Azinger out to end US drought

By Associated PressSeptember 14, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ryder CupEven without Tiger Woods, the Americans are running out of excuses in the Ryder Cup.
 
They have one victory against Europe in the last 15 years of this biennial grudge match, and that required a miracle putt from Justin Leonard that only slowed the shift in power. They have not led after any day, any session since that Sunday at Brookline in 1999.
 
Not that they haven't tried.
 
Hal Sutton thought he created a juggernaut by pairing Woods and Phil Mickelson in 2004, a move that got torpedoed. They lost both matches, and an inspired European team went on to its most lopsided victory.
 
Woods tried to get more involved in 2006. He took four rookies out to dinner ' even paid the bill ' and then agreed to fly to Ireland for two days of practice to show this U.S. team was unified. Europe won by the same score, 18 - 9 .
 
Paul Azinger
U.S. captain Paul Azinger is hoping his team can win back the Ryder Cup. (Getty Images)
Now it's Paul Azinger's turn.
 
Before he agreed to be the next U.S. captain, he persuaded the PGA of America to overhaul the qualifying system by basing the points on money instead of top 10s, replacing an archaic system that Azinger felt did not deliver the best players. Only results from this year counted, except for the 2007 majors. He doubled his captain's picks to four selections, then pushed back the date for choosing them by three weeks to give him more time to evaluate the hot hands.
 
Nothing in this blueprint suggested Woods would have season-ending knee surgery after the U.S. Open and not make the trip to Valhalla Golf Club, where Woods won the PGA Championship in 2000.
 
Even so, Azinger feels the new criteria at least gives the Americans a fighting chance.
 
'If we win, I'll go down as having the lowest IQ of any genius who ever lived,' Azinger said.
 
And if they lose?
 
Again?
 
'I don't think there's more at stake than there has been any other year, because we always want to win so bad,' said Stewart Cink, who has experienced nothing but losing since his first Ryder Cup in 2002. 'The fact we've lost a few ... that's history now. It really doesn't have any bearing on this one. We're tired of losing.'
 
But the Americans certainly are used to it.
 
Europe has now captured the Ryder Cup three consecutive times, five out of the last six, eight of the last 11. For the first time, all 12 of its players are among the top 50 in the world, led by British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington.
 
The Americans counter with six rookies, the most on a U.S. team since 1979. And with Woods sitting this one out, the Americans do not have a current major champion on their side for the first since the Ryder Cup began in 1927.
 
About the only thing they have in their favor is a raucous crowd that awaits in Kentucky when the matches begin Sept. 19.
 
The trick is to give them something to cheer.
 
'It will be unique to be in America, on our home soil, as underdogs,' Azinger said. 'But clearly, the European team is strong. I think it's one of the strongest teams I've ever seen them bring across here.'
 
Europe is so strong that captain Nick Faldo figured he could do without Colin Montgomerie, who has never lost a singles match and has played in every Ryder Cup since 1991; and Darren Clarke, the inspirational figure at The K Club in Ireland two years ago when he went 3-0 in his first competition since his wife died of cancer.
 
Phil Mickelson, who has not won a singles match in the last three Ryder Cups, was the leading points-earner for the United States. The leader of this team, however, might be Kenny Perry, who went 0-2 in the only Ryder Cup he ever played.
 
Perry, who grew up about two hours away in tiny Franklin, Ky., considered it a long shot that he could make the team at age 48, especially coming off knee surgery in 2006 and consecutive years without a victory. But he qualified easily with three PGA TOUR victories ' only Woods has won more on the TOUR this year ' despite playing only one round in the four majors.
 
Perry wasn't eligible for the Masters, withdrew from U.S. Open qualifying, turned down a spot in the British Open when he qualified late, then withdrew from the PGA Championship after the first round with a nagging eye injury.
 
For a guy who normally tries to avoid attention, Perry sees the Ryder Cup as his defining moment.
 
'This is the pinnacle of my career,' Perry said. 'I'm either going to be a hero or a goat in the state of Kentucky.'
 
He will have some Bluegrass company in J.B. Holmes, one of Azinger's four wild-card picks who was selected for his sheer power. Holmes, who twice has won the FBR Open, worked the scoreboard on the 14th hole at Valhalla during the 2000 PGA Championship and has played the course more than anyone at the Ryder Cup.
 
Other fresh faces for the United States include the explosive Anthony Kim, a two-time winner this year; Steve Stricker, regarded as the best putter on the U.S. team; and Hunter Mahan, chosen despite criticism of the Ryder Cup largesse in a magazine interview this year.
 
Azinger doesn't see the rookies as a liability.
 
'I've said this all along ' to me, experience is important, but it also is overrated,' Azinger said. 'Anyone who has played in the last six Ryder Cups has experienced getting their (behinds) beat. I'm not looking for experience. I want players that are playing well.'
 
What's at stake for Europe?
 
