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Interview with U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger
January 31, 2008
JOAN ALEXANDER (FBR Media Center moderator): We'd like to thank Paul Azinger for joining us for a few minutes here in the media center at the FBR Open, U.S. Ryder Cup captain, 24th start here in Phoenix, a winner here, and you played a couple times already this year, so this is your third start. Just talk about the season and kind of balancing your real job as a player with your new job as the captain.
PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, I have a job as the captain I don't get paid for. I kind of didn't play last year after the Hartford Open. I wasn't playing very well and wasn't enjoying it very much, so I took a lot of time off and was glad I did, wasn't even sure I was going to play this year. But I started hitting it better and just thought I'd come out and give it a shot in Hawaii. I played decent there. I missed the cut by a shot last week in San Diego (at the Buick Invitational). I don't know, I'm going to play somewhere between 10 and 15 events. That's my plan right now.
I don't feel like I need to stay in touch with the players or anything with respect to the Ryder Cup team. I feel like these guys are all big boys and that and don't need their hands held. I don't even feel like I even need to know the guys that well. I'm just looking forward to playing the best possible golf I can play and enjoying the responsibilities of Ryder Cup. I've put a lot behind me already. I think I'm slightly ahead of schedule with respect to the apparel and food and which kids are allowed in the player area and which kids aren't. There's a lot of stuff that's put on my plate that's kind of surprised me, but I'm actually enjoying the process of being a captain and I'm going to enjoy trying to grind it out. I'm coming to every tournament totally committed to trying to win it, really. So we'll just see if I'm good enough to get in contention this year.
I want to make an announcement first. I've decided that -- changing the selection process, which I think was important. I think that Europe has had a better selection process. It's partly the reason why they've played so much better than us the last few Ryder Cups. They've won five of the last six Ryder Cups, and last year by a record margin, and I'm hoping that the selection process we put in place is going to get the best American players on this team.
The main reason, if 100 percent of the TOUR was American, then we would always give out 100 percent of the points under the Top 10 finish system. But that's not the case anymore. I think there's somewhere between 55 and 65 percent of the players on TOUR now that are American. We were finding that just by top-10 finishes alone, maybe only a couple of Americans would finish in the top 10. I just felt like there's only two things that ever made me nervous or that I ever choked for in my life, and that was cash and prestige. I felt like I would rather let money be the barometer. It's the barometer for everything we do and the most prestigious events are the ones you're dealing with the most pressure.
We made the change in the selection process, and I really believe that's going to help us.
Another change I wanted to make is to go back to -- I'm making this announcement right now, go back to alternate shot in the morning and playing best ball in the afternoon. I believe it was in 1997, I want to say, I think (European Captain) Seve (Ballesteros) changed it back to -- he changed it to best ball in the morning and alternate shot in the afternoon. I felt like the Americans had an edge in alternate shot, and I think it's partly responsible for why Europe has gotten off to a pretty hot start. So I've decided to change that back. I hope it's the right decision. We're switching, we're going back to alternate shot in the morning, and we'll just see how it plays out.
Q.: Is that something the home captain decides in terms of the order?
PAUL AZINGER: I've got a lot of decisions, course set-up, Europe would always try to neutralize our strength, which was power I feel in these last several Ryder Cups, bombers like Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods) on the Ryder Cup team and the fairways are -- at the Belfry the fairways beyond 290 yards were eight yards wide, just the weirdest configuration of fairway shape, and they forced Tiger to end up hitting his second shots into the greens from the same spot as everybody else unless you wanted to hit driver into an eight yard wide area. That was smart course set-up wise. I've actually spent some time with Mark Wilson, the superintendent at Valhalla, and, depending on the makeup of the team, do everything I can to get an edge.
I don't feel that any American captain has really had the luxury. But PGA of America has given me full pretty much responsibility to kind of do whatever I want and the freedom to do what I want with respect to course set-up. Maybe if everybody hits it as straight as Jim Furyk -- I don't know if I can narrow the fairways but I can sure have the rough deep. But if I have a bunch of Bubba Watsons, J.B. Holmes, Pat Perez, Phil Mickelson, guys that crank it and bomb it, maybe there won't be rough, I don't know yet. We'll see.
