I’m starting this column with an important PSA: The next time you’ve got a foursome and an empty golf course and time for only nine holes — granted, that’s a handful of exceptions — go play an alternate-shot match.
Simply because of the format’s nature, you’ll find yourself hitting shots from areas you regularly don’t, while feeling more pressure than usual, too.
Oh, and here’s the best part: By the end of the match, two of you will be BFFs and the other two won’t speak to each other for a month.
(When I professed my alt-shot love on Twitter this week, a guy replied that the last time he and his buddies played the format, one of ‘em cried afterward. Good times!)
Change Is Sometimes Good
All of which brings us to the Zurich Classic.
The PGA Tour doesn’t always make the smartest or most fan-friendly alterations to its tournaments, but Jay Monahan and the suits in Ponte Vedra Beach stuck the landing with this one. The team format is a brilliant change of pace from weekly individual stroke-play events, and the players have bought into the concept, with 10 of the world’s top 14 playing this week. Even the first-tee walk-up music was a conceptual success.
And the second edition of this format even improves on the first.
Unlike last year, when the foursomes/fourballs rotation left the best-ball format as the weekend-ender, this time it’s shifted to alternate shot. And by now, you know how I feel about that.
I’ll get to my final-round picks shortly, but first a quick explanation of how/why players are best matched up in these events.
Partner Comfort Is Key
For such competitions as the Ryder/Presidents Cup, I’ve always believed that opposites attract in best-ball play. Give me a long-hitting, aggressive birdie machine and I’ll pair him every time with a Steady Eddie who keeps it in the short stuff and doesn’t get into too much trouble.
By contrast, I prefer like-minded players in alternate shot. Professional golf is all about feeling comfortable in your own skin, and maintaining that comfort level through similar types of shots seems like the best way to succeed when there’s only one ball in play.
Entering the final round in New Orleans, I’ve identified three such partnerships that should thrive in familiar comfort zones, both for the overall victory and for matchup purposes.
Best Shots to Win
The tandem of Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown was my pre-tourney pick to win after last year’s playoff loss, and there’s no reason to stray from that now. They’re leading by a stroke entering Sunday and play eerily similar games, likely born from the fact that they share a swing coach, home course, and often practice together.
Jason Dufner and Pat Perez aren’t just in a share of fifth place, they’re also the duo about whom most non-golf fans have said, “These guys have gotta be related, right?” Each sporting a beer gut, flat-bill hat, and DGAF attitude, they’re a smart pick to succeed in the format that feeds on similarities.
The last of the three is Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. The two buddies from their junior golf days playing at Ernie Els’ academy in South Africa, they’ve likely played more rounds together than any other team in the field. That includes competing in alt-shot in plenty of international events over the years, which should help them make a run from eighth place.
They say familiarity breeds contempt, and that might ring true come Sunday afternoon — for the fellow contenders going up against these teams.
Pictured above: Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown