Both their careers have seen their best years. Ballesteros has suffered with a wrenched back and has not won since 1995. Azinger was at the height of his career in 1993 when he was blindsided by cancer.
Ballesteros appears to be sidelined permanently now, withdrawing from a string of events on the U.S. tour this year when his spine just wouldnt hold up to the rigors of tournament golf. Reports last month had him holed up at home Spain, where he was spending a considerable portion of each day laboring to get out of bed.
Azinger, also plagued by a problem back, has not had a prognosis nearly as disheartening, but his golf game has been somewhat underwhelming the past year. He had missed four straight cuts beginning with Honda until, suddenly, he showed some very strong signs of life at Houston.
It was there that he finished in a tie for 6th.
And it was the latest in a career-long series of makeovers for Zinger. He has been on the roller coaster for so long he is beginning to look like a bobble-head doll. He was among the worlds best when he competed so fiercely for the American Ryder Cuppers, then almost lost his game ' and his life ' when he was mowed down by cancer at the end of 93. He slowly built up his skills to the point where he won in Hawaii in 2000, was a captains pick at the 2002 Ryder Cup.
In 2003, he was down again. He went to the starting gate 26 times, missed the cut 14 times and withdrew twice. The back, you know ' isnt that perennially the ailment with golfers?
Finally, he went to see Jim Hardy, much better known of late as a course designer with Peter Jacobsen. That was in October of last year, after Azinger spent most of his earlier career of working with John Redmond. Hardy told Azinger exactly what he wanted to hear ' that there would be no six-month waiting period to see what the results might be. If youre not hitting it better in the next five or 10 minutes, Hardy said at the first meeting, then Im telling you wrong.
Azinger has been much improved over what he was last year. Hardys words were, indeed, exactly what the doctor ordered. Azinger cringes when he thinks back to the in-again, out-again swerves his career has taken.
When I first came out, I was great, said Azinger, And then I just was awful. And then I got OK and then I got awful, then I got actually pretty good. And for a point I got really bad again last year.
The hardest thing is - you think experience will make you play good, but it's experience with desire. None of us can see ourselves, so we have to have good information. If you're not getting good information, it doesn't matter how strong your desire is.
Azinger and Hardy have been working towards flattening out Azingers swing ' the same pattern as it was during the time Zinger was among the worlds best. Azinger had gradually gotten more upright down through the years. Now that he is beginning to see the light, he also has begun to hit the ball squarely in the back instead of the inside.
My swing was just not functional, said Azinger. He (Hardy) was kind enough to work with me. He's not really - I don't even think he fancies himself a teacher because he only works with guys he feels - when he feels like doing, it for the most part. He's got several guys that he'll work with any time, but he's really not allowing too many other players to - he just doesn't have time. He's really busy in golf course design and all that.
And Azinger is beginning to get the feel of the new swing, although to him it is much more a case of getting back to the old swing.
I'm real comfortable right now that I'm not going to be just completely swing-conscious on the golf course, he said. But you have to have some keys. Everybody has a few keys, and I'm just working on a couple keys, and I think I'm going to be just a little bit more effective than I was when I was up there.
Hes just like any other golfer who has found it, then lost it. Nothing is quite as frustrating as having once been one of the best in the world, then watch it slowly erode away.
I think anybody out here who has a talent is either getting good information or bad information, he explained, and I think that most of us out here would jump through a hula hoop and swing if that was a perfect technique to hit good shots.
But it's not, so we would try it and try it and if someone says that's the way I need to do it, you wouldn't hit good shots. The golf ball is going to tell you if the information is good or not.
My point is, I guess, I would say just about everybody out here has the skill to produce whatever someone is asking them to do in a matter of minutes. And it shouldn't take weeks and weeks or months.
Maybe Zinger can do something for his old foe Ballesteros. Azinger himself apparently is on the right track.
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