Q.: So that's a call -- you'll make that in terms of course setup down the road?
PAUL AZINGER: The superintendent, we understand -- I told him I felt like he could help me and be an integral part of our success. We're going to formulate a strategy based on the makeup of the team. Hopefully we'll get a little bit of an edge there. We'll see.
Q.: How did you arrive at the formula for changing the selection process?
PAUL AZINGER: Well, when I showed up we had this meeting, in this suite meeting room with several members of the PGA of America, the outgoing president, the current president, Brian Whitcomb, the vice president, our future president, secretaries, (PGA Director of Communications) Julius (Mason) and his staff, and (PGA Senior Director of Tournaments) Kerry Haigh, and I just said that I felt like we needed to make a change.
So we spent -- it took us a couple hours rifling through points systems and different scenarios. I didn't want last year to count at all personally, but we ended up coming to a consensus, and the consensus was this was the best way to do it. I told them everything I told you, there's only two things I ever choked on, money and prestige. I wanted money to count. After a couple hours we determined the best way to do this was let the four majors count in '07 because they're the post prestigious events, and then the four majors this year are going to be double points, and every other tournament if you make the cut you're making Ryder Cup money.
So the top eight Americans really on that Money List are going to make the team. I didn't want to pick the Monday after the PGA (Championship). I felt like it took a little bit away from the champion of the PGA. I felt like that should be his day more, and I would like to wait, like Europe waits, and pick at the same time they do or even later than they do.
You know what, once we all hashed it all out, it wasn't written in stone when I left that office. I called several past captains, I talked to some of my friends in the media, I talked to a bunch of past players, and I asked them all to punch holes in this system before we announced it, and not a lot of holes were punched. There was some slight modifications, and -- but I got the opinions of the best players in the world, and Ryder Cup players, and they all said they liked it. So this is what we decided to do. It wasn't something that I did all by myself. It was a group effort.
Q.: I would assume that among the media people that you vetted this thing was not (European Captian) Nick Faldo?
PAUL AZINGER: No, I didn't talk to Nick about this. I don't think Nick really cares. I don't think he gives a hoot about anything that we're doing. I think he's just going to focus on what his team needs to do to get prepared. He knows that there's a little more pressure on him maybe than on me because he's had so much success. I feel like I have everything to gain here and I feel like he might feel the other way.
But I want it to be a great experience for my players and their families. And like I said, they're all big boys and they know what they're doing. I don't think there's any motivational speech I can give to make a guy playing poorly play better and I don't think I can say anything stupid enough to screw anybody up. If they're playing well coming in, that's all that matters to me. I think we're going to identify the best Americans in this system.
Q.: How many times has anything associated with the Ryder Cup run through your head during the day?
PAUL AZINGER: During the day, a lot. There are some days when I can block it all out, but there's always something. There's always something. Just little quotes, you know, and stuff that I say -- just because there's no motivational speech doesn't mean I won't try to give one. I'd say pretty much every day there's something going on.
My belief when these guys were captains in the past and talking about how much it obsessed them was, geez, what do you do, pick out the clothes and decide who's going to cook the food, what else is there? You wait to see who's going to be on the team.
One of the things, I think my favorite thing about being on Ryder Cup teams was that every captain had his own style, and I loved all my captains, and they all had a little bit of a theme, and I think that I'm just right now how I want the very first night to be, what the feeling is going to be. That's the only place I have any anxiety at all, what kind of a tone do I want to set.
Q.: How much did you glean out of Presidents Cup week and how many things might you try to recreate whatever Jack did and just how to handle those things?
PAUL AZINGER: I've talked to (Jack) Nicklaus. I've talked to Tiger, Furyk, David Toms. I talked to Woody Austin a little bit, not much. But I felt like there was obviously a chemistry there and a level of relaxation, but I don't think you can compare the two events. I'm not going to take anything away from The Presidents Cup. It's a fine event. But it's different, you know? Ryder Cup is different, I'll just say that.
I'm just trying to keep to myself a little bit about what I'm thinking about that, but there was obviously a chemistry there and there was maybe more of a level of relaxation that was pretty evident to me, and that's kind of what rang through when I talked to Jack and Tiger.
