Nelson Supports Azinger Pick


Larry Nelson hadnt gotten the call from the PGA of America. And he couldnt say that he was surprised.
It was late Monday morning. And two hours earlier they had announced that Paul Azinger would be the captain of the American Ryder Cup squad for the next renewal of golfs Super Bowl scheduled for 2008 in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Nelson is 59 years old. Azinger is 46. The PGA of America, Nelson told me over the phone, believes its captains need to be more contemporary with its players. Nelson also told me he would still love to captain an American team one day. But, he said, that wont happen until and unless the PGA of America changes its modus operandi.
Not one trace of bitterness was detectable in Nelsons voice. His qualifications for the job are multifold. Not the least of them are his 9-3-1 career record in Ryder Cup play and the fact that he is a Vietnam veteran. Nelson is soft-spoken but no one has ever questioned his toughness.
Late last month Nelson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. These are good days for him. But the PGA of America did not grant him a formal interview.
Paul is a great guy, very enthusiastic, Nelson said. And one of his best characteristics is as a motivator.
Nelson was especially enthusiastic when he heard that Azinger will get four Captains Picks, an increase of 100 per cent, for his 2008 team. They (the PGA of America) had to do something, Nelson said. If they didnt, it would have shown me they didnt care.
The captaincy now, Nelson added, is more important.
I hate to say make or break, he said. But with two picks it was almost sometimes just an honorary thing. With four picks, Pauls going to have to play his picks.
Nelson also supported the decision to push back the announcement date for the Captains Picks. Traditionally, the selections were revealed the day after the PGA Championship, an event that sometimes takes place five weeks before the Ryder Cup.
With the flexibility provided by the opportunity to wait, Azinger can better determine and choose the hot players (not already on the team) in the days leading up to the matches.
You want as much time as possible. Nelson said. Paul will probably have it narrowed down to eight or nine guys. Then he will have some very analytical and emotional questions.
Azinger already has begun analyzing Valhalla Golf Club, the site of the matches. He said at his Monday press conference that he wants to explore turning the par 4 13th into a drivable hole.
Perhaps the most dramatic hole in recent Ryder Cup history is the short par 4 10th at The Belfry in England. Valhalla pro Keith Reese told me Tuesday that the 13th at his golf course has a members tee box that can shorten the hole to 280 yards.
Risk and reward is what the Ryder Cup is all about anyway. So Azinger appears to be on the right track here as well. The 13th normally plays 350 yards downhill to a green almost completely surrounded by water. But, Reese, said, if you miss it long and straight there is a grassy bank area that will collect golf balls.
It is interesting to note that in 1996 Phil Mickelson led the PGA Championship at Valhalla after 36 holes only to make double bogey on Saturday and Sunday at No. 13. He would finish three shots out of the playoff won by Mark Brooks over Kenny Perry.
The 13th at Valhalla is a dangerous hole. Paul Azinger isnt afraid of danger.
Im very pleased for Paul, Nelson said.
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