Zurich Classic of New Orleans and GolfSixes: Golf looking to new formats

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler
Big-name players including Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, plus Jason Day and Rickie Fowler will team up for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Bit by bit, professional golf is getting its head around the fact it needs to change to freshen interest in the sport.

While the four majors - the Masters, US Open, The Open and US PGA - and events such as next month's Players Championship remain prosperous tournaments offering the benchmark of success, others need to find different ways of achieving true relevance.

That's why forthcoming tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic should generate plenty of attention, starting with this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans on the PGA Tour.

This is an official counting tournament for the rankings worth $7.1m (£5.5m) and has attracted six of the world's top 10 players to the TPC Louisiana course.

The difference is it is a pairs tournament, with competitors teaming up to take on a mixture of foursomes and four-ball action during the 72-hole event.

Just a week later, from 6-7 May, an event with an even more radical format takes place at the Centurion Club near St Albans - GolfSixes.external-link

It doesn't boast such a stellar field but offers a vision of a quicker, brighter, brasher form of the game.

First, though, some intriguing combinations team up in New Orleans - including Olympic champion Justin Rose and the man he beat in Rio, Open winner Henrik Stenson of Sweden.

Australia's Jason Day and American Rickie Fowler provide another combination in which both golfers are in the world's top 10, while England's Tyrrell Hatton and Jamie Donaldson of Wales join up in an all-British pairing.

The big-hitting young-gun combination of Belgium's Thomas Pieters and Daniel Berger of the US also catches the eye, and distance will not be a problem for American pair Bubba Watson and JB Holmes.

Alternate-shot foursomes will be played in the first and third round, with the better-ball format used in the other rounds. There will be the usual halfway cut, with the top 35 of the 80 teams making it to the weekend.

How the format works
Foursomes: Teams of two compete with one ball per team, taking alternate shots until the hole is completed.
Better ball: Each player has their own ball, and the team's lowest score on each hole counts.

It will be an opportunity to watch some of the finest players on the planet embrace a team ethic on the PGA Tour for the first time since the 1981 Walt Disney Classic.

There was a time when such a format change might have been regarded as being 'a bit Mickey Mouse' but those days are gone. Golf needs to evolve and this week's event is indicative of the Tour's fresher outlook under new commissioner Jay Monahan.

The 46-year-old is still relatively conservative compared with the European Tour's Keith Pelley, who wastes no opportunity to put forward his modernising message. GolfSixes is the embodiment of the energetic Canadian's ethos.

If you want your golf accompanied by blaring music and directed by production talent imported from entertainment television, this is the event for you.

Again it is a team format, this time with the pairs representing their countries; Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan for England, Richie Ramsey and Marc Warren for Scotland, and Donaldson and Bradley Dredge flying the flag for Wales.

There are 16 nations represented, with prize money totalling one million euros (£850,000) up for grabs.

Henrik Stenson fans during the 2016 Ryder Cup
Organisers will hope the new format for this week's Zurich Classic will bring the same level of fan enthusiasm as the Ryder Cup

This is golf's biggest attempt to date at trying to find a viable Twenty20 version. On the Saturday there will be round-robin group matches, with eight teams qualifying for straight knockouts on the Sunday.

Greensomes alternate shot will be used, the format where players can choose which drive to use. This introduces a tactical dimension, but also runs the risk of over-complication, especially when trying to attract a new golfing audience.

Organisers are promising plenty of razzamatazz, and their challenge will be balancing this with maintaining the competitive integrity of the tournament - especially with 'celebrity' interviewers thrusting their mics at players between shots.

Each of the six holes will have its own theme, and the most significant will be the fourth, where a shot clock will be in use. Players will be allowed only 40 seconds to hit, and there will be a one-shot penalty for any time breach.

It will be fascinating to see how they cope with these demands, and whether this concept could be employed elsewhere on professional tours.

While we are on the subject of pace of play, England Golf has demonstrated its support for a faster version of the game by backing British Speedgolf.

In this incarnation there's a combination of golf and running, and scores are combined with the time taken to play - so if you shoot 80 in 75 minutes and 12 seconds, your score is 155.12.

Clearly it is not for everyone, but this idea seems to embrace a fitness dimension that also takes account of the time constraints of modern life. A showcase event is being planned for England Golf Week, on the Bracken Course at Woodhall Spa in August.

Times are changing, and no-one can accuse golf of standing still.


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