Tournament Preview Zurich Classic

2021 Zurich Classic Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know Before Team Stroke Play Begins at TPC Louisiana

My gut reaction when looking ahead at the Tour schedule to see the Zurich Classic was on tap next was: Fuck this. Just when we were starting to get into a groove again after the WGC Match Play disrupted our usual week to week process, we’re handed with another gimmick event. Don’t get me wrong, variety is the spice of life, and watching the game’s best (I use that term lightly looking at the strength of this field) team up together to compete for a $1M prize will be plenty entertaining. But I’m out here to identify & exploit value and find the easiest path to profitability, and that becomes increasingly more difficult without the aid of any Strokes Gained data in a format we haven’t seen for the last 2 years.

So like I was saying, first impression? Hate. But over time as I looked back at the event history, the course, and the Group pairings for this week, I became more and more intrigued. So once again, whether it be gambling addiction, #content addition, or gambling content addiction, I could not resist diving into the details for another Tournament Preview.

Am I all in on this week? No, absolutely not. But I’m in, and maybe more in than I’d expect most other sensible bettors to be. There’s a lot of guess work still, but we have enough prior data on TPC Louisiana back when it was a pure Stroke Play event with ShotLink from 2016 and prior, so if we combine that with the field’s recent form, we can still gain an edge by profiling how to best attack the course and which Teams are constructed to complement what is needed to find success at TPC Louisiana in a Team Stroke Play format.

As of this writing, it’s still a bit unclear how the DFS slates will be formatted. We do know the below so far, but suffice to say, I’ll be using the information in this article primarily to make an informed stab at narrowing down which Teams have the best chance to win in the betting markets when those odds are released Monday.

So, for better or worse, let’s see what the Zurich Classic has in store!

TPC Louisiana Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,425
  • Par: 72 (4x 3’s / 10x 4’s / 4x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Course Architect: Pete Dye
  • Comp Courses: TPC River Highlands, TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town, The Stadium Course, Austin CC, Crooked Stick, Whistling Straits
  • Past Team Stroke Play Winners: Rahm & Palmer (19), Horschel & Piercy (18), Blixt & Cam Smith (17)
  • Past Individual Stroke Play Winners In The Field: Brian Stuard (16), Justin Rose (15), Billy Horschel (13), Bubba Watson (11)

I’ve never watched the Zurich Classic before, and I’ve never been to TPC Louisiana (I’ve never even been to Louisiana), but I would say there are few courses on the PGA Tour that I am more familiar with than TPC Louisiana. How? PGA 2K21.

The first task (at least for me) when you create a player in PGA 2K21 is to make the cut at a Q School event held at TPC Louisiana. It took me roughly 50 tries to finally make the cut. I’m not kidding, I probably tried a month straight to figure out this game and make a cut, so all I did time and time again was smack it around TPC Louisiana, miss the cut, restart, and do it over again. I know exactly the right club to use to punch out your 200 yard drive from under the trees to set up a nice scramble for bogey, and I could walk you blind folded to each of the drop zones on this track, wherever water is in sight. Unfortunately with all this video game experience, I still don’t know how to play this course from the fairway, so assuming these professionals are more accurate than my lowly created Q School player, the rest of the preview will focus on real life event history.

So getting into the course, it’s fairly long just over 7,400 yards, and brings us to yet another Pete Dye design. It has been #PeteDyeSZN lately, as this will be the 4th Pete Dye stop over the last 7 weeks going back to THE PLAYERS. The biggest difference between TPC Louisiana and the tracks we’ve seen more recently is the distance, as it takes a bit more power on top of the shot-making finesse to navigate these grounds.

In terms of past results, the Zurich Classic had been a standard Individual Stroke Play event from 1938 through 2016 and has since converted to the new Team Stroke Play format. I believe there is actually a stipulation in the PGA Tour rule book that states if Brian Stuard wins a given event, it needs to be completely gutted and reformatted to save that course’s dignity. Stuard won this event in 2016 in disastrous rain conditions that caused the event to be played over just 54 holes, and after that the good people at the Zurich Classic decided – Never again, let’s do something else!

If there is such thing as a course horse here, Billy Horschel probably leads the way. He is the only player to have won this event in both Individual and Group play, and given his recent Match Play win and strong showing at the RBC Heritage, the Horschel & Burns pairing will certainly be worth a look this week. Up until 2016, Justin Rose was #1 SG: TOT at this track, so the Rose & Stenson pairing may also be worth a look this week, given how strong they each looked last we saw them at The Masters.

Team Stroke Play Format & Field Overview

  • Thursday: Four Ball (Best-Ball)
  • Friday: Foursomes (Alternate Shot)
  • CUT: Top 35 & Ties Advance
  • Saturday: Four Ball (Best-Ball)
  • Friday: Foursomes (Alternate Shot)

I lost money betting on team Peyton Manning & Steph Curry versus Phil Mickelson & Charles Barkley because I misunderstood what they meant by “Alternating Shot” format, so I made sure to look extra closely for the exact rules and regulations this time around at the 2021 Zurich Classic.

Here is the official explanation from the Zurich Classic website of how the format is broken down:

For Four-Ball play, the players on each team will each play his own ball throughout the entirety of the round, with the best score on each hole recorded. Example: On the first hole, both golfers on each team tee off. Player A pars the hole and Player B birdies it. The team will be credited with a birdie.

For Foursomes play, players will rotate tee shots. One player will hit the tee shots on all the odd-numbered holes, and the other will hit the tee shot on even-numbered holes. Example: Player A and Player B are partners. On the first hole, Player A tees off; Player B plays the second shot; Player A plays the third shot; and so on until the ball is holed. The total strokes taken will result in the team’s score for that hole.

