Azinger reveals Ryder Cup secret

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ATLANTA ' Just as captain Paul Azinger promised, the Americans partied into the morning hours after winning the Ryder Cup.
 
Egged on by his teammates, Boo Weekley told the story of the time he was a teenager in the Florida Panhandle and paid $5 on 10-to-1 odds that he could land a punch against an orangutan. Weekley finally regain consciousness in the back of a pickup truck.
 
That was hilarious, Anthony Kim said. I could hear that story 100 times and keep laughing.
 
Keeping to tradition and class, Team Europe joined the Americans in the team room, and the Americans paid their victims tribute by singing Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, the European soccer song they had heard while losing the previous three times.
 
They celebrated as a team of 12 following a week in which they were three teams of four.
 
It was an intriguing concept that Azinger spent nearly two years cooking up. He built his team by doing personality profiles of three dozen potential players and grouping them accordingly.
 
The aggressive personalities were Kim, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan. The Kentucky group featured Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes and Weekley (a southerner) along with Jim Furyk, the misfit of the group who provided leadership. The emotionally quiet featured Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell.
 
They stuck together for three days of practice. Pairings came only from inside their pod.
 
Azinger gave them ownership of their group, building team spirit within small groups. But it went beyond the players. He also assigned an assistant captain to each group ' Raymond Floyd got the aggressive bunch, Olin Browne had the Southern group and Dave Stockton was with the other pod.
 
Azinger rarely saw any of them hit a shot, relying entirely on his assistants for updates on how they were playing, and who might need a lift. The captain zipped over to the seventh fairway when hearing Cink and Campbell dunk shots in the water during the opening session.
 
I told them theres good news and bad news, Azinger said. The bad news is you just made a 10. The good news is you only lost one hole. Now they have everything to lose, and you have everything to gain. Play the next shot. And they came back and won.
 
There was a feeling the Americans were more of a team without Tiger Woods, the dominant figure in golf. Looking back on how Azinger built his team, one suspects Woods could have easily fit into this concept.
 
Assuming Campbell would not have been on the team, Woods likely would have been part of the Kentucky group, providing leadership and experience. He probably would have been paired with Weekley, leaving Perry and Holmes together. Furyk would have moved into the quiet, unflappable group.
 
Azinger shed a little light on his concept during the closing press conference, but still gave credit where it was due.
 
In the end, the players did it, he said.
 
RYDER CUP PERKS
 
Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger was so emotionally spent after the U.S. victory over Europe that he turned down offers to be on the TV late shows.
 
But there is one appearance Azinger would love to make.
 
I want to throw out the first pitch at a Rays game, he said.
 
Azinger grew up south of Tampa, Fla., and still makes his home there.
 
PAYNE STEWART AWARD
 
Davis Love III keeps his trophies from the PGA Championship and THE PLAYERS Championship separate from his 16 other victories on the PGA TOUR. But hes about to add another one to the elite collection.
 
Love was honored Tuesday with the Payne Stewart Award, given to a PGA TOUR player who reflects Stewarts respect for tradition, charity and presentation through dress and conduct.
 
The award has been presented each year at the TOUR Championship since 2000, a year after Stewart perished in a plane crash on his way to the PGA TOURs season finale.
 
Payne was a great competitor and a great friend of mine, and to have my name on the trophy is going to be quite an honor, Love said.
 
He recalled the last time they played together, in the opening session of the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline.
 
Before we went out there, he goes, I want something a little more out of you than Ive been seeing in the past, Love said.
 
On the 17th hole, Love hit a poor shot into a bunker.
 
We were walking up to the green and I said, Payne, you get it on the green and Ill make it, Love said. He hit it out and I had about a 15-footer. He came over and I said, Ive got it.
 
Love holed the putt, and he said Stewart ran over and jabbed him repeatedly in the chest saying, Thats what Im talking about.
 
He challenged me, he inspired me and pushed me, Love said.
 
NO LOVE
 
Davis Love III, a former PGA champion who has played on six Ryder Cup teams, is a lock to be the U.S. captain one of these years. But it doesnt sound like 2010 will be it.
 
I would consider myself too young and too interested in still playing, said the 44-year-old Love.
 
Azinger said he has not thought about being captain again, even if he is asked. The heavy favorite would be Corey Pavin, because Fred Couples will be the Presidents Cup captain next year and most other candidates are on the Champions Tour or too young.
 
Thats not to say Love is not interested. He said if PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka called with an offer, Wed have a conversation.
 
Id love to be considered, he said. But Id love to play, too.
 
DIVOTS
 
Among the text messages Tiger Woods sent Paul Azinger at the Ryder Cup: You will win tomorrow because only Americans win on that course. Valhalla previously hosted the PGA Championship in 1996, won by Mark Brooks, and in 2000, won by Woods. David Duval tied for 22nd last week at the Viking Classic, his best finish on the PGA TOUR since a tie for 16th in the 2006 U.S. Open. Davis Love III plans to play five out of six Fall Series events. The PGA TOUR is wrapping up its 2009 schedule, still uncertain whether to play four consecutive weeks next year in the FedExCup.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
 
The TOUR Championship has only 15 of the top 30 players in the world ranking.
 
FINAL WORD
 
This is like the California Penal League softball championship. ' Eric Larson, caddie for Anthony Kim, on the intense, partisan cheering as he walked off the first tee at the Ryder Cup. Larson spent 11 years in a federal prison on a drug conviction.
 
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