Azinger shares team building in Ryder Cup book
Azinger spent the last year writing a book called “Cracking the Code,” which is to be released in the next few weeks. The U.S. captain explains the successful system he used two years ago to finally get the Americans to feel and play like a team.
He came up with the idea of pods – three groups of four players – while watching a show about Gibson guitars on the Discovery Channel. Before he could change channels, Azinger got hooked watching a documentary on how the Navy turns recruits into SEALs. Part of the process was breaking them into small groups, and the idea stuck with him.
By now, everyone knows as much about the pods as the score – a 16 1/2 -11 1/2 victory that ended a decade of European dominance. Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan were in the “aggressive” pod; Kenny Perry, Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes and Jim Furyk comprised the “redneck” pod; Stewart Cink, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell made up the “steady” pod.
The book, written with corporate team-builder Ron Braund with help from author Steve Eubanks, stays away from shot-by-shot details from the matches. Instead, it reveals how Azinger sold the PGA of America on his concept and, more importantly, how he sold the players.
For the first time, Azinger explains how he let the three players in each pod who qualified for the team (Steve Stricker was included, even though he was a pick), choose who they wanted for a captain’s pick.
For example, Mickelson, Kim and Leonard were given a list of a half-dozen players they could have to fill out their pod. They chose Mahan, who went unbeaten for the week.
“That gave them full-blown ownership,” Azinger said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon.
Azinger said he wasn’t sure whether to have three or four pods, and that Mickelson persuaded him to have three. That way, no single player from a pod would be left during team matches. And while it was a team of 12, Azinger says Furyk starred in his own right. Not only did he fit into the “redneck” pod, he accepted the role of the group’s cheerleader.
“I’ve been on teams before, but this was the first time I looked and grasped the idea of how I can make the other person more feel more comfortable,” Furyk writes on the back of the jacket.
The highlight of the week came Monday night of the Ryder Cup, when Azinger brought the team together with their wives and caddies and explained for the first time how he had done personality profiles of each one, and how the eligible players were responsible for choosing the fourth player of their pods.
The pods did everything together all week, and even with his Sunday singles lineup, Azinger kept the pods stacked together.
“It didn’t dawn on me until later that what we created, they had naturally,” he said. “They were so bonded, it was a joke.”
The unity took on new meaning when Weekley described it as “compatibate.”
Is that why the Americans won? Not necessarily. They made more putts, which is the winning recipe for any Ryder Cup team. Azinger believes, however, that the small groups gave the Americans their best chance at performing at their highest level.
Would there have been a book if Europe had won?
“No. There would be no story to tell,” Azinger said. “I don’t know who wants to read a ‘We tried and it didn’t work’ book.”
PADRAIG’S LAMENT: Padraig Harrington says the European team that lost the Ryder Cup at Valhalla in 2008 did not have enough leadership inside the team room, and he blames himself and Lee Westwood for that.
“I will lay one criticism: There was no leader in the locker room,” Harrington said in the May edition of Golf magazine. “I blame myself and Lee Westwood. We were two of the senior guys. We were missing a Monty or a Darren Clarke, that sort of character.”
Colin Montgomerie was left off the team for the first time since 1989. Clarke, a member of every team since 1995, also was left off despite winning twice in 2008.
Harrington says European captain Nick Faldo emphasized players preparing as individuals, and the Irishman thought it was “valid hypothesis” until it didn’t work.
“We weren’t a team,” he said. “We just lost that element of being together. He tried to get 12 individuals to play their best. These are things I hope captains learn going forward. The team is more important. Don’t give people the freedom Nick gave us. He tried a strategy he thought would work and we didn’t know it wouldn’t work until we tried it.”
DIVOTS: Phil Mickelson has announced he will play the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond in July, a week before the British Open. He missed both events last year as his wife coped with breast cancer. … Fred Couples will be playing the pro-am at Quail Hollow with Michael Jordan … Nancy Scranton shot a 68 for a three-shot victory in the Women’s Senior National Invitational, an 18-hole event that paid her $15,000. That would be the equivalent of 62nd on the LPGA money list.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Ballantines Championship in South Korea had the strongest field in golf last week. It was the first time since the last week in January that the PGA Tour did not have the highest-rated field.
FINAL WORD: “The Wimbledon figures … well, they’re very generous, aren’t they? But I guess they have to play for two weeks to get it there, and just four days here.” – R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, when asked if the British Open champion will ever get 1 million pounds as if offered at Wimbledon.
Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.
With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.
Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.
The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.
In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.
Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys
After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.
There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.
It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.
It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.
“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.
In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.
Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”
Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.
“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”
Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.
Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.
If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.
For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.
Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.
Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.
While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.
When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?
Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.
After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.
The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.
That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.
The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.
While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.
Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.
Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.
“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”
The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?
Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'
John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.
That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.
Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.
Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid
Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.
Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.
Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.
World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.
Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.