Zinger Just Getting Warmed Up

By Rich LernerOctober 11, 2007, 4:00 pm
He doesnt do e-mail, the Ryder Cup captain. Just as well because Paul Azingers old school blunt is better heard than read. Hes black coffee and a bullhorn in a Blackberry, latte world.
 
Is there any way in hell anyones giving a 4-footer on the first day of the Ryder Cup? he asked me rhetorically in a most entertaining phone conversation, recalling Vijay Singhs conceded putt at the Presidents Cup that allowed that match to end in a feel-good halve.
 
Further illuminating the differences between the two competitions, Azinger then recounted 20 years of Ryder Cup animosity that peaked but didnt end at 1991s War on the Shore. There, Azinger planted the seeds that would yield his captaincy. He did so with a shovel across the kneecaps of an icon. See, sometimes the skinny kid in the neighborhood turns out to be the toughest.
 
Seve Ballesteros possessed Westminster pedigree. Zinger was a lovable mutt. When Seve predictably tried to intimidate and bully his way across Kiawah, Zinger bit him in the leg.
 
In the end, Bernhard Langer misfired and the Ryder Cup turned into the Yankees against the Red Sox, conservatives against liberals, Rosie against The Donald. And save for one maniacal Sunday at Brookline outside Boston eight years ago, its been inexplicably, depressingly one-sided.
 
Ill talk to guys whove been in both (Ryder and Presidents Cup) to find out what they feel the difference is, he explained. Azinger says this knowing full well were right back where we were in the euphoric aftermath of the Presidents Cup of 2005.
 
The Americans had found their anchor pairing in Tiger and Furyk, DiMarco was Corey Pavin, the team had bonded and Europe was in deep trouble. Of course, they got killed at The K Club. So the difference isnt so much between the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup, but between the Europeans and the Americans.
 
I told Zinger about Oakland Hills in 2004. Id been assigned the European team arrival at the Detroit airport on Monday of Ryder Cup week. I pledged that I was removing emotion from the equation, that chemistry was overrated and that recent European success was merely a result of better putting. Then they ambled off the plane in their stylish tan car coats, Sergio and Darren with their hands in a bag of Doritos, the whole lot of em loud and laughing and glassy eyed and looking like fraternity brothers whod just come from a kegger. We lost, I remember thinking.
 
Zinger jumped in, eager to back up the point. See for them its an escape from the daily grind. For us, it epitomizes the daily grind.
 
I suggested that maybe they need comic relief. Look what Woody did for the boys at Royal Montreal. Was Woody a partner or a mascot? Zinger cracked.
 
But then he countered, Im not looking for a comedian. Im looking for 12 guys who want to be there and 12 guys wholl be ready when they get there. No one was crackin us up when we were winning. Everyone needs to just be themselves.
 
In hopes of getting the best 12, Azinger dynamited the selection process. Hell have four captains choices instead of two and the emphasis will be on performance in 2008, especially at majors. Well get the hottest players, he said. The old system of rewarding top-10 finishes over a two-year period is dead. I choked for money and I choked for prestige. I never choked for a top-10.
 
At the very least, Paul Azingers on his way to be most quotable captain weve ever had. Zinger - the nickname fits like a leather glove fresh out of the package, as Tiger fits Eldrick and Golden Bear fits Jack. Like Jack, hell listen to the guys if they have a preference in partners. Thats a no brainer, he said.
 
But he acknowledged theres really no stock formula. The problem at the Ryder Cup is we never seem to get off to a good start. They got off to a great start at the Presidents Cup and maybe thats the key. It doesnt hurt.
 
Using home team prerogative, Azinger plans to open Day 1 at Valhalla with foursomes matches instead of four-ball. We were always better playing foursomes first, he said.
 
Hes not going to ask his men to play practice rounds at Valhalla. If they want to go, go for it. But why would you ask Tiger to go play Valhalla when he won a major there?
 
Tigers yet to put his stamp on the Ryder Cup as hes done on every other meaningful event in the sport. But then, this isnt a major. In an 18-hole match play sprint, hes vulnerable.
 
Plenty of guys are ahead of Tiger after one round and hes gone on to win more than 60 tournaments, said Azinger.
 
He feels Tiger, along with Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, has become a team leader. They took over the Presidents Cup and I think theyll take over the Ryder Cup.
 
With the top four ranked players in the world, including Steve Stricker, Azinger reasons that on paper well be better, but until you prove you can beat them theyll be favored.
 
As for the laid back approach that has cast Jack as a sort of Dalai Lama, Azinger closed with another dart to a couple feet. The laid back approach is nice at the Presidents Cup, he said. You know, if we win, we win and if we lose we lose, no big deal.
 
It doesnt work that way at the Ryder Cup. If you win you won and broke the drought. Lose and you didnt just lose you lost AGAIN and you #@%*#!
 
With that we laughed, and the captain, nursing a sore back that prevents him from playing a whole lot, went back to working on his tan and figuring out ways to solve the great American golfing mystery.
 
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  • 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.”

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    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.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

    Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

    By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

    The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

    Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

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    3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    5/2: Rory McIlroy

    7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

    9/2: Justin Rose

    5/1: Brooks Koepka

    15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

    10/1: Adam Scott

    12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

    15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

    20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

    25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

    30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes