Is there any way in hell anyones giving a 4-footer on the first day of the Ryder Cup? he asked me rhetorically in a most entertaining phone conversation, recalling Vijay Singhs conceded putt at the Presidents Cup that allowed that match to end in a feel-good halve.
Further illuminating the differences between the two competitions, Azinger then recounted 20 years of Ryder Cup animosity that peaked but didnt end at 1991s War on the Shore. There, Azinger planted the seeds that would yield his captaincy. He did so with a shovel across the kneecaps of an icon. See, sometimes the skinny kid in the neighborhood turns out to be the toughest.
Seve Ballesteros possessed Westminster pedigree. Zinger was a lovable mutt. When Seve predictably tried to intimidate and bully his way across Kiawah, Zinger bit him in the leg.
In the end, Bernhard Langer misfired and the Ryder Cup turned into the Yankees against the Red Sox, conservatives against liberals, Rosie against The Donald. And save for one maniacal Sunday at Brookline outside Boston eight years ago, its been inexplicably, depressingly one-sided.
Ill talk to guys whove been in both (Ryder and Presidents Cup) to find out what they feel the difference is, he explained. Azinger says this knowing full well were right back where we were in the euphoric aftermath of the Presidents Cup of 2005.
The Americans had found their anchor pairing in Tiger and Furyk, DiMarco was Corey Pavin, the team had bonded and Europe was in deep trouble. Of course, they got killed at The K Club. So the difference isnt so much between the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup, but between the Europeans and the Americans.
I told Zinger about Oakland Hills in 2004. Id been assigned the European team arrival at the Detroit airport on Monday of Ryder Cup week. I pledged that I was removing emotion from the equation, that chemistry was overrated and that recent European success was merely a result of better putting. Then they ambled off the plane in their stylish tan car coats, Sergio and Darren with their hands in a bag of Doritos, the whole lot of em loud and laughing and glassy eyed and looking like fraternity brothers whod just come from a kegger. We lost, I remember thinking.
Zinger jumped in, eager to back up the point. See for them its an escape from the daily grind. For us, it epitomizes the daily grind.
I suggested that maybe they need comic relief. Look what Woody did for the boys at Royal Montreal. Was Woody a partner or a mascot? Zinger cracked.
But then he countered, Im not looking for a comedian. Im looking for 12 guys who want to be there and 12 guys wholl be ready when they get there. No one was crackin us up when we were winning. Everyone needs to just be themselves.
In hopes of getting the best 12, Azinger dynamited the selection process. Hell have four captains choices instead of two and the emphasis will be on performance in 2008, especially at majors. Well get the hottest players, he said. The old system of rewarding top-10 finishes over a two-year period is dead. I choked for money and I choked for prestige. I never choked for a top-10.
At the very least, Paul Azingers on his way to be most quotable captain weve ever had. Zinger - the nickname fits like a leather glove fresh out of the package, as Tiger fits Eldrick and Golden Bear fits Jack. Like Jack, hell listen to the guys if they have a preference in partners. Thats a no brainer, he said.
But he acknowledged theres really no stock formula. The problem at the Ryder Cup is we never seem to get off to a good start. They got off to a great start at the Presidents Cup and maybe thats the key. It doesnt hurt.
Using home team prerogative, Azinger plans to open Day 1 at Valhalla with foursomes matches instead of four-ball. We were always better playing foursomes first, he said.
Hes not going to ask his men to play practice rounds at Valhalla. If they want to go, go for it. But why would you ask Tiger to go play Valhalla when he won a major there?
Tigers yet to put his stamp on the Ryder Cup as hes done on every other meaningful event in the sport. But then, this isnt a major. In an 18-hole match play sprint, hes vulnerable.
Plenty of guys are ahead of Tiger after one round and hes gone on to win more than 60 tournaments, said Azinger.
He feels Tiger, along with Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, has become a team leader. They took over the Presidents Cup and I think theyll take over the Ryder Cup.
With the top four ranked players in the world, including Steve Stricker, Azinger reasons that on paper well be better, but until you prove you can beat them theyll be favored.
As for the laid back approach that has cast Jack as a sort of Dalai Lama, Azinger closed with another dart to a couple feet. The laid back approach is nice at the Presidents Cup, he said. You know, if we win, we win and if we lose we lose, no big deal.
It doesnt work that way at the Ryder Cup. If you win you won and broke the drought. Lose and you didnt just lose you lost AGAIN and you #@%*#!
With that we laughed, and the captain, nursing a sore back that prevents him from playing a whole lot, went back to working on his tan and figuring out ways to solve the great American golfing mystery.
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