Deconstructing Azingers Picks


If European Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo shocked us with his two captains picks Sunday from Scotland, American captain Paul Azinger did nothing of the kind Tuesday with his four choices announced at a press conference in a New York City Hotel.
Faldo gave us Englishmen Paul Casey and Ian Poulter and a million good reasons to second-guess his omission of Northern Irelands Darren Clarke.
Azinger gave us, in his order of announcement, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, J.B. Holmes and Chad Campbell.
Nobody really jumped off the page, Azinger said.
All of which prompted him to go with four captains choices, none of whom have won more recently than early last February when the long-hitting Holmes prevailed at the FBR Open in Arizona.
So, at last, the teams are finally selected on both sides of the Atlantic for the matches that will take place later this month in Kentucky at Valhalla Golf Club. And Tuesdays final four puzzle pieces did nothing so much as cement Americas role as decided non-favorites.
Unique, Azinger said, to be in America on our home soil as underdogs.
The reasons why are rather overwhelming. The Euros have won five of the last six Ryder Cup competitions. They have thrashed the U.S. by a whopping 9-point margin in each of the last two.
The American squad is overloaded with rookies ' six. And two of its players with Ryder Cup experience ' Kenny Perry and Justin Leonard ' have never won a Ryder Cup foursomes, four-ball or singles match. Only two players on either squad ' Campbell at No. 53 and Holmes at No. 55 are ranked outside the top 50 in the current world rankings.
But before we get ready to concede this to the Euros once again, lets consider a few other things. First of all, the American team has more team length than the Europeans. Phil Mickelson, Perry, Holmes and Anthony Kim all have that extra gear off the tee. And Azinger, who will pay a site visit to Valhalla Wednesday, said Tuesday he doesnt want to handcuff any of his players off the tee.
Im tired of playing in 5-inch rough, said Azinger, who will not have to play at Valhalla. A bombers going to like the course. Not a lot of rough.
Valhalla head professional Keith Reese said Tuesday the grounds crew, at Azingers direction, has already widened the 1 ' intermediate rough in many areas on the course.
Whats really interesting, though, if your rooting interest is the American side and youre looking for encouragement, is an examination of the current FedExCup point standings (Which is almost ironic given that the Ryder Cup and the FedExCup are currently competing for the same buzz in mens professional golf).
American Ryder Cup players occupy seven of the first 11 and nine of the first 14 spots in the point standings. Those numbers speak directly to the importance of current form especially in light of the criticism that not one of the six 12 members on the American squad with Ryder Cup experience have winning career records in the event.
Im doing it the way I want to do it, said Azinger, who answered most of the Tuesday questions evenly, but showed a stubborn side when pushed.
In the days leading up to the matches, Azingers strongest criticism is likely to come from those who will point out that he didnt round out his roster with more good putters, a commodity always crucial in Ryder Cup play.
Stricker currently ranks T-33 in average putts per round on the PGA TOUR. Holmes checks in at T-103, Campbell at T-109 and Mahan at 200.
A safer pick might have been a proven Ryder Cup campaigner like Scott Verplank, who ranks T-68 in average putts per round. At No. 45, Verplank currently sits ahead of both Holmes and Campbell on the world rankings list.
Add to that the fact that Verplanks career Ryder Cup record is 4-1-0, including singles victories over Euro stars Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington, the latter of whom he thrashed 4 and 3 on Harringtons home soil outside of Dublin, Ireland just two years ago.
Or Azinger could have gone, with good statistical reason, for Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker ranks No. 47 in the world, No. 57 in putts per round and finished with 27, 29 and 28 putts respectively in his final three rounds at the Deutsche Bank Championship that concluded Monday.
I feel like Ive gone outside the box a little, Azinger confessed Tuesday.
Which is, perhaps, precisely where an American captain needs to go these days. The conventional way has been the wrong way too often for the U.S. in recent years.

Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Related Links:
  • American Team Records
  • European Team Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup