Five generational Zurich Classic of New Orleans teams
April 17, 2022
By Jeff Eisenband , PGATOUR.COM
- April 17, 2022
- Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods would form a formidable duo in any generation. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
For the fifth time, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will use a team format, as pairings will play two days of foursomes (alternate shot) and two days of four-ball (best ball). Some teams are made up of friends and countrymen (e.g. defending champions Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman) and some teams are built purely on strategy (FedExCup No. 3 Sam Burns and two-time Zurich Classic winner Billy Horschel have put aside their LSU-Florida rivalry to form a formidable pairing).
But we want to take things a step further, even if not possible. We want to imagine five of the most exciting multi-generational pairings that could be created for this event. If players across history could pick these teams, with every playing being in their prime, what would the competition look like? These are some ideas.
Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus
Would this be fair? Absolutely not. Would we love to see it? For sure.
Once upon a time, Earl Woods modeled his plan for Tiger’s career after that of Nicklaus. Nicklaus actually got to witness much of Woods’ early dominance. They first played together in a practice round at the Masters while Woods was still an amateur. Nicklaus finished T39 at the 1997 Masters (only 29 shots behind Tiger) before finishing T6 and beating Woods the next year. In fact, as Justin Ray of Twenty First Group has pointed out, Woods won each time Nicklaus made his final appearance in one of golf's majors (2000 U.S. Open, 2000 PGA, 2005 Masters, 2005 Open Championship).
Woods and Nicklaus have combined for 155 PGA TOUR wins, 33 major titles and 33 Ryder Cup points. As a competitive duo, it is hard for the common golfer to even fathom their strategy. Two of the most creative shotmakers in the game’s history would be using their imagination together to shave a few shots off their round.
Neither had a flaw in their peak, but with Woods ushering in the modern era of power, it is probably worth giving him the even holes during foursomes play to get the two extra drives. Meanwhile, during four-ball, Tiger and Jack would probably be more worried about the game-within-the-game, competing to beat each other, as opposed to worrying about the competition.Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus share a laugh at the 2007 Presidents Cup. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
Arnold Palmer and Scottie Scheffler
The latest winner at Bay Hill, Scheffler claimed the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard in March, but unlike those before him, he did not find Arnie waiting off the green for a handshake.
In our alternate universe, these two players who own their unique swings get a chance to mesh their games together. Palmer famously said, “You must play boldly to win.” Scheffler has been living that motto in 2022, winning four times, including that win at Bay Hill, which saw him come back from two shots down after three rounds. Now they are joined in history as Masters champions, as well.
Both Palmer and Scheffler have won over golf fans with swagger and personality. For Palmer, that was typically shown while on the course. For Scheffler, that raw emotion has come after the final putt drops (or in the case of the Masters, when reaching the 18th green).
One thing is for sure: These guys are going to have the gas pedal on for all four rounds. You need to go beat them; you can’t expect them to fall back.
In the actual present, Scheffler is going to tee it up with another Palmer: Ryan, a fellow Texan and the 2019 champion with Jon Rahm.Scottie Scheffler won the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard in March. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Gary Player and Bryson DeChambeau
The week would be a marathon for these two. Between a ratchet morning workout and a grueling evening range session, Player and DeChambeau might even play some golf in between.
At age 86, Player, also known as “Mr. Fitness,” is still trudging his way around golf courses. His fitness regimen goes all the way back to his childhood when he was given weights by his brother, who was headed off to fight in World War II. Player has stuck to a strict diet (he recommends you eat half as much as you do now) and workout regimen (he recommends you exercise twice as much as you do now), while also tracking his sleep and breathing routine.
Considering how he looks today, Player has been doing something right over the last three quarters of a century.
In the current era, DeChambeau has also taken a unique approach to crafting his body for peak golf performance. In 2019, he gained roughly 30 pounds. Add in his at-home workouts during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic (many of which were documented on Twitch) and he had put on 20 pounds of muscle.
The results were immediate, as DeChambeau recorded four straight tops-10s after the 2020 restart, including a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He won his first major by six shots at that September’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
This would be a talkative pairing, sharing best fitness practices between every shot.
Thinking back on @b_dechambeau’s #USOpen win and the many subsequent opinions. The thing that stuck with me was Bryson practicing under the lights before his final round. The last man out there. There’s no substitute for hard work, it’s a key ingredient to becoming a champion. pic.twitter.com/naQGIcuZA3— GARY PLAYER (@garyplayer) September 29, 2020
Seve Ballesteros and Jon Rahm
When Jon Rahm was 12, he attended an event featuring both Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal in the field. He shook Olazabal’s hand but didn’t know what Ballesteros looked like.
“My dad almost had a heart attack,” Rahm recalls, “because I had the chance to shake Seve’s hand and I almost didn’t.”
Ultimately, he did embrace the Spanish legend and as Rahm dove into golf history, Seve would become his idol.
Today, Rahm is much of a modern version of Ballesteros, both as a player and a person. In 2020, he became Spain’s first world No. 1 since Ballesteros in 1989. Both have taken on the challenge of playing on the PGA TOUR. Ballesteros, who owns the record for most DP World Tour titles with 50, won nine times on the PGA TOUR, including five major titles.
Rahm, who came to the U.S. to play for Arizona State, has six PGA TOUR wins and became Spain’s first U.S. Open champion last June. One of those wins came at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, when he and Ryan Palmer took the title in 2019 (Palmer knows how to pick his partners).
This pairing would be a celebration for golf and for Spain. The pure joy Ballesteros and Rahm would exude in playing together is something to fantasize about.Jon Rahm has drawn inspiration from his fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros. (Getty Images)
Ben Hogan and Collin Morikawa
This pairing might actually cause a leak, there’d be so much flushing.
Ben Hogan is the godfather of ball-striking. As a player, he made distance control and accuracy cool. He won 64 times on the PGA TOUR, including nine major championships. As legend has it, Hogan “invented practice” by focusing his time on perfecting his golf swing, as opposed to making his corrections in tournament play. As simple as it sounds, he was crucial in starting the process of measuring distances and marking reference points (bunkers, trees, hazards) in analyzing a course. His 1985 book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” is still one of the most popular teaching publications today.
“I couldn't wait to get up in the morning, so I could hit balls,” Hogan once said. “When I'm hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply, it's a joy that very few people experience.”
Hogan would probably be overwhelmed if he knew to what depths the swing can be analyzed in these modern times. Collin Morikawa is a product of this age, but he developed his swing in a rather old-school manner, digging it out of the dirt a la Hogan. The 25-year-old ball-striking specimen finished his first full season on the PGA TOUR in 2019-20 ranked second in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and fifth in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He improved those numbers to first and second, respectively, in 2020-21.
During Morikawa’s Open Championship-winning 2020-21 campaign, Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee drew comparisons to Hogan (the ultimate compliment for a golf swing), posting the duo side-by-side and noting the similarities: “The wrist angles post-impact, with the back of the right wrist pointing towards the target, club exiting way left, is evidence of remarkable rotation and stability.” The two also were known for their mastery of the fade, relying primarily on a left-to-right ballflight to knock it close.
So yeah, this would be the fusing of two perfect swings. Are you drooling yet?Ben Hogan and Collin Morikawa each hold Open Championship titles. (Getty Images)