Posted: 26th April 2017
Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace will team up again at the Zurich Classic. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
When the new two-man team format consisting of foursomes and four-ball was announced for this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, there was never a doubt that South Africa’s dynamic duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace would be a prominent team at the event.
“I spoke to him immediately and he said he was up for playing and it was a fairly easy decision,” Oosthuizen said.
“Simple as that,” agreed Grace.
The team with the excellent Presidents Cup pedigree will be worth paying close attention to in New Orleans. Grace and Oosthuizen were unbeatable at the 2015 Presidents Cup in Korea, winning all four team matches together. Grace also defeated Matt Kuchar (2 and 1) in singles for a 5-0 record, while Oosthuizen halved with Patrick Reed to go 4-0-1.
This will be the first appearance in the Crescent City for both Oosthuizen and Grace and the pair are keen to win.
“We’ve been mates for a long time and we play good together,” Grace said. “Obviously with our history at the Presidents Cup, it’s been great and I think this is a good chance to get a win under the belt as a team.”
Grace admires the consistency of Oosthuizen’s game and the fact that neither of them make too many mistakes.
“At the Presidents Cup in Korea, we both played a type of game where neither of us really did anything wrong. Neither of us made any silly mistakes and that’s really the key, especially in a team format,” he said.
Added Oosthuizen: “We gel well together. There’s not a lot of ‘sorrys’ from either of us when you hit a bad shot because we are obviously not trying to hit bad shots. Once Gracie gets his putter going, he can make quite a few birdies in a round. That’s always nice and can come in handy, especially in the best-ball format.”
Oosthuizen played in the World Cup of Golf in 2011, an event which used the identical format the Zurich Classic will use this week – foursomes (alternate shot) in rounds one and three, and four-ball in rounds two and four – and he likes the format.
“There are not many tournaments where we can play as a team, so in that respect the Presidents Cup is a highlight for our careers, but I would love to get a victory at the Zurich Classic,” Oosthuizen said.
Grace suggested the Zurich Classic might offer indications of potential teams for both sides at the Presidents Cup and he won’t be surprised if there is a couple of international pairings in New Orleans that could appear at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey later this year.
A perfect example would be Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, No. 2 in the FedExCup standings and No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, who will team up with fellow Japanese star Hideto Tanihara, who reached the semifinal of the recent World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Tanihara is currently No. 11 in the International Team standings and seeking to make his first Presidents Cup team.
South American pair Jhonattan Vegas, 14th in the International Team standings, and Fabian Gomez, No. 32, are another team to keep an eye on.
South Korean’s Seung-Yul Noh and Byeong-Hun An have history at the Zurich Classic, with Noh winning his first PGA TOUR title at TPC Louisiana in 2014 and An finishing runner-up last year to Brian Stuard after a three-man playoff that also included Jamie Lovemark. Both players are 25 years of age.
However, age and experience should never be underestimated -- especially when a two-man team has a combined age of 100. Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly, both 50-year-old Wisconsin natives who currently play PGA TOUR Champions, might go under the radar at the Zurich Classic given the stellar field that features six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I look at these two weeks, the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, as the two most fun weeks out of the year for me,” Stricker said. “When we were playing the QBE Shark Shootout at the end of last year, we had an opportunity to win in Naples, and I said, ‘we could pull off the trifecta.’ Jerry was like ‘what’s that?’ I said the Shark Shootout, Bass Pro and Zurich – all team events.”
Stricker knows a thing or two about team events, having competed on five President Cup teams, three Ryder Cup teams and one Dunhill Cup. He also won the 2013 CVS Charity Classic (with Bo Van Pelt).
Later this year he will lead the U.S. Presidents Cup Team at Liberty National. He and Kelly teamed to win the 2009 Shark Shootout in Naples, Florida, and finished as the runner-up at the same event late last year. Last week, they played as a team at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf on PGA TOUR Champions.
“We get along so well in these team events and feed off one another and I think it’s that competitive nature that both of us have,” Stricker said. “If one of us hits a good shot, the other guy doesn’t want to be outdone so he tries to step up and hit a better shot.”
The pair have 31 combined appearances at the Zurich Classic with earnings of more than $1 million each at this event. Kelly’s win in New Orleans in 2009 helped his total reach $1,569,184, while Stricker has earned $1,098,040 in 15 appearances.
Kelly, a member of the winning U.S. Team in the 2003 Presidents Cup, suggests the mentality required for team play is different from playing as an individual.
“It’s really tough knowing that he’s relying on me and that’s the hardest part,” he said. “You can let yourself down and that’s not really a big thing but to let your friend down, that’s a whole other level of pressure. That’s what brings us up to that next level. We’ve done it so many times it could get ordinary. But it’s never ordinary for us.”