Mickles: Momentum building for Zurich Classic

If it’s already March, and the calendar says it is, you know that the PGA Tour has made its way across the country and to the south for the Florida swing that began Thursday with the Honda Classic.

It’s only 51/2 weeks until the Masters, which means the Zurich Classic of New Orleans can’t be far behind.

Which means things are starting to come together — fast and furious — for Steve Worthy, president and CEO of the Fore!Kids Foundation and tournament director of the Zurich Classic.

At least he can find time to take a breath here and there.

One year ago, the New Orleans native was preparing for his first Zurich Classic after completing his duties leading the prestigious AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for six years in mid-February.

Now, Worthy is totally immersed in selling the $6.6 million Zurich Classic, which begins its annual run at TPC Louisiana on April 22, to PGA Tour players, sponsors and spectators.

While the early list of commitments hasn’t been released, Worthy has hit the recruiting trail hard in the past month and will do so again this month in Florida.

“The reception we’ve been getting from the players and sponsors has been great,” Worthy said. “Everyone is riding a positive wave of momentum.

“Last year, we had a great field and great finish with two very good players in a playoff,” he said of Jason Dufner’s first PGA Tour win against Hall of Famer Ernie Els. “In talking to the players, they seem to view the Zurich Classic very positively. That’s certainly helped us move forward.”

After making a strong pitch at his old stomping grounds at Pebble Beach, Worthy is positive the field will continue to get stronger even though the Zurich Classic begins just 11 days after the Masters winds up.

“I feel like we’re in good shape,” he said. “We have a lot of big names in already and a lot more that we feel good about (coming).

“We talked to a lot of guys at Pebble, and there are a ton of guys we know are going to come but haven’t committed yet. It’s a very competitive field because you’re recruiting against all the other tournaments.”

While Dufner and Els are likely to return, the name everyone asks about — quite naturally — is Tiger Woods.

“We’re having conversations,” Worthy said. “We’re hopeful that, whether it’s this year or down the road, that hopefully we’ll be able to get him.”

Still, Worthy said sales are going well after a year in which $1 million in tournament proceeds will be distributed to children’s charities in south Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region.

“We’re measured by the dollars we raise and the impact we have on charity,” Worthy said.

Actually, he said sales are a little ahead of where they were at this time last year — which is a good sign since things don’t really heat up until after Mardi Gras.

“We’re coming off a real positive year, and we feel we’re going to take some additional steps this year,” Worthy said. “We feel real good about that.”