BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' By any measure, Woody Austin has had a solid and successful career playing golf. Yet he believes his resume has one obvious gap in it.
I played every major. Ive been around the world and played in different events, the 44-year-old journeyman said this week during preparations for Thursdays opening round of the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. If I get on the Ryder Cup, Ill say Ive played in every big event and on every big stage that you could play as a professional golfer. Thats the one thing Im lacking.
There is much to recommend the persistent Austin, who has won three times in his 14 years on the PGA TOUR, stood out on last years winning U.S. Presidents Cup team and ranks 32nd on this years money list.
But he has not won since Memphis a year ago and Azinger has said he will give priority to those with victories this year. Yet Azinger talks as if Austin is precisely what hes looking for: someone who wants to be at Valhalla and who will fit in, prepare, handle the pressure, keep the ball in play and win some points.
Woody Austin is a pretty good player, Azinger said Wednesday. He hasnt won, but I believe hes had chances to win and hes a pretty good match-play player. And hes kind of got that blue-collar mentality.
Whether he makes the team or not may ride on his play this week at Oakland Hills, a course that Austin professes to love even though it is long (he is only average off the tee) and has devilishly hard greens (he calls putting the weak link in his game).
This is the kind of venue that seems to work for me, he said. You have to drive it in the fairway. The bombers, when they hit it into the rough, at least arent sitting with perfect lies.
Austin is one of the most popular players on Tour, most likely because the galleries see themselves in him.
I like to try to show that Im no different than you. Youre doing your job and Im doing mine. Other than that I just play golf. I play golf a little bit better than you, but that doesnt allow me or give me the right to walk around like Im better than you, he said. So I try not to give off that persona. I try to make people feel like they can come to me. And I try to talk them as much as possible.
The most impressive things about Austin are often eclipsed by those hot-pepper shirts he wears or his unfortunate appearances on video.
After winning the Buick Open in 1995, Austin beat out David Duval to earn the PGA TOUR rookie of the year award. He closed with a 67 in last years PGA Championship at Southern Hills to finish second to a guy who wont be around to hold him off this week, Tiger Woods.
But he bristles at the way hes portrayed by some, a sort of comical oaf who is constantly getting into humorous situations. He believes some ridicule him, and that many do not take him seriously as a golfer or a man.
Hes tired of seeing the video from years ago where he repeatedly hits himself in the forehead with a putter shaft after missing a putt.
Then, of course there was last year during a critical point in the Presidents Cup when he attempted to advance a ball on the edge of a water hazard left of the 14th fairway at Royal Montreal, splashed it out with a mighty swing, then lost his balance and fell face first into the lake.
That was shown countless times on television and is a staple on video Web sites. Almost no one remembers that he birdied the final three holes that day to earn a much-needed half-point for the Americans. Or that he captured an impressive 2 1/2 points for the U.S. side in his first international team competition.
He was called Aquaman. It was funny at first ' he even played it up by breaking out a pair of large, purple goggles the next day at the competition. Since then, everywhere he turns someone mentions his least favorite moment of what was otherwise one of the greatest weeks of his life, ending with a victory celebration alongside captain Jack Nicklaus and his teammates.
After getting a taste of that, he longs to make the U.S Ryder Cup team with perhaps his last shot at doing so.
He is almost consumed with playing well enough at Oakland Hills that he wont have to rely on Azinger to arbitrarily pick him.
Its like I told my wife, As much as I dont want to think about it and as much as Im trying not to think about it, I cant STOP thinking about it, he said.
Perhaps making the squad would help highlight his game instead of his bloopers.
I want to be known as me. I want to be known as a golfer, he said. I dont want to be known as a guy who fell in a lake.