Golf tips: A recipe for success in team competitions

Cameron Smith, Jonas Blixt
USA Today Sports Images
The Zurich Classic of New Orleans featured a 72-hole, stroke play team format -- two rounds each of alternate shot and best ball -- won by Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt. PGA Professional Ryan Benzel explains how you can get the most out of a team format.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Published: Monday, May 01, 2017 | 11:43 a.m.

As we saw at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, team golf outside of the Ryder Cup can be a lot of fun to watch.

The biggest difference in New Orleans was that this team event -- featuring a best-ball and alternate shot format -- was stroke play, hence no concessions and no reprieve from one big number.

Ultimately, Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith prevailed in a playoff that was contested on Monday, defeating Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner.

While the way the tournament was played was different for most fans of the PGA Tour, PGA Professional Ryan Benzel told us it's actually a common way to contest team events at golf clubs across the country.

RELATED: How to succeed in match play | Your best tips for match play

"A lot of club events use these formats," said Benzel, the PGA Director of Instruction at Sahalee Country Club. "If it's stroke play alternate-shot or four-ball, you're trying to shoot lowest you can shoot, essentially. It's different since you're facing an entire field. When it's match play, the strategy is different -- you're only playing your opponents. If they make a mistake, you might play more conservative to be sure you win the hole. With what we saw at Zurich, you pretty much go all out. That was obvious on Sunday with Brown and Kisner. In best ball, they birdied their forst eight holes and 10 out of their first 11."

When it comes to team events, you can't underestimate the importance of two things: your playing partner and momentum.

"Generally speaking, your partner -- if you pick them -- is going to be someone you enjoy playing golf with," Benzel said. "A friend of yours. A buddy. The atmosphere between the two of you is going to be very good. While they came up short in a playoff, you could certainly tell that Brown and Kisner are good friends on Tour and it was natural for them to partner up and play well. When they got hot, it created a ton of momentum and that makes things so much easier in team events."

Benzel said that the hardest format in a team event is alternate shot.

Whereas a best-ball match is essentially just playing a regular, 18-hole round on your own ball, alternate shot requires planning with your teammate.

"First, you need to take a good look at the course," Benzel said. "I love par 3s, so I'm probably going to see if those holes are mostly odd or even. Alternate shot is a different animal because you're playing to yardages that your partner likes and they might play a game that's very different from your own."

If you're playing a team event, be sure to erase one word from your vocabulary.

That word? "Sorry."

"Don't say sorry to your partner... ever," Benzel said. "I don't think the expectation of your partner is that you're attempting to hit a bad shot. Based on memory, I don't ever remembering apologizing to a partner for hitting a shot left that I meant to hit right. There's no point. Bad shots happen. Bad holes happen. There are ups and downs. The hope is that your partner understands you're trying to hit the best shot on every shot and sometimes it doesn't pan out. It works both ways. I don't believe in an apologetic mindset when it comes to team play." 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.