Q.: Are there things, without giving any secrets away
PAUL AZINGER: No great secrets (laughter). The secret is you get the hottest players to show up and hope they play great.
Q.: I just mean in terms of chemistry and relaxation because it certainly was evident there.
PAUL AZINGER: My personality I think is going to be a little bit more relaxed. I like my assistant captains, too. I have Raymond Floyd who's intense and extremely wise, and I have Dave Stockton who also is intense but in a different way. He's real knowledgeable about the golf swing and will share state of mind stuff. And then Olin Browne who knows all the players, he's a reasonably intelligent guy and has a great rapport with the players. It's almost like I've collected a group of people who are going to be a part of this team with my personality and their personalities, and I think in some capacity we'll be at least able to relate with every personality that's on this team. I think we're going to have a great week. It's going to be a fun week. We'll try to stay relaxed, but everybody you don't have to really state the goals. Everybody knows what the goals are.
Q.: As busy as you are, is there any scenario where you see being a captain as a positive for your game, or is it
PAUL AZINGER: It's not having an adverse effect or a positive effect, either way. I just think that my game is my game. I haven't proven in the last few years that it's been good enough to get in contention. I played 33 events two years ago and broadcast with ABC I don't know how many weeks and was able to keep my card. I think that was pretty good. So I'm not that far removed. Last year I just felt burnt I think because I played more events than I ever have in my life, and I got halfway through the year and just hit the wall and I couldn't do any more. Then I ended up hurting my back. My boat was rolling out of the garage at a fierce pace, I grabbed it and torqued to keep it from hitting the wall and wrenched my back pretty good. I ended up taking a medical, which was almost fortunate for me, that I was able to do that. So kind of not wanting to play, but maybe I would have been forced to play to try to keep my privileges.
I don't think it's going to affect me one way or the other, the stress of the Ryder Cup. I can put it in a box, live my life -- there might be 20 boxes here and if I'm over here doing this, everything else is somewhere else.
Q.: In '91 you were on the team and Stockton was the captain. He was in a similar situation you must feel like now with everybody talking about the U.S. not being able to win, but they got relatively contentious in 1991. The way he set the theme there, how do you see that as appropriate for this time around?
PAUL AZINGER: One of the reasons I wanted Dave is because he has a clear understanding of what the underdog role is, and he took on a certain mentality. I'm going to dial up those guys about maybe a theme coming in, maybe no theme at all, but I think the players kind of were taking that personal. Because Europe, let's face it, I didn't think they were great sports in the way they were winning and the way they were celebrating and rubbing our nose in it, but the reality is they were better than us. They had (Bernhard) Langer, (Ian) Woosnam, Faldo, (Colin) Montgomerie, Sandy Lyle, Jose (Maria Olazabal), Seve, they were way better than we were, and we beat them at Kiawah, and we got in a car wreck. Steve Pate was playing great and couldn't play. They were better than us, but we beat them.
Who knows, Europe may show up with better players, I don't know, and you've got to play it all out on the golf course. I want Dave there, and Dave kind of understood that underdog role. I think we have to be the underdogs no matter who shows up because they just make putts. These guys make putts at the Ryder Cup. They make everything. Sergio (Garcia) doesn't make all those putts at the British like he makes in that Ryder Cup. You ask him why does he make all these putts, what's the difference? Same with Montgomerie. That's what I want to know, how they do it. What is it that makes these guys putt so well?
Q.: Sergio would probably trade one of those for Carnoustie last year.
PAUL AZINGER: He played great at Carnoustie. That last hole was pretty hard on everybody.
Q.: But trade one of those Ryder Cup putts.
PAUL AZINGER: I'm sure. But he's not the only one. Darren Clarke putts better, Lee Westwood putts better, they all putt better at Ryder Cup. I want to know why.
Q.: Have you looked at statistics on that? Obviously we all see how they've putted.
PAUL AZINGER: There's statistics on it.
Q.: Have you looked at the numbers?
PAUL AZINGER: I won't share that with you. I'm just saying that those guys are making putts. They putt great at Ryder Cup, every one of them. I'm going to ask them about it personally.
Q.: Do you miss the booth at all?