It typically gets motivation from being classified as a second-rate tour, although it now has more players among the top 30 than the Americans. The European Tour is going global, and next year will introduce the 'Race to Dubai' to counter the FedExCup.
 
'There's probably not as much at stake for the European team as the U.S. team,' Harrington said. 'There's more pressure on them. I would think for the Ryder Cup, there needs to be a good, tight match. I think the U.S. team needs a win now.'
 
Along with making putts, Europe has done a remarkable job pulling together with so many personalities from so many countries. This will require extra work this year, particularly with the captain.
 
Some players were perplexed publicly, disenchanted in private, when Faldo left Clarke off the team in favor of Ian Poulter, who chose to play on the U.S. tour instead of trying to make the team on his own. Clarke has won twice this year, while Poulter only has two top-10s, including a runner-up finish to Harrington at the British Open.
 
'Some will agree. Some will disagree,' Faldo said. 'I'm the guy that has to live with it, and I can live with my decision.'
 
As captains, Faldo and Azinger bring their own rivalry.
 
They were partners in the broadcast booth for ABC Sports, but their relationship dates to the 1987 British Open, when Azinger bogeyed the last two holes to pave the way for the first of Faldo's six majors.
 
Azinger never lost to Faldo in four Ryder Cup matches, including a famous halve in 1993 at The Belfry in which both fought to the final hole even though the Americans had already clinched the Ryder Cup. Azinger was diagnosed with cancer in his right shoulder shortly after the matches, and played in only one more Ryder Cup.
 
Ultimately, though, the outcome is out of the captains' hands.
 
The Ryder Cup is decided by putting, whether it is Leonard making one from 45 feet as he did at Brookline, or Sergio Garcia making everything in sight while building a 14-4-2 record.
 
Azinger does not know what else he could have done to field a better team. Now, it's up to his players, who are under pressure to win even if they feel they have nothing to lose.
 
'If you're going to represent the United States, you'd better be ready to win,' Cink said. 'And if you don't win, you'd better be ready to take the heat.'
 
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
  • Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

    By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

    The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

    “The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

    Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

    To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

    “At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

    Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

    Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

    Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

    “Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

    Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

    According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

    A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

    A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

    “I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

    Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

    “I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

    It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

    “This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

    Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

    And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

    The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

    In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

    “To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

    Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

    “I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

    He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.

    Getty Images

    Lesson with Woods fetches $210K for Harvey relief

    By Will GrayDecember 13, 2017, 2:51 pm

    A charity event featuring more than two dozen pro golfers raised more than $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief, thanks in large part to a hefty price paid for a private lesson with Tiger Woods.

    The pro-am fundraiser was organized by Chris Stroud, winner of the Barracuda Championship this summer, and fellow pro and Houston resident Bobby Gates. It was held at Bluejack National in Montgomery, Texas, about an hour outside Houston and the first Woods-designed course to open in the U.S.

    The big-ticket item on the auction block was a private, two-person lesson with Woods at Bluejack National that sold for a whopping $210,000.

    Other participants included local residents like Stacy Lewis, Patrick Reed and Steve Elkington as well as local celebrities like NBA All-Star Clyde Drexler, Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

    Stroud was vocal in his efforts to help Houston rebuild in the immediate aftermath of the storm that ravaged the city in August, and he told the Houston Chronicle that he plans to continue fundraising efforts even after eclipsing the event's $1 million goal.

    "This is the best event I have ever been a part of, and this is just a start," Stroud said. "We have a long way to go for recovery to this city, and we want to keep going with this and raise as much as we can and help as many victims as we can."

    Getty Images

    LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

    By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

    The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

    While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

    The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

    The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

    An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

    The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

    The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

    “Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

    While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

    The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

    The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

    For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

    Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

    Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

    Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

    Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

    March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

    March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

    March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

    March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

    April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

    April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

    April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

    May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

    May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

    May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

    May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

    June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

    June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

    June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

    June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

    July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

    July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

    July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

    Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

    Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

    Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

    Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

    Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

    Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

    Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

    Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

    Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

    Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

    Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

    Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

    Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

    And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

    Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.


    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


    Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

    Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

    Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

    Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

    In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.

    THE MAJORS

    Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)

    Spieth pars 12, but makes quad on 15

    Spieth takes another gut punch, but still standing

    Article: Spieth splashes to worst Masters finish

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    U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)

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    The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)

    Spieth survives confusing ordeal on 13

    Photos: Spieth's incredible journey on 13

    Take it, it's yours: Spieth gets claret jug

    Chamblee: Spieth doesn't have 'it' - 'he has it all'

    Article: Spieth silences his doubters - even himself

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    PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)

    Article: Spieth accepts that Grand Slam is off the table


    TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS

    AT&T Pebble Beach

    Article: Spieth rising from 'valley' after Pebble Beach win

    Travelers Championship

    Spieith wins dramatic Travelers in playoff

    Watch: Spieth holes bunker shot, goes nuts


    FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE


    PHOTO GALLERIES

    Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret

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    Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years