Maybe it’s the food. Perhaps it’s the soothing jazz. It could even be the Big Easy attitude.
Whatever it is, New Orleans has become a popular place for professional golfers to win for the first time on the PGA Tour.
Ten of the past 16 champions of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans have broken through at TPC Louisiana or English Turn Golf & Country Club, where the tournament was held from 1989 to 2004 and again in 2006.
That includes the past two champions — Billy Horschel, who won last year with a monster 27-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole, and Jason Dufner.
So will another first-timer take the trophy late Sunday when the final putt drops on the $6.8 million tournament? The chase begins at 7 a.m. Thursday with 156 players setting out in search of the winner’s share of $1.224 million.
While the field includes World Golf Hall of Famers Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, who have won 34 and 19 PGA Tour events, respectively, and reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and 13 others with at least one major title, the odds of another first-timer emerging are good.
More than half of this year’s field — 81 players in all — have never won on the Tour, a group that includes former LSU All-Americans John Peterson and Andrew Loupe and former Tigers standout Ken Looper.
They’d like nothing more than to join Horschel and Dufner and the others who have created lasting memories here — Lee Westwood, Carlos Franco, K.J. Choi, Steve Flesch, Tim Petrovic, Chris Couch, Nick Watney and Andres Romero.
Peterson, who tied for eighth in last year’s Zurich Classic with a 13-under 275 after carding 67s on Friday and Sunday, said that kind of history is good to know.
He’s certainly in favor of it continuing in a tournament he’s dreamed of winning since watching former LSU star David Toms stride home victorious in 2001 — although it wasn’t Toms’ first Tour victory.
“That (trend) does help because this tournament, for some reason, tends to favor the guys (who) haven’t won yet,” Peterson said. “I really can’t put a handle on it, but it does.
“After a good week here last year, it kind of gives me a little more confidence going into this year to know I had a top-10. The good thing about it is I didn’t feel like I played that great. I felt I had a little bit more in the tank.”
Picking up a win, or at least a nice paycheck, would be a big boost for Peterson down the road.
In 14 events this season after earning his card on the Web.com Tour last fall, Peterson, who maintains a home in Baton Rouge, had made just five cuts and has earned $145,934 for 171st on the Tour’s money list.
His best finish was 20th at the Sony Open in January, but he said he feels like he’s getting close.
“I had a lot of mental stuff on my plate,” he said. “I closed on a house in Fort Worth and backed out because I wasn’t ready to move. I’m going to stay here, but there were a lot of things clouding my head outside of the course taking away my practice time. But I’m back to just playing golf.”
Peterson changed coaches, switching from Chuck Winstead to Mark Blackburn because of Winstead’s duties as LSU’s full-time men’s coach, and also switched caddies.
“I’m ready to turn it around,” Peterson said. “I’ve got more consistency on the golf course now. That’s been huge for me.”
Loupe said he’s also moving in the right direction, especially since tying for fourth place at the Valero Texas Open last month. His best Tour finish netted him $272,800 and he has $411,995 this season to rank 102nd on the money list.
“I’ve been moving in the right direction for a while now,” said Loupe, a former Episcopal High School star. “I feel I’ve progressed mentally and with my ball striking. I’m putting pretty well, too.
“It’s a big challenge to win out here, but that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of it. I feel I have as good of a chance as anybody, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.”
Loupe doesn’t put much stock into the fact that so many players have won for the first time in New Orleans, but he said he feels like the Pete Dye-designed course suits his game.
“I think maybe I can take advantage of my length a little more out here and my swing feels great right now,” he said. “I feel good about the week. I love the home crowd and the home event. My game is as good as it’s ever been.”
Looper got into the Zurich Classic last season in an open qualifier and acquitted himself well. He was just four shots out of the lead going into the final round, but he tied for 21st with a 11-under 277 to collect $58,740.
“I have some good and some bad memories (from last year), but I feel great going into this week,” said Looper, who’s playing on a sponsors’ exemption. “I’ve been putting great, and I feel like I’m on top of my game. Hopefully, it shows up in the tournament.”