Golf expert Ben Coley takes a look at the unique GolfSixes, which takes place in St Albans this weekend.
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Last week, Scott Piercy and Billy Horschel won the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the PGA Tour's first tentative step towards the kind of innovation we've seen on the European Tour of late, and it's fair to say it wasn't particularly exciting despite the narrow margin of victory.
The decision to tweak the format of that event in just its second year probably didn't help, with Sunday's foursomes producing fewer fireworks than the four-balls of 2017, but ultimately the issue remains that they've not mixed things up enough. If you're going to take a week out of regular stroke play - and there is definitely room in the calendar to do so - then you might as well go the whole hog, which certainly appears to be the view of European Tour chief exec Keith Pelley.
Enter GolfSixes, also in its second year having been a massive hit in 2017, even if some thoroughly dull purists may baulk at the idea of pyrotechnics, loud music, shot-clocks and any kind of unabashed merriment in what's supposed to be an oh-so-serious sport.
While the line-up was fairly weak, those in attendance at St Albans' Centurion Club made up for it with their enthusiastic buy-in and after all, to the kids at whom this event is targeted, a professional golfer is pretty much a professional golfer. It'd be nice if Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods turned up, but beyond the genuine elite it really doesn't matter that much if Edoardo Molinari is here and Matteo Manassero isn't, or that Wade Ormsby is in for Scott Hend.
Of course, this column isn't really about whether an event is good for on-course spectators or not, and it's hard to argue that it offers us a serious punting medium. However, there are grounds for a couple of small-ish plays and I've narrowed the focus to three teams - South Africa, Italy and England Women.
Last year, Denmark pair Thorbjorn Olesen and Lucas Bjerregaard were fairly convincing winners having gone unbeaten through their four-team group before beating France, Italy and Australia in the knockout rounds, the latter with something to spare in the final.
Key to their success appeared to be two-fold: that they were among the strongest line-ups on paper, and that both Danes give the ball an almighty whack, Bjerregaard in particular, with Olesen capable of coming alive on the greens when at his best.
The format of this event appears to clearly favour big-hitters. Not only are two of the six holes par-fives - there is no course on any major golf tour where they make up a third of the total - but greensomes means both players hit a tee-shot, before the best option is chosen. Waywardness is therefore far less likely to be punished and if one of the two can keep the ball in play, teams like Olesen and Bjerregaard are immediately at a big advantage.
Looking through the 16 teams which have been divided into four groups and very few boast serious power, with South Africa probably the biggest hitters in attendance.
George Coetzee is a class act relative to this field and his form prior to a missed cut at a course which doesn't suit him in Morocco was outstanding, with victory on home soil followed up by fourth place behind Jon Rahm in the Open de Espana.
Things haven't been going so well for Haydn Porteous, but he did come alive alongside Tyrone Ryan when playing in the Steyn City Team Championship on the Sunshine Tour last month, the pair closing with a round of 62 for fifth place.
That little taster of team golf could set him up perfectly for this and he'll be keen to earn bragging rights over his friend Brandon Stone, who finished bottom of his group when representing South Africa alongside Darren Fichardt last year.
At 9/1, South Africa look the pick of the market leaders despite a potentially hot group which includes England, for whom Matt Wallace arrives in great form, and Sweden, whose Alex Bjork landed his first European Tour title on Sunday.
Despite that, I can't resist a small, speculative play on Charley Hull and Georgia Hall, who represent England and will play from the ladies' tees in Group D.
Hall hasn't been in particularly good form of late, but Hull was third behind Lydia Ko at the weekend and together, they might just be capable of producing the week's big story and going the distance.
I am no expert on the women's game, but I do believe that both will be seriously motivated to make a point here, whereas there is a chance that certain other teams are playing for the fun of it. Last year we saw Alex Levy and Andy Sullivan, two of the classiest players on show, letting the shot clock run down before hitting as they tried their best to engage with the audience whereas Olesen and Bjerregaard appeared to be more focused on getting the latter his first European Tour win.
Earlier this year, Hall declared "I think we will have a good chance" and two genuinely top-level players look to have been underestimated a little. It is so very difficult to get a firm grip on what expectations should be, but with the potential for a high level of focus, home advantage and Hull's world-class recent form, I'm happy to speculate at 50/1.
The European Women's team of Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda are as big as 90/1 in a place, but their draw looks trappy with Denmark and Thailand boasting two of the standout players in the event, while late call-up Reid has been struggling badly.
Instead, Italy's duo of Molinari and Renato Paratore get the vote to advance from Group C.
Molinari has plenty of team golf experience and can't afford to pass up the opportunity to take any event fairly seriously as he fights to return to the Tour's elite, while Paratore has the requisite power, ranks third in this field for par-five scoring this year and should match-up well with his studious partner.
Paratore made the semi-finals here last year along with Manassero and while the other three sides in their group are similarly solid, it's Italy who appear decent value. This duo are both European Tour winners, one a former member of the world's top 50 and the other likely to be at some point, and I think they make a stronger team than Australia (Ormsby and Sam Brazel), France (Mike Lorenzo Vera and Romain Wattel) and others who are shorter in the market.
Of course, there's a lot of guesswork here and this is as volatile and unpredictable as golf gets right now. However, just as Kiradech Aphibarnrat made class count in the World Super 6, and as Denmark did last year, I suspect we'll see one of the classier line-ups do the business come Sunday. In my book, all three of these sides qualify.
Posted at 1200 BST on 01/05/18.
GolfSixes draw and format
- Denmark (Olesen & Bjerregaard)
- Thailand (Aphibarnrat & Jaidee)
- USA (Im & Lipsky)
- Europe Women (Ciganda & Reid)
- Australia (Brazel & Ormsby)
- South Korea (Lee & Wang)
- Spain (Larrazabal & Otaegui)
- Captains (Bjorn & Matthew)
- France (Lorenzo Vera & Wattel)
- Italy (Molinari & Paratore)
- Scotland (Ramsay & Jamieson)
- Ireland (Dunne & Moynihan)
- England Men (Pepperell & Wallace)
- South Africa (Coetzee & Porteous)
- Sweden (Bjork & Lagergren)
- England Women (Hull & Hall)
The group stage is head-to-head round robin, with three points for a win, one for a draw, at the end of matches played over six holes in greensomes format
Greensomes sees both players tee off, before the best ball is selected; from that point onward, players take alternate shots
The top two from each group progress to the quarter-finals, with Group A winners playing Group D runners-up, Group B winners facing Group C runners-up, and so on
Matches in the knockout stage which are all-square at the end of six holes will head to a sudden-death play-off hole; if they remain all-square, a nearest-the-pin competition will determine who advances
For more information, visit GolfSixes.com