
This year’s field, however, will be missing some familiar names because of the LIV Golf Tour, which has attracted several well-known players who were regular Zurich participants, among them: former two-time Zurich Classic Cameron Smith, Marc Leishman, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Graeme McDowell, Cameron Tringale and Harold Varner. LIV Tour players are not allowed to participate in PGA Tour events.
“This year the elevated event schedule makes it a little more difficult (for the Zurich),” Worthy said. “We were surrounded by a lot of them. … That players like our event enough to still have a very good field says a lot about us and makes me happy. Next year, as the Tour works out the schedule, for how it would affect any non-elevated event, they want to try to spread things so that nobody gets too many elevated events surrounding them to make it too difficult.”
Despite the new challenges, Worthy said he expects another field of elite players to compete this year. In addition to Cantlay and Shauffele, he expects to announce commitments from more headliners in the days and weeks ahead.
“I think you’ll see a very good representation of Top 10 and Top 25 players that will join us,” Worthy said.
TPC officials re-planted 32 bald cypress trees over the winter to replace some of the flora lost during Hurricane Ida in 2021. Among the course’s other offseason improvements, new drainage and turf grass was added to some parts of the course, course superintendent Tyler McCool said.
“The golf course is in great shape,” McCool said. “If we had to play a tournament next week, we’d be ready.”