PAUL AZINGER: Sometimes I do. Sometimes I miss it. I enjoyed my role in the 18th tower. I think Faldo and I had a dynamic there and chemistry, and I wasn't up there long enough for people to hate me. I enjoyed it, I really did. I felt like there was just a chemistry there.
Honestly, I felt like I wanted to be a public service to the viewer, that's the way I felt. I had several philosophies with being in the booth. I came in reasonably unprepared. I didn't walk in with a notebook of stuff I was ready to say or words that I wanted to throw in. I read the paper, I watched -- I know the players, and I believed nobody was tuning in to hear me, they were tuning in to watch golf, and I wanted the picture to be descriptive and I wanted to be informative. That was kind of my philosophy going into the booth. That's kind of the way I looked at it, and I felt like I had a feel for how the player felt for the most part through experience, and I just wanted to articulate that to the viewer.
I enjoyed my run there. I don't know if I want to do it ever again, I'm not sure that I do. I certainly don't think I could ever do it again for another six years probably, five years, because of the TV contracts. I recognize that for the next five or six years if I'm going to be in golf I'm going to play it, and happy to do so.
Q.: What do you remember about when you won here in '87? And how has the place changed since you won in '87, because that was the first year?
PAUL AZINGER: There was nothing out here, no strip malls, no car dealerships, no places to stay, the Princess didn't exist. TPC was a new concept. I think I shot 16 or 17 under, and it wasn't like brutally difficult, and still isn't brutally difficult. It's much tougher now because of the length. I remember being paired with Doug Tewell on a Sunday and I think Corey Pavin on a Sunday, Corey coming off the win at the Hope. I was coming off some shoulder problems and it was the first event of my career at the old golf course. I remember hitting it in the pot bunker on 16 and the pin was left over there by the pot bunker, and I was nervous. I can remember walking to the green on 16 kind of going, God, I can't believe I hit it in there, and Doug Tewell walking behind me. It wasn't beside me but he was behind me, and he heard me mumbling, and he said, "Just get it up and down, just get it up and down." He went from wanting to win to realizing he couldn't win to beginning to pull for me. I remember Doug saying, "Just get it up and down, just get it up and down."
And then I remember 18, a one-shot lead, that's not the easiest tee shot in the world. When I got up there my caddie had a hug around all my clubs except he had the club cover off the driver. One of my rules for all my caddies is don't ever pull the club out of the bag, I will pull the club out of the bag. He had his arms wrapped around the whole set except for my driver. I looked at him and said, "You want me to hit driver, don't you?" I striped it down middle, hit 7 iron to the green and hit two putts. I'll never forget Doug Tewell and my caddie standing on the 18th tee holding all my clubs.
Q.: Who was your caddie?
PAUL AZINGER: Billy Porter. He's caddying for me this week. I hit it about 12 feet behind the hole and two putt. The best you can do is hit the flag and it stops. I don't know if that bunker is as deep as it is now, but that bunker, when I got in there it just seemed impossible to me. I was a pretty decent bunker player, and I still am, and I chipped it perfect and that was the best I could.
Q.: Did you go on to win the money title that year?
PAUL AZINGER: I finished second on the money title. I remember this, as well. The Tour had a points system to get in the Tour Championship. 1987 was the first year of the Top 30 getting in. They had a points system in place that whoever won the points system got 175,000 of official money. I was the leading money winner that year, but I finished third in the points system and got like $60,000 something official money, and I think it was Curtis (Strange) that got $175,000, and because of that difference he went past me on that points system list. So it was this extra money thrown in. Actually I won the most money that year.
In '86 I was at a player meeting and I said I completely disagree with that, and they came back with it. But I do remember that fairly well. I was still PGA Tour Player of the Year, PGA of America Player of the Year in 1987, but I didn't win the money title.
Q.: What are your thoughts on the 16th hole, your most vivid recollection of playing?
PAUL AZINGER: My most vivid recollection is Tiger making the hole-in-one and all the cups flying and raising the roof and all that. I thought that was so cool. But personally, I mean, just getting booed I think is really unusual. But I love the energy and the atmosphere there. There's just nothing like that. It's really it's almost counterintuitive to the game really. It's just so different. It's pretty cool, though.