R1 and R3 will be played in what is commonly known as Best Ball Format. This format will breed the lowest scores, and is a great opportunity to separate from the pack early on. Last time this event was contested, Rory Sabatini & Brian Gay led the way with an opening round 12-under 60 in this format, so expect to see some low numbers on Thursday and Saturday. Best Ball is all about Birdie Makers so we should look closely at Birdies or Better Gained, assuming players are going to take more aggressive angles, knowing they can have the cushion of their partner playing more conservative to save a par if they get into trouble. The Top 5 players in this field in Birdies or Better Gained over the last 36 rounds are Viktor Hovland, Max Homa, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, and Charley Hoffman. The Top 10 Teams in Aggregate Birdie or Better Rank are: Schauffele & Cantlay, Rahm & Palmer, Homa & Gooch, Clark & van Rooyen, Morikawa & Wolff, Hatton & Willet, Finau & Champ, Ghim & Suh, Kirk & Todd, and Brehm & Dahmen.

R2 and R4 will be played in Alternating Shot format. The Zurich Classic website labels this as “Foursomes (Alternate Shot)”, but I personally have never heard of anyone referring to this format as Foursomes in my life. In Alternate Shot, you are often as good as your weakest link, so you’ll see a more normal score to what you’re accustomed to in standard Stroke Play. Teams of complementary players can excel in this format, so a pairing like Sungjae Im & Byeong Hun An or Keegan Bradley & Brendan Steele really catch my eye, as An and Bradley can let someone else clean up after their approaches every other hole. This format does require you to have two players both playing well to stay in contention, much more so than Best Ball in which you can lean on the hot hand of one player.

The full 80-team, 160-man field can be found on the Zurich Classic website, or below if you prefer visuals.

Key Stats

  • Pete Dye Course History
  • SG: T2G (>7,400 Yard Courses)
  • SG: BS / SG: APP
  • SG: P – Bermuda
  • Recent Form (SG: TOT, SG: T2G)

Stats To Avoid

  • TPC Louisiana Course History
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Par 4: 450-500

Did I need to pull out the correlation charts this week? Probably not, because it doesn’t seem like we’re going to be able to run a custom model against this field in Fantasy National this week. But Strokes Gained data from 2016 and prior did exist, and comparing the Strokes Gained categories from those years and how they correlated with success versus the average top categories over the Last 50 rounds can still help give us some insight into how this course should be navigated, and which profiles stack up the best here.

From the charts below, we can see Bogeys Avoided and SG: OTT are less important on this track than Tour average. On the other hand, SG: BS, SG: APP, and PG: Par 5 see the biggest boost in importance at TPC Louisiana.

Top 10 Stats Correlated with SG: TOT
Top 10 Stats Correlated with SG: TOT at TPC Louisiana

Unfortunately I can’t run a model this week to lay out the players that rank highest in each of those categories. The best I could do, however, was manually list out the Top 5 individual players in the Field this week in each of those key categories:

  • Pete Dye Course History: Patrick Cantlay, Kevin Streelman, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Jon Rahm
  • SG: T2G (>7,400 Yard Courses): Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jason Kokrak, Jon Rahm, Matt Wallace
  • SG: BS: Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Charley Hoffman, Keegan Bradley, Viktor Hovland
  • SG: APP: Collin Morikawa, Matthew NeSmith, Keegan Bradley, Charley Hoffman, Chez Reavie
  • SG: P – Bermuda: Brendon Todd, Kevin Kisner, Sungjae Im, Andrew Putnam, Peter Uihlein
  • Recent Form (SG: TOT): Jon Rahm, Cameron Smith, Max Homa, Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay
  • Recent Form (SG: T2G): Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Cantlay

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Zurich Classic

Jon Rahm-Ryan Palmer team wins Zurich Classic of New Orleans

It’s been quite some time since we last saw this event back in April 2019 when Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer cruised past then-favorites Tommy Fleetwood & Sergio Garcia by 3 strokes for a final total score of -26. While Rahm & Palmer will presumably be the favorites to repeat, there are a number of interesting pairings to keep an eye out for. Here are my 10 most intriguing pairings at the 2021 Zurich Classic:

  • Jon Rahm & Ryan Palmer: The defending champions and likely favorites to defend their title.
  • Marc Leishman & Cam Smith: These Aussies come in with great recent form poised to make a run.
  • Xander Schauffele & Patrick Cantlay: Clear cut most talented and least boisterous pairing in the field.
  • Max Homa & Talor Gooch: By far the best Twitter combo in the field and most entertaining to follow
  • Collin Morikawa & Matthew Wolff: Would have been lethal if this tournament was played this time last year as originally planned, but now presents a get-right spot for Matthew Wolff and helps us answer the question “How much better could Morikawa be with a boost of distance off the tee?”.
  • Billy Horschel & Sam Burns: I hate betting on Billy Horschel and I can’t resist betting on Sam Burns. Horschel’s consistent track record at TPC Louisiana will put my will to the test.
  • Keegan Bradley & Brendan Steele Dream alternate shot pairing. Somebody else gets to clean up Keegan Bradley’s approaches for Birdie? Sign me up!
  • Sungjae Im & Byeong Hun An: Exactly the same dynamic as Keegan/Steele, with Sungjae even more equipped to complement An’s putting woes.
  • Akshay Bhatia & Scott Piercy: My muse in Akshay gets an intriguing pairing with 2018 Zurich Classic co-champion, Scott Piercy.
  • Rob Oppenheim & Grayson Murray I am most intrigued by how these guys know each other. Did everyone else on Tour just request not to have to play with Grayson Murray and Rob Oppenheim forgot to? Are they actually friends? Where is the common ground?!