Memo to Captain Azinger


Memo to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger:
Get copies of the U.S. mens basketball teams pulsating 11-point victory over Spain in Sundays gold medal game at the Beijing Olympics.
When your team arrives at Valhalla next month for the matches against Europe, show them tapes of this game. Over and over.
Make sure they take note of the complete lack of self-consciousness and selfishness by the winners. And remind your players that American coach Mike Krzyzewski, with a lot of help from U.S. basketball mahout Jerry Colangelo, convinced 12 of the biggest basketball egos and richest hoopsters on the planet to buy into the concept.
Winning the gold, Colangelo and Krzyzewski espoused, was more important than winning an NBA title. And to a man, the U.S. players, behind team leaders LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, bought into the concept heart and soul.
The American basketball players, unlike recent previous U.S. Olympic teams, actually wanted to be at the Olympics. And they showed their support for other American Olympians by appearing regularly at other venues to cheer.
Their enthusiasm for the Olympics in general and their specific task at hand was palpable. And that went a long way toward winning the crowds in China. At Athens four years earlier, a spoiled and arrogant American team had been booed and rooted against.
Zing ' or is it Zinger? ' the crowd isnt going to be a problem at Valhalla in Kentucky where the fans, without much encouragement, will make this Ryder Cup sound more like an SEC football game than a golf competition.
But thats what everybody said in Detroit four years ago when the Euros thrashed captain Hal Suttons side with impunity. During the practice rounds the Euros couldnt have been more gracious, signing autographs and finding time for the fans that lined the fairways at Oakland Hills.
The Europeans not only acted like they wanted to win, they acted like they were enjoying the entire experience. And none of them found the need to go off-site to practice during the days leading up the matches.
If international superstars like Bryant, James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and the rest of Krzyzewskis team could find time to embrace every last bit of the Olympic experience, theres no reason why players like Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry and Ben Curtis cant do the same during Ryder Cup week in Kentucky.
In fact, captain Azinger, right about now Id be chartering a plane to whisk Krzyzewski to Louisville to address your team. If Kobe or LeBron or Dwyane want to ride a cart and be seen during the matches, Im all for it.
These guys subjugated their own immense senses of self-importance for the greater good of the American team. If the best American players in the NBA can get behind the notion that Olympic gold is bigger and better than securing an NBA title, is it so far-fetched to insist the American Ryder Cup team buy into to the idea that recapturing the Ryder Cup is more important right now than winning a major?
The Euros dont have the same problem. Of course, their goals are similar to those of the Americans. Padraig Harrington knows that the three majors he has won in his last six major starts will go a long way toward defining his golfing legacy.
But I still havent seen a European exult after a major championship triumph the way 12 Europeans go collectively and delightedly over the top as a team when they beat the Americans.
There are a lot of American hoops junkies who believe Olympic mens basketball gold medal is a national birthright. Today, that right has been restored.
There are a lot of American golf devotees who believe the Ryder Cup is also a national birthright. Problem is, the U.S. hasnt won the Cup since 1999.
The cynics say whipping up all this kind of patriotic frenzy ignores the fact that the Europeans simply putt better than the Americans in the Ryder Cup. Well, they said the same thing about the American three-point shooting.
When it counted, in recent Olympic failures, the U.S. couldnt get the ball in the hole from beyond the arc. When it counted this time, especially in the final game victory over a Spanish team bravely playing over its head, the Americans started making their 3-pointers. They made 13 of 28 3-pointers in the final and shot close to 40 percent for the Games.
Announcer Doug Collins, who played on the U.S. team that lost a heartbreaking gold medal game to the Russians way back in 1972, suggested that the improved accuracy was tied into the commitment that the Americans had made.
So in closing, Zinger, everybody knows the talent you will be taking to Valhalla wont be as comparatively dominant as the talent Krzyzewski took to Beijing. But theres no reason the commitment cant be there.
Used to be the players complained about too many dinners and functions during Ryder Cup week. Then the captains began finding ways to get their players out of all the obligations, which fostered a sense that the Americans were being coddled.
My advice, captain Azinger, is to show your players the moving pictures of Kobe and LeBron pulling their jerseys in front of their chests and pointing proudly to the letters U.S.A. Tell your players if they want to play in next months Ryder Cup, theyre going to need to show up, shut up, keep up and go along with the program.
If Americas best professional basketball players can do it, so can Americas best professional golfers.
Our basketball teams coaches and team leaders were committed to one goal. And the commitment spread from the top on down in China like a powerful flame.
This, too, can happen to our Ryder Cup team.
Finally this to the American players: Your captain burns with the same kind of single-minded intensity that Krzyzewski brought to his task in Beijing. Paul Azinger will take a metaphorical bullet for you. Be prepared to do the same for him.

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