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Louisville Sluggers Faldo and Azinger meet media at Valhalla
United States Ryder Cup Captain Paul Aziniger and European Captain Nick Faldo, who have faced each other over the years on the course and a popular broadcasting duo on ABC Sports. They exchanged friendly barbs while meeting the media after a round at Valhalla Golf Club.
Louisville's countdown initiatives to the Ryder Cup featured a massive "wall scape" banner on its downtown Kaden Tower on Dutchmans Lane, which depicted images of the two Captains.
"Louisville is privileged to be able to host yet another exciting PGA event, the cream of the cream, the 37th Ryder Cup," said Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. "As a community, we are committed to creating a warm and hospitable environment for all of our visitors and we want all of our citizens to get in on the experience as well. The Ryder Cup will generate more than $115 million in economic impact for our city and we will roll out the red carpet for the fans of this prestigious event."
In the afternoon, Azinger and Faldo visited the LeRoy Neiman Gallery at the Muhammad Ali Center, where the renowned artist unveiled the first Ryder Cup Captains' portraits. The portraits will be auctioned to benefit the Ali Center and The First Tee of Louisville.
In the evening, the twosome arrived at the Kentucky Center, where they participated in a "Captains' Celebration" reception and a "Fireside Chat" hosted by NBC Sports announcer/essayist Jimmy Roberts. The evening activities served as a fundraiser, which benefited The Louisville Urban Golf Program, Down Syndrome of Louisville, The Children's Hospital Foundation benefiting Kosair Children's Hospital, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana.
During the Kentucky Center event, Faldo said that he looks forward to bringing a team to Louisville, and to depart with lasting memories.
"In the end, I hope for a really good week ... for me, my team, the fans," said Faldo. "I just want everyone to have a great experience.
"What would be great is to know that in 20 years or so, a couple of other guys are sitting here like this somewhere in the world saying that this was a great Ryder Cup, 2008 in Louisville."
Azinger said that he was moved by a video presentation of the Ryder Cup.
"Maybe it's the element of patriotism, and you all saw the tape, but the Ryder Cup is responsible for more amazing moments in golf than any other event," said Azinger. "Sure there's some pressure, but to suggest that the Americans aren't interested, don't have it or lack the spirit to win is just a myth. We'll show up. And you have to give credit to the European Team."
Azinger and Faldo have combined to participate in 15 Ryder Cups, with Faldo the all-time leader in appearances (11) and total points (46). The twosome have faced each other four times in the Ryder Cup, with Azinger owning a 2-0-2 advantage that includes one halved singles match in 1993.
Earlier in the day, the two Captains played 18 holes at Valhalla, getting a first-hand view of changes to the layout that were directed by course designer Jack Nicklaus.
"It's quite a bit longer than it was in 2000," said Azinger of his tour of the course. "I really had forgotten how much undulation there was here. I think it's going to be a bit hard, the redo of the four greens that they did, the greens don't look anything like the greens that have been here and been in place. They have been made very, very difficult.
"But I think it's going to be probably a little more difficult at 7,500 yards. Of course, we may not play it at that length. I'm not sure yet. I think I'm going to have a little influence or say so in the course setup as the home team Captain.
"So, it's going to really depend on the makeup of our team, I think, as to how long we'll play the golf course. I think Europe's worked a pretty good advantage in their home course setup the last few Ryder Cups, and if we can get any kind of an edge at all, I'll be looking for that. I don't know what it will be."
Faldo referred to his 30th anniversary of competing in golf's grand spectacle.
"The Ryder Cup has been a major part of my career," said Faldo. "Thirty years ago this year, I played my first Ryder Cup at Lytham St. Annes, and then 20 years ago, I was part of that winning team at Muirfield Village, first time we won at America. And then 10 years ago, again, part of that winning team with Seve [Ballesteros] as captain at Valderrama. So, you can see, now we've moved on, so extremely honored to be European captain here for 2008, although it's 30 years now.
"It's been a major, major, as I said, part of my career, great experience. Obviously looking forward to the event tremendously, and I'm delighted that Paul has picked Ray Floyd and Dave Stockton to get more experience than my 11 Ryder Cups."
Azinger addressed the question of the prospect of losing a fourth consecutive Ryder Cup and its effect on the popularity of golf.
"I'm not that worried about it. Really, in the end, it's just one of those things. You either win or you lose," said Azinger. "You do the best you can, and you hold your head up high knowing that you tried your best. That's what we are going to try to do.
"I'm trying to surround myself with the right people and I think so far I have. I've got Raymond Floyd, Dave Stockton and Olin Browne. I've got people that I think can help me. I'm not looking for babysitters. I'm looking for assistants that hopefully can keep me from making too many mistakes, and I think that's the goal.
"I think the selection process has been, you know, dramatically changed, and I hope that the selection process gets hotter Americans there. And that's what we are banking on, and that's what we are hoping for."
When asked what the general public, who have never attended a Ryder Cup could expect, the Captains didn't hesitate sharing their thoughts.
"You've made it to the top of your sport, and then you have to add the whole patriotism aspect of it," said Azinger. "And I think once the flags go up, you feel it, and the fans feel it. You'll get to feel the energy here in about a year. You'll understand it a little better.
"I've seen men lying on the floor of the locker room either laughing or crying, and it's quite amazing what we will put ourselves through for one point, the value of winning a point," said Faldo. "There's no prize money the week of the Ryder Cup. It's very unique in any sport for us to have a team event like this. I'm sure it's greater than the Davis Cup in tennis, to have 12 guys playing purely for a point. It's quite something, quite electric. And you will sense from the emotion and the passion and the commitment, everybody takes everything to the max that week. It's quite amazing."
The importance of the Ryder Cup in Europe was underscored by Faldo, with comic relief by Azinger.
"Ryder Cup is the biggest event we have," said Faldo. "If I called a press conference to talk about Nick Faldo Enterprises and whatever, I'd get X number. If I called a press conference for Ryder Cup, you get this. So it just shows you the interest that we have. It always has been, especially at least these last 20 years. It's on the media's mind just about every week."
Azinger responded, "So the Ryder Cup is bigger than Nick Faldo Enterprises. That's huge."
"Yeah. You wait." said Faldo.
Begun in 1927, The Ryder Cup is one of the most spirited, exciting and compelling events in sport - involving the greatest players in the world and producing some of the greatest moments in the game. The biennial event brings together the finest American professionals and those of Europe in a match-play format. The competition is conducted in the U.S. by The PGA of America. For more information about the 2008 Ryder Cup, visit www.rydercup.com
The PGA of America is the world's largest working sports organization, comprised of 28,000 men and women golf Professionals who are the recognized experts in growing, teaching and managing the game of golf, while serving millions of people throughout its 41 PGA Sections nationwide. Since its founding in 1916, The PGA of America has enhanced its leadership position in a $62 billion-a-year industry by growing the game of golf through its premier spectator events, world-class education and training programs, significant philanthropic outreach initiatives and award-winning golf promotions. Today's PGA Golf Professional is the public's link to the game, serving an essential role in the operation of golf facilities throughout the country.