Azinger assumes the captaincy of a boat that is listing badly. The U.S. has lost six of the last seven Ryder Cups. And the U.S. players will not win unless they can play better golf in 2008 than the Europeans. If Vince Lombardi were coaching the last-place team in 1967 instead of the Green Bay Packers, he could not possibly have won the NFL Championship, regardless of how great a coach he was. Ergo Hal Sutton and Tom Lehman, the last two U.S. captains.
Now, with that bit of info out in the open, Azinger says he has some ideas. But one of them does not revolve around lighting a fire under the U.S. players. The idea that the Americans have not wanted the Cup as badly of the Europeans is pure, well, poppycock, he feels.
I think the greatest misconception is that the Europeans are more passionate about the Ryder Cup than we are, said Zinger. Clearly, they look like they have more camaraderie, giving each other headlocks and noogies, patting each other on the back and all that.
But the reality is, when their team wins the first session in the morning and then wins the first match in the afternoon, then they are going to look that way. I hope America and the press remembers what 1999 was like, that comeback ' if there ever were more passion and more excitement than what was shown in that instance, then youve got to show me where that came from. The American players are passionate, and they are hungry and starving to do well in this event.
But the reality is, theyve been behind a lot lately. And (that passion) just doesnt show.
And he says that, frankly, the Europeans had the better players the last two matches when they outscored the Americans by convincing 18 - 9 margins.
The European Ryder Cup team is fantastic, and they have been for a long time, said Azinger. And its time that we recognize that fact.
The PGA of America has set up a new selection process, hopefully to get one or two more hot players on the team. And Azinger has been given two additional selections, making it four wild-card picks selections instead of two. Outside of that, there isnt a whole lot the PGA can do. Its up to the Americans to get better. Zinger will merely take what hes given and try to hash out a win.
I think I have the opportunity that no other Ryder Cup captain has had, he said, and I really appreciate that.
PGA of America president Roger Warren conceded that at most there might have been one or two different players under the new selection process than there was in the last two Cups. For the losing trend to be reversed, the U.S. will have to rely, first and foremost, on Azingers ability to get four winning players ' plus, of course, an over-all improvement in the American players who are the eight automatic picks.
In 2008, of course, the Americans will be having to compete under a rather dubious schedule ' they will be coming off a seven-events-in-eight-weeks stretch that is compliments of the PGA TOURs new FedEx Cup. The TOUR Championship will be the week before the Ryder Cup. It remains to be seen just how much of a hindrance that will be.
Very few of the potential Ryder Cup members ever play that concentrated schedule. Will the Americans be a worn-out troupe, playing with lots of heart but little else? Could be.
I dont really know how the best players in the world are going to react, confessed Azinger. I dont know how they are going to respond to that type of a schedule. I dont know that, because they feel theyre already qualified, theyll take some time off.
Somehow, though, I feel like it is better for us that the American players are going to be playing in the FedEx Cup series leading into the Ryder Cup. It may end up being OK.
If it is any consolation, several of the Europeans will be in the same boat, since many of them are members of the U.S. tour. And, two years is a long time into the future ' maybe three or four Americans will come to the fore in that time, maybe the situation wont look nearly as bleak by then.
But be assured, says Azinger, the 12 men who will wear the United States colors will be ready to play.
I think that America as a whole, the PGA of America as a whole, and the players as a whole are tired of getting beat, he said simply. And I just think they will be very hungry - I really do.
Zinger let it go at that. No rash promises of victory. No flag-waving, no barn-burning, no evangelistic fervor. But you can bet your money on the Americans being ready. If Paul Azinger can get them to play the utmost of their capabilities, then he has done everything that a captain can do.
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