How Hardy and Riley successfully rolled two events into one

Davis Riley and Nick Hardy, 2023 Zurich Classic of New Orleans,Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
Davis Riley and Nick Hardy, 2023 Zurich Classic of New Orleans,Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports /

What makes the Zurich Classic interesting is not merely the fact that it is the PGA Tour’s only team format.

It’s also interesting because it is really two entirely different formats intermingled into one result. To win, teams must excel in both of those disparate formats.

Thursday and Saturday play involves best ball. But on Friday and Sunday, that format goes away in favor of alternate shot, a different game entirely.

Imagine a track meet where you run the hurdles on Thursday and Saturday, then the mile on Friday and Sunday, and you have an idea of the challenge involved.

Nick Hardy and Davis Riley won the championship Sunday with a team score of 30-under. That was two strokes better than the team of Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor, and three ahead of the team of Wyndham Clark and Beau Hossler in third.

How Nick Hardy and Davis Riley persevered.

The question is how Hardy and Riley persevered? And the answer lies in the two-tournaments-in-one aspect alluded to a few paragraphs ago.

During best ball play, the eventual champions were not great but good enough. Their two rounds of 64 and 63 in that format would have left them in a six-way tie for sixth place had that been the whole story. That was two strokes better than the 129.09 field average.

The kings of the best ball portion were Hossler and Clark, the eventual third place finishers. They turned in cards of 61 and 62 when they got a chance to cover each other’s mistakes, one shot better than the teams of Keith Mitchell/Sungjae Im and the Fitzpatricks.

But the results differed dramatically during the Friday and Sunday alternate shot rounds. In that generally more challenging format, Hardy and Riley shot 66-65 for a total of 131. They did that against a field average of 138.89, translating to nearly an eight-stroke advantage over the average team.

Taylor and Hadwin, the overall runners-up, also excelled in the alternate shot format. Their scores of 67-63-130 during those two rounds were nearly nine strokes superior to the field average, and actually gave them a one-stroke advantage on Hardy and Riley.

For Taylor and Hadwin, the problem was their failure to get anything going in best ball. Their rounds of 66-64-130 in that format were nearly a full stroke worse than the field average for those two rounds. When you let half the field beat you in half the tournament, it’s really tough to win, as Taylor and Hadwin found out Sunday.

When you run the standard deviation numbers – the measure of exceptionality – separately for both the best ball and alternate shot portions of the competition, the results are eye-opening. Of the 35 teams that qualified to play all four rounds, only four had negative – which is to say good – standard deviations from the field averages in both formats. These were the four:

          Teams                                Best ball       Alt shot        Finish

  • Hardy/Riley                        -0.72            -2.16            1st
  • Hossler/Clark                    -2.10            -0.27             3rd
  • M NeSmith/T Moore       -0.72            -1.08             T-4th
  • M Trainer/C Ramey         -0.38             -0.27             T-9th

Taylor and Hadwin turned in sub-par performances during the best ball. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele — who tied NeSmith and Moore for fourth — laid a major egg during best ball, shooting 133, four full strokes above the field average.

Next. Why Tournament golf is often an arbitrary game. dark

It’s probably possible to win the Zurich by dominating one aspect of the play so thoroughly that balance isn’t important. But the simpler path is likely the one followed by Hardy/Riley and a select handful of other teams: Do well in both formats, and kick butt in one of them.