2017 Zurich Classic: Star-Studded Teams Emphasize Chemistry Over Strategy

Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports /

With new format, Zurich Classic teams find personal chemistry as important as on-course strategy

The Zurich Classic features some great teams looking to prove that they’re as good together as they are flying solo. World No. 3 Jason Day will team with No. 9 Rickie Fowler. Not to be outdone in the top ten, No. 6 Henrik Stenson will join No. 8 (and Masters runner-up) Justin Rose. It’s not every day you see this kind of star power joining forces on the PGA TOUR.

Actually, you never see it outside of the Ryder Cup or President’s Cup. That’s what makes this week in New Orleans so intriguing. And while every player has his eyes on the championship, this event could be decided as much by how they get along as any on-course statistic.

Jason Day, Rickie Fowler taking laid-back approach to Zurich

As you can tell, Day and Fowler know what needs to be done on the course, but it’s clear they’re not taking themselves too seriously. Not only is that a trait that has made them two of the game’s biggest stars, but it could be a difference maker down the stretch.

“How have you played here?” Day asked Fowler, as though he didn’t know.

“I’ve played okay here,” Fowler (T-20 in 2016, missed cut in 2015) responded, firing back at Day. “I know you finished top five here the last two years?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Day demurred.

Fowler put the finishing touch on the little skit. “I had a good pick.”

The first team to commit to this event back in the fall – and both Zurich brand ambassadors – Day and Fowler never missed a chance to needle each other in the pre-tournament presser. But when it came down to business, it’s clear they have a trust that will allow them both to reach their peak potential.

“The preparation for us, you know, is different,” Day said. “I come in and I practice, Rickie does his thing to make him feel ready, and, you know, it’s worked for him this year. He’s played tremendous golf this year and he’s going to be a great attribute to our team.”

Friendship, trust and confidence – with four days of team golf ahead, that’s a great combination to have.

Rose, Stenson bring established record to Zurich Classic

The other top-ten pairing in the field this week, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, took an opportunity to display some of the humor that more casual fans might not recognize. The Olympic gold and silver medalists from Rio joked about leaving their medals in the hotel room and seemed to be genuinely enjoying their time.

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Their winning formula is pretty simple.

“We play a very similar game and we like each other,” Stenson said. “That’s a pretty good start, right?”

It is, but stopping there would be selling this team short.

The two veterans have become a strong team for the European Ryder Cup side since 2014. At Gleneagles in 2014, they went undefeated in three matches together. At Hazeltine last year, captain Darren Clarke kept the team together. Despite going just 1-2 against the dominant American pairing of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, their efforts were arguably some of the best of a trying week for Team Europe.

If there’s a tactical edge for anybody this week, it’s hard to look past that kind of experience.

In new format, finding the right fit matters

There are going to be 160 players teeing it up at TPC Louisiana on Thursday, in 80 unique teams. While players got to choose who they would work with, one thing is obvious – if you don’t get along, no matter what happens, it’s going to be a long, long four days.

The first team to win the Zurich Classic is going to have to play some great golf, make no mistake. Of course, all of these players are capable of that, and scores are likely to be insanely low by Tour standards.

Next: Zurich Classic Power Rankings

Given all that, it might be best for the winning team this week to take a page out of the Beatles’ book, and get by with a little help from their friends.