Former Masters and U.S. Open champ Fuzzy Zoeller, who hails from nearby southern Indiana, will do whatever the mayor tells me to do, as festival chair. The Ryder Cup is a tremendous, tremendous golf tournament, said Zoeller.
Where else are you going to find 24 of the greatest players in the world in the prime of their lives? he said, adding the Ryder Cup wont lose any of that prestige due to weird placement between the FedExCup playoffs and the grand finale at the Tour Championship.
The Ryder Cup is still that special thing, said Zoeller. The FedExCup is fine, but Ryder Cup has the stars and stripes on your back. Now, thats big time.
It definitely is big time and will be even more so this year as the guys with the stars and stripes attempt to reverse the disturbing trend that has seen them lose the last three, including identical, lopsided scores of 18 to 9 in 2004 and 2006, and five of the last six in a premier event they once dominated.
The Americans fall from grace has been analyzed and scrutinized and Zoeller, who helped the stars and stripes to a 2-1 record in the 1979, 83 and 85 Ryder Cups, says its impossible to be diplomatic about this turn of events.
Its a fact, said the 10-time PGA TOUR winner, who isnt such a warm Fuzzy when discussing his countrys recent record. He believes that, in a state renowned for the Kentucky Derby, the Americans need their thoroughbreds at full speed throughout the entire 2008 Ryder Cup.
My theory is, I think, weve got our top players, some of them dont want to be there. You know what you ought to do? Its like basketball ' you put them on the bench for awhile, he said in January, adding those players should take a lesson from this years captain Paul Azinger.
Hes a good motivator. I know it means a lot to him. Of course, Nick (Faldo) is going to be a good coach for (the Europeans), but I believe Pauly can do a little boot in the old butt and get these guys to play like theyre supposed to, said Zoeller.
Azinger has already begun making his moves, even before Ryder Cup hype swings into full gear. Using his home field advantage, he has decided that the competition will begin with alternate shot instead of better ball, which has been the case in the last three Ryder Cups.
Its a move that Azinger feels will favor the home side and prevent the Europeans from getting off to a fast start. He is also expected to have a say in how Valhalla is set up in the hopes of favoring the Americans big bombers.
In addition, the Americans will be working off a new points system based on money earnings that will determine eight automatic selections to the team. In the past, 10 players were named automatically and Azinger now has four captains picks instead of the two he would have had in previous years.
The new system opens up the possibility of new blood on the American team. If its the same guys, then I think they are the right guys because I just really think it would be difficult to make this team and not have a really good year, said Azinger at the recent PODS Championship.
If its the same guys, Im more than happy. Im not looking for different faces, but if different faces show up, then thats going to be great, added Azinger, a four-time participant himself.
I think the big question really is going to be after the eight guys are established, who am I going to pick? Am I going to pick the same guys, or am I going to pick other guys? Thats going to really be the question. Im going to pick guys that are hot.
Its those four captains picks that may lead to some familiar names sitting down as Zoeller suggested. Azinger hints he may even raise a few eyebrows in his search for hot players.
I think if some guy wins three tournaments in a row on the Nationwide Tour and his last tournament is the week before the week I pick, I probably will pick him because Im pretty sure that dude is hot said Azinger. Plus, he has his (PGA TOUR) card because if he wins three in a row, he gets his card.
Im looking for anybody that I think is blazing hot.
While the team that will eventually don the stars and stripes is still up in the air, so is the style used by their captain to motivate his players. Will Azinger be hard-nosed or lighthearted?
They might see both. I have no idea, he said. I have no experience being a captain like that. Heck, I have no idea what my personality is going to be like at those matches. I may cellophane everybodys toilet seats before the matches start. I dont know.
Im just going to be myself. I think my emotions, or style, or whatever it is, is just going to be depending on the makeup of the team and the situation.
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Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.