Azinger logical choice to stay Cup captain

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ryder CupLOUISVILLE, Ky. ' No one spent more time in the PGA of America hospitality room last month at Oakland Hills than Corey Pavin, presumably to start lobbying to be the next U.S. captain for the Ryder Cup.
 
The list of candidates has rarely been this short, nor has it been so obvious.
 
Zinger in 2010, Phil Mickelson said after the Americans reclaimed possession of the Ryder Cup.
 
Paul Azinger widened his eyes with what little strength he had left Sunday night when asked if he would consider devoting another two years as Captain America, this time with far more to lose than to gain.
 
Paul Azinger and team
Paul Azinger's men in 2008 want him to lead again in 2010. (Getty Images)
Zinger in 2010, Justin Leonard added.
 
Its easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of winning golfs most passionate event, especially since it had been nine years since the Americans climbed to the balcony of a clubhouse for a champagne shower.
 
Captains sometimes get too much credit when they win, and even more blame when they lose. But for all the spectacular shots over three days at Valhalla that carried the United States to a 16 1/2 -11 1/2 victory, the man of the match might have been the one American who didnt hit a single shot.
 
It was Azinger who persuaded the PGA of America to scrap its archaic system of picking a Ryder Cup team. For 60 years, points were awarded to only the top 10 performances on a PGA TOUR that did not include players from Fiji to Australia, from South Africa to South Korea. Azinger wanted the criteria based on money, the universal language in golf.
 
It was Azinger who got the Americans to play like a team, unlocking the secret to recent European dominance.
 
Even without the best player in the world ' Tiger Woods only involvement was text messaging Azinger ' and a team comprised of six rookies and three veterans who knew nothing but losing in the Ryder Cup, his messages got through.
 
Enjoy the week. Embrace the crowd support. Forget recent history.
 
Trailing early in all four matches when the Ryder Cup began Friday morning, the Americans didnt panic and wound up taking a 3-1 lead for their first opening-session victory since 1991.
 
Europe never caught up.
 
It was a dream start for them, said Ian Poulter, who lost a 3-up lead that morning in what turned out to be his only loss of the week. Theyve always left it to the singles to press on. That was crucial to be that far in front after Friday and Saturday.
 
By Sunday, the swagger returned.
 
Anthony Kim refused to concede a 2-foot birdie putt to Sergio Garcia on the opening hole, made five birdie putts inside 5 feet and gave Europes best Ryder Cup player his worst loss. Boo Weekley, who provided comic relief and pure iron play, galloped off the first tee using his driver as a toy horse. Kenny Perry, who wanted this Ryder Cup to define his career, left the best impression.
 
And while Jim Furyk won the decisive point ' fitting since it was Furyk who watched Europe celebrate on him when it began its winning streak at The Belfry in 2002 ' the pivotal match belonged to Kentucky bomber J.B. Holmes.
 
Tied with Soren Hansen, he smashed consecutive drives to set up birdies on his final two holes for a 2-and-1 victory.
 
What was Holmes doing on the team as a captains pick?
 
Azinger wanted someone who hit it far enough to get Europe thinking about him. Holmes put on a clinic at the practice range, one time pointing to the stage at the back end of the range and hitting a drive that landed on the roof.
 
He hit it quite long, Hansen said. But quite long is probably an understatement. He hit it really long.
 
Even as Hunter Mahan was getting criticized for saying in a magazine interview that the PGA of America cares more about the net income than the gold trophy from the Ryder Cup, Azinger said he would not hold that against him. He used one of his four captains picks on Mahan, and the rookie tied a U.S. record for most points by a pick with a 2-0-3 mark.
 
Ultimately, the players are responsible for points and no one else. Even so, it was clear this U.S. team loved playing for its captain, another European trait.
 
This team was more of a European team, Padraig Harrington said.
 
The blame for Europe ultimately falls on Harrington, Garcia and Lee Westwood for not winning a match and combining to go 0-7-5. Europes four rookies combined for a 6-5-2 record.
 
European captain Nick Faldo divided his team early when he snubbed Darren Clarke, the inspirational leader, even though he had won twice in the previous five months. Then he benched Westwood and Garcia for the first time in their careers. Finally, he put some of his best players this week (Poulter, Graeme McDowell) and this year (Harrington, Westwood) at the bottom of the lineup.
 
Faldo will get over it, and his team rose to his defense when British reporters challenged him on his decisions and asked how he felt to be the captain that presided over a losing team after Europe had won five of the last six times.
 
That question doesnt deserve an answer, vice captain Jose Maria Olazabal said.
 
Thank you, Faldo added.
 
One question the PGA of America should consider for 2010 in Wales: Why not Azinger?
 
Ben Hogan was the last U.S. captain to serve consecutive terms in 1947-49, when the Ryder Cup resumed after World War II. Before that, Walter Hagen was captain of six straight U.S. teams. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead each had multiple stints.
 
Many see the Ryder Cup captaincy as a right, not a privilege. The PGA of America allowed Azinger to think outside the box, and that went a long way toward winning. Now it wants to return to a model that didnt always work?
 
The Ryder Cup is not about whos turn it is to be captain.
 
Its about points. Its about winning.
 
Im not going to think about it, Azinger said Sunday evening when asked if he would like to do this again. Im just going to stay up all night and party with my boys.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
  • European Report Cards
  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.