April 28, 2016
Fresh off his impressive showing at the Masters, PGA Tour rookie and former LSU golfer Smylie Kaufman is preparing for another heaping of fanfare at the Zurich Classic.
''This is definitely a home game for me,'' Kaufman said.
In terms of fan support, that is.
As far as knowing the ins and outs of the Pete Dye-designed TPC Louisiana course, not so much.
''I've only played nine holes here, but it definitely feels like a home game from all the folks so far that have given me support, (and) said 'Go Tigers,''' Kaufman said before playing his pro-am round on Wednesday on the par-72, 7,425-yard course. ''It's been a fun week, but Zurich was a tournament early in the year that I circled on the calendar.''
If he wants to win in New Orleans, he'll have to beat three players ranked in the world's top 10, not to mention several others who count the Zurich Classic among their PGA Tour victories.
The field his highlighted by Jason Day, the world's top ranked player, as well as Rickey Fowler, who is ranked fifth and defending Zurich Classic champion Justin Rose, who is ranked 10th.
Day, who has five finishes this year of 11th or better - including victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the World Golf Championship Dell Match Play - took last week off to practice following a 23rd-place finish at the RBC Heritage. It was time Day said he needed to work out a few recently developing ''kinks'' and ''bad habits'' in his game.
''I feel pretty good about my game now,'' Day said. ''I'm very pleased with where I'm at mentally and physically.''
Some things to know about the 2016 Zurich Classic
ALL SMILES: The 24-year-old Kaufman has had an exceptional start to his PGA Tour career, capturing his first victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas last fall in only his fifth Tour event. At the Masters earlier this month, he was in contention through three rounds, teeing off in Jordan Spieth's group in the final round before fading into a tie for 29th.
RETURNING CHAMPS: Nine players who've previous won in New Orleans are back. They are: Rose, Jason Bohn, K.J. Choi, Billy Horschel, Jerry Kelly, Seung-Yul Noh, Andres Romero, Vijay Singh and David Toms. Choi, Singh and Toms won when the event was played at English Turn. It moved to the TPC Louisiana in 2005 (but damage from Hurricane Katrina forced the tournament to return for one year to English Turn in 2006). Former champion Jason Dufner had committed to the event, but pulled out Monday with no explanation. There has not been a repeat winner in New Orleans since Carlos Franco in 1999 and 2000. ''Defending is difficult,'' Rose said. ''There are things you need to be careful of - expectation and maybe some other pulls on your time during the week that come with (being) defending champion.''
IN THE MONEY: While some big names in golf - such as Spieth and former Zurich Classic winner Bubba Watson - are skipping New Orleans' Tour stop this year, it's not because of the purse. The Zurich Classic boasts some of the largest payouts among non-major PGA Tour events. The purse this year is $7 million, with the winner taking home $1.26 million.
LOCAL FLAVOR: Kaufman is one of five players in the Zurich Classic field who attended LSU. The others are David Toms, who won in New Orleans when the event was held at English Turn, as well as Andrew Loupe, Benjamin Taylor and Zach Wright. Taylor and Wright received exemptions to play. Also in the field is former Tulane golfer Michael Thompson, who transferred to Alabama when Tulane decided to disband its men's golf program after Hurricane Katrina. The section champion in the field is Tim Yelverton, a teaching pro at Old Waverly Golf Club in Mississippi.