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An Interview with: CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER

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KELLY ELBIN: U.S. Team Captain Paul Azinger joining us on the second practice day at the 37th Ryder Cup in Louisville, Kentucky.

Captain Azinger, if you would, please give us an update on what's been going on with your team this morning and plans for the rest of the day.

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: We got out to the course this morning. I think most of us got out here about 8:15 to 8:30, got ready for our team photographs on the 18th fairway and spent the better part of 45 minutes there. We spent everybody out in the same groups again today. That's about it so far.

You know, I like the way everybody is playing to this point. We all seem very relaxed. We know it's like a Tuesday in a tournament mind, but it's Wednesday. We've got two full days to go, today and then tomorrow's practice round.

But I think today is the day I'm getting the players to think about the course, maybe some strategy about how we want to approach pairings and that sort of thing. A couple guys are getting to know the course that haven't really ever played here, and there's several guys that have played here enough that they may only play nine holes.

But I like the way everything is going. I'm confident that we're doing everything to try to get it right.

Q. A two-part question about foursomes: Number one, when you were playing in Ryder Cup, other than the fact that you wanted a guy as a partner who was playing well, what were you looking for in a partner in the alternate-shot? And the second part of the question is why in your opinion, other than the fact that he's a very good player, does Sergio have that incredible 8-0-0 record in foursomes matches?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I wasn't aware that he was that good. I knew he was 14-4-2, whatever. His Ryder Cup record is probably second to none, percentage-wise. Just an amazing, passionate player. He's a great ball-striker, and I think he's a great partner.

There's something that happens inside him that just fits this format. If you could bottle it, you would probably sell it. I don't know what it is. It's intangibles. You can't always identify what the intangible is, but he seems to have that. He always putts better. We're all clear on that one, and he brings the best out of you as a partner. For whatever reason, that's the secret formula we're all trying to figure out, really. One day when we get older, hopefully I can get it from him.

The other question was about the foursomes, which, you know, it can go either way. You can get a long hitter with a straight hitter, you can get like games together. I think it's an individual thing, and we're going to address that individually as a team.

Some players want a bomber for alternate-shot, and some players want a guy who hits it exactly like they do.

Q. It seemed like watching them through the first five holes this morning that they were hitting a lot less extra shots, they were playing alternate-shot, and a lot more serious than they were yesterday. Was that something you discussed with them, or was it just more in-depth today working on their alternate-shot game?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Alternate-shot is a little different. They're all hitting off the tee, then they're hitting a shot in. They've got a little game going out there today.

Yesterday was a long day. We spent six hours on the golf course, and that's a long day. We're going to go a lot faster today. You know, I made sure this morning when we were in the midst of the photographs, the team photos, as the players were peeling off individually, I called them back, and we all kind of huddled right in the middle of the picture taking.

I wanted to make sure that they understood that today was still about preparation, that I didn't want them to lose focus. I reminded them that yesterday was going to be the hardest day. The first day is always the toughest. It was a long day.

This is not a sprint; this is a marathon. It's a long week, and to remain focused on preparing, I wanted them to think really clearly about the golf course, about which holes they liked, about how much they liked alternate-shot and who they thought would be a good partner for them. And I'm going to get some of that feedback this evening from the players.

This is a group effort. We're making this a group effort, and I think today is the day when we start to really take in earnest player input. So that's probably why they're a little more focused, alternate-shot, plus they're playing a game.

Q. Talking to some of the guys this morning like Stricker and Chad Campbell about alternate-shot, and Chad was saying that he played alternate-shot last time and didn't have a meaningful putt for about 13 holes. That's the kind of thing that happens. Can you go back and maybe look at some of those types of things that happened when you were playing in it, and how do you prepare young players who haven't played it for those types of things?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: There's no way to prepare for it. It's like -- a guy like Andrew Magee who hits 15 greens in regulation the first 15 holes, and then all of a sudden he's got his first chip shot of the day and he hasn't hit a chip shot since three hours earlier. You've got to deal with it. How many times have you hit a ball on the putting green and you haven't hit a putt since the day before.

They're all big boys. I don't see it as an issue. The main key is we can't practice now after holes because of some of the stuff that was going on in the past and kind of an exploitation of practice time after putts had been holed or holes were finished. It's just one of those things. Both sides have to deal with it.

Q. You've talked about Sergio Garcia's energy and positivity for the European side, and yesterday we heard Phil Mickelson talk repeatedly about your energy and your leadership. My question is, what is it that you see the team responding to from you and your energy and your positivity? It sounds like as you're moving forward through the week, your leadership is giving them something extra. Can you talk about that, please?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: We have a plan. You know, we have a plan in place. Our first night was a big night and we discussed a lot of things, about how I wanted to approach this. Everybody is on board. We're all sold out, and we're all committed to one cause.

We're not talking about winning and losing, we're talking about other things like preparation and getting ready and mindset and that sort of thing.

You know, without being specific -- I can't be specific about anything that we're doing at this point. It's no big deal. There's no great secrets. But I came in here with a concept. It's a secret.

Q. You said you'd like to have some of the players who are playing so far this week or all the players. Has there been any one player in particular who's really impressed you so far?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Who's impressed me so far? J.B. Holmes has been unbelievable. He's played terrific. Kenny Perry has been played great; Mickelson. They're all hitting it great.

I think my dilemma is to figure out who I'm going to leave out the first morning. That's really the problem I'm having at this point.

But again, I can't stress enough that it doesn't matter to me really all that much what's going on Monday, Tuesday. I'd rather have the players playing well than playing poorly. But essentially you just wait until the last minute to make a call. But I'm really happy with the way things are going so far.

Q. Is there anyone playing poorly right now?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I don't think there's one guy that's playing poorly right now. I mean, you know, that's a pretty nice problem to have. Everyone is playing pretty well. If somebody was playing poorly, you have a format in place where you can hide anybody you want. I mean, four guys don't play the first day; they sit. That's just the way it is. If you had three guys playing poorly, you could wait until Sunday to play them. That's just not the case.

Q. I heard and was not surprised to hear that you've got a foosball table in there. I'm wondering, I know you've played in tournaments and you're probably one of the best foosball guys in your region of Florida --

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No, I'm not (laughing). I'm the best in my house.

Q. Really, is that it?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, I can dominate the kids that come over from my neighborhood.

Q. Somebody said you'd probably be the king of the team room if somebody was to take you on, and you've probably won more money playing foosball than all the other guys in that room combined. How did you come to arrive upon that, and I heard a story you