Video: Palmer-Rahm team to defend Zurich Classic title as Worthy remains optimistic

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Despite the possible competition of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games siphoning potential players away and the ominous presence of the Coronavirus, Zurich Classic Chief Executive Officer and Tournament Director Steve Worthy is optimistic about the 2020 Zurich Classic of New Orleans April 20-26 at the TPC of Louisiana in Avondale.

“We feel very good about where we are right now,” Worthy said. “Last year, we did several other team announcements in addition to our defending champs and we kind of felt like they got lost in the shuffle so this year, we’re just going to announce the defending champion pairing. We’ll have an announcement of a team later this week and multiple team announcements most every week between now and the tournament.”

Worthy said it has been an unusual year.

“It’s been kind of a unique year,” Worthy said. “I thought last year was unique with the change in the schedule with the PGA Championship moving to May. Guys were a little slower to commit than we’ve seen in the past. This year, I think being an Olympic year, it’s been even slower than that. We feel great about where the field is. It’s a little slower than it’s been in the past. At the end of the day, we’re going to have a very good field.”

Worthy said that the TPC course at Avondale has replaced its grass with a re-sodding process which has been very well received to PGA tour agronomists and that it should be very well received from players as well.

“It has gone well and we are making sure that we get the word out to the players that the playing surface will be new and improved this year,” Worthy said.

TPC Louisiana: Hole 18 Fairway to Green - Clubhouse

The tournament has a very attractive duo in defending champions Ryan Palmer and John Rahm.

Palmer happens to be good friends with New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, whom he plays in the Pro-Am with. Palmer has become, by his own admission, a huge New Orleans Saints fan and a huge fan of New Orleans.

“I developed a love for the city during my career but my relationship with Sean Payton has grown over the years and I look forward to each and every year,” Palmer said. “We play the Pro-Am every year. He (Payton) brings in Drew Brees, Brett Favre last year. I look forward to each and every year getting to see Sean and to hang out. We go to the Saints facility every year. I’ve turned into a big Saints fan. My son is a die-hard Saints fan now.”

Each player cited several reasons why they are near perfect partners.

“First, you always want to get along,” Palmer said. “It’s a big help when both of your games are close to the same. We both drive the ball well, have pretty solid irons. We work together pretty good. The biggest thing is as long as you are out there together having fun, you can stand each other for that long a time.”

Rahm feels the similarities in his game to Palmer’s game is beneficial.

“I think it was a big help that we both kind of see golf in the same way,” Rahm said. “We both like to hit a fade, especially off the tee. We both have the same vision. I think that helps a lot. For the most part, we stay out of each other’s way a lot.”

Rahm is one of the longest hitters in the world and is currently ranked second in the world golf rankings.

The format brings about a different outlook from the players, as compared to regular single events on tour.

“It’s kind of a relaxing week,” Palmer said. “It’s a break in the season. You’re grinding so much individually. This has turned into a nice, kind of relaxing week. With that goes the pressure of knowing you have a partner. You have someone to rely on and they are relying on you. It’s matter of how you handle it. That week last year from the first hole to the last was relaxing, fun.”

Rahm concurs with Palmer.

“To play two formats, with the four ball, it is relaxing,” Rahm said. “You can be aggressive, try to make as much birdies as possible because everybody is shooting very low. You have somebody to lean with the stress and the pressure of the week makes it a little bit easier to handle throughout the four days.”

The TPC course obviously played well for the games of both players in 2019.

“I think you have to drive it well, for sure,” Palmer said. “Not just straight but it’s a hitter’s golf course,” Palmer said. “After that, it takes precision with your irons. The golf course has turned into a ball striker’s golf course, I think. It suits both of our games, for sure. When you have the short game he (Rahm) does and I was fortunate enough to get the putter going that weekend. It’s a golf course that suits my eye and his because we play the same ball-shape.”

Rahm stressed how TPC courses require accuracy.

“For the most part, you need to be accurate to the green,” Rahm said. “There are small targets off the tee and small targets going to the green. We both hit it really well off the tee. He had the putter going, I had the wedge going. I think it’s a combination of things that made it a great course for us.”

Rahm chuckled about the perception of his duo with Palmer.

“Most people find our pairing so odd,” Rahm said. “You’ve had very different champions. I’ve heard players say that they want to play with somebody else, somebody different every year.”

Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer
Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer took home the 2019 Zurich Classic title at TPC Louisiana in Avondale by three strokes (Photo: Stephen Lew).

Entering the fourth year of the team play format, the tournament has garnered success through more media attention worldwide and through more participation from the world’s best players since changing the format in 2017. Worthy stated Tuesday that the format is “etched in stone” moving forward with the event.

Addressing the over-arching issue of the Coronavirus, Worthy said the situation was being monitored daily by the PGA Tour and stated that there are many contingency plans in place, if necessary, but that as of now, the tournament will go on as scheduled.

The Zurich Classic remains a lucrative event for participants. Last year, the event featured a $7.3 million purse with $2,102,400.00 going to the winning team.

The tournament is on solid ground, with Zurich on board as the title sponsor through 2026 after signing a seven-year extension with the New Orleans tournament in 2018.

All proceeds from the Zurich Classic go to the Fore!Kids Foundation, which has been helping children through golf since 1958. The Fore!Kids Foundation has raised just over $30 million to date, providing healthcare, education and hope for over 200,000 children annually.

“We certainly believe that everyone knows that all of our proceeds go to charity,” Worthy said. “It’s a big point of messaging to the PGA Tour. It’s why our Fore!Kids members work as hard as they do. They want to drive dollars to charity and impact our community. Each of the last few years, we’ve distributed more than $2 million to charity and we’re very proud of that fact.”

The tournament, originally known as the New Orleans Open, was first played in 1938. Now 82 years down the road, thanks to Zurich, which enters its 16th year as the title sponsor and the Fore!Kids Foundation, the event is as perhaps the best it has ever been.

The comments of Palmer, who cannot wait to return to New Orleans, ended with a “Who Dat?” mention.

“It turned into a special week and hopefully, we’ll do it again,” Palmer said.

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