AVONDALE, La. – The team format isn’t the only thing that makes the Zurich Classic of New Orleans unique.
This is a city with its own soundtrack – the tournament usually coincides with the Jazz Festival, though that’s not the case this year – and you don’t have to go very far to hear live jazz in the French Quarter.
For the past several years, this has been the only PGA Tour event where golfers have chosen walk-up music to the first tee. But this year at TPC Louisiana, that quirky tradition has been replaced by a DJ who will play music. So it’s not quite Don McLean singing “the day the music died,” in his classic hit “American Pie” but it might as well be.
Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, first tee music isn’t the Tour’s most pressing concern at the moment, but half the fun of having music played on the first tee was that the players selected their walkup music, something usually associated with a batter stepping into the plate at a Major League Baseball game. Not only did it give a window into their musical taste – are they a fan of heavy metal like Viktor Hovland? – but it gave a glimpse into their personality. Golf needs more of that.
Erik van Rooyen likes to play the guitar in his spare time and since the Valero Texas Open has been marking his golf ball with a musical note so it may not be all that surprising to hear that he wasn’t in favor of the switch.
“I think it sucks,” he said. “I think it is such a fun idea. It makes the tournament a little different.”
When asked to name the song he would’ve used for his walk-up music, the South African swiped and tapped his phone and it began playing the ‘80s classic “Africa” by Toto.
“Just tap your foot,” he said. “Makes me think of home.”
LIV Golf, with its club music blaring during play, touts itself as “Golf only louder,” which implies that the PGA Tour is less cool and in the ongoing effort to engage a younger audience and stimulate interest in the game, playing some hip-hop and rock at the range isn’t the worst idea.
“This is not a LIV vs. PGA Tour thing so please don’t make it about that,” Max Homa said before turning it into a big joke. “I heard Monahan talking about it in our last PAC meeting. We went over the golf ball going too far, we went over accessibility to the designated events and we went over music being too aligned with the LIV Tour.”
In case his sarcasm was too dry, he was joking, but I think he was being serious when he said he would’ve gone with “Congratulations” by Post Malone if he could have picked his first tee music.
I’d heard rumours to this effect, and now @AdamSchupak has sadly confirmed there won’t be walk-up songs at the Zurich Classic this year. My dreams of one day performing live walk-up songs are all that more distant
— Sam Harrop (@sam_golf) April 19, 2023
Here’s the sad reason why the players won’t be picking out their own tunes this year: last year more teams chose not to submit a song than those who wanted to participate. For tournament organizers, it was like herding cats trying to get two players to agree on a single song.
Zurich Classic tournament director Steve Worthy noted that often they were chasing teams “right down to the last minute” and said the decision was made in part due to feedback from players. Last year, the tournament already had scaled back to player’s choice tunes on the first tee Saturday but DJ’s choice on Sunday.
“It was better received,” Worthy said of Sunday’s playlist.
The use of music at sporting events is thousands of years old dating back to the ancient Greeks and had been tried in golf before. At the 2017 HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, the DP World Tour experimented with first tee walk-up music.
“To a man, they all said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ ” said former HSBC global head of sponsorship and events Giles Morgan. “You wouldn’t want to do it at The Open or the Masters, and you shouldn’t because that’s where tradition exists. The Abu Dhabi Championship is a place we can test it. The market will decide if they like it. If the players are up for it, why would you not?”
But as Tour pro Adam Hadwin observed, “I really don’t care to be honest,” and pointed out the upside in the change: “It takes pressure off me to have to come up with a song.”
The PGA Tour stereotype of being too vanilla and its players a bunch of automatons is a stereotype for a reason. Here’s hoping that players like van Rooyen who want to partake will at least be given that chance. After all, we can all use a little Toto in our life.
“It’s not out of the question that we’ll go back to it,” Worthy said.
Bring back the noise, bring back the funk, bring back the college fight songs, Joel Dahmen getting the adrenaline flowing to “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and the Alan Parsons Project making the first tee feel like moments before the opening tip of a Michael Jordan home game.