The PGA Tour is in New Orleans this week for one of the most popular stops on the schedule -- the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.
And, that's good news for those of you who can't get enough of Bubba Watson. The Masters champion is making his first start since that glorious Sunday evening at Augusta National a few weeks back AND he's the defending champion in New Orleans. It's Bubba's world and we're just living in it!
Watson will certainly get a lot of attention this week, but so will the food. Ask Tour players and they'll tell you there's no better food-destination on Tour than New Orleans.
Before the start of the tournament, we caught up with TPC Louisiana PGA General Manager Luke Farabaugh for a little Q&A. Farabaugh talked about Bubba's return, revisited the situation that may have costs Webb Simpson a victory in 2011 (which has since been corrected), offered up a place to eat and more.
PGA.com: Thanks for joining us, Luke. Your defending champion down there in New Orleans is none other than new Masters champion Bubba Watson. What's it like to have your defending champ be the latest, first-time major champion?
Farabaugh: Bubba is a great defending champion and we are extremely proud of his victory at The Masters. On the course, Bubba has had an amazing year so far and is arguably the most consistent golfer on Tour right now. He has made the cut in all eight events he's played in with his worst finish a tie for 18th. Four top 5's in his last six events with everything coming together a couple of weeks ago for his first major. The excitement level in the community is impressive and we're looking forward to watching Bubba defend his 2011 Zurich Classic championship.
PGA.com: I went back to my notes from when we spoke a year ago. You predicted that the winning score in 2011 would be between 12- and 16-under par. Well, sure enough Watson's winning mark was 15-under-par 273 and then it took two holes to decide a playoff with Webb Simpson. First off, nice call! Secondly, do you expect scores to be around the same this time? Why or why not?
Farabaugh: I actually expect the scores to be 3, possibly 4 strokes lower this year. The forecast calls for near-perfect scoring conditions with high temperatures around the mid-80s and the wind to be around 10 mph. Another factor will be how firm/fast the golf course will play. While the TPC Louisiana has one of the most sophisticated drainage systems, we have had over 16 inches of rain in the last month. Giving the best players in the world these ideal scoring conditions, I expect more birdies and lower scores.
PGA.com: I just mentioned Webb Simpson. In his short time on Tour, he's quickly earned a reputation as a champion and as a true gentleman. I think the latter describes the way he handled himself through a frustrating and unfortunate situation in New Orleans last year. To refresh the memory of our readers, during the final round last year -- leading by one shot -- Simpson was less than a foot from the cup at the 15th hole when his ball moved. Simpson said it was probably caused by wind combined with relatively dry and hard greens. No matter, he was assessed a one-shot penalty and eventually lost the tournament. Since then, the USGA has changed the ruling. The new rule, to paraphrase, says that if it was known or virtually certain that the player did not cause their ball to move, then a penalty does not apply.
My question to you, Luke, is: how difficult was it to watch that happen -- especially at that point in the tournament last year and, do you think the USGA got this one right by modifying the rule?
Farabaugh: It was a difficult situation to watch unfold and Webb handled it like a true gentlemen. He was extremely professional calling the rules violation on himself and made an impressive effort to get into a playoff with Bubba. Webb is one of the great young talents on the PGA Tour and followed a difficult situation up with some stellar play. It was extremely refreshing to see him persevere as 2011 ended up being a dream season with two tournament victories and a second-place finish in the FedExCup standings. I had heard that the USGA was considering adjusting this rule several years ago and think they made a correct decision in modifying the rule.
PGA.com: If you would, please complete this sentence: If I could only eat at one restaurant in New Orleans, it would be..., because...
Farabaugh: Ralph's at the Park because I'm a breakfast/brunch guy and they have the best Eggs Benedict in town. It's amazing how good poached eggs can be with some fried oysters and jalapeno hollandaise sauce.
PGA.com: Last question for you, Luke. What's your favorite aspect of tournament week?
Farabaugh: I get asked this question a lot and without any hesitation, my favorite part of the week is watching our staff come together to produce this amazing event. From our agronomy team grooming the course to our Food & Beverage staff serving the players and their families, it's really enjoyable to watch all the hard work of our staff come together to make this event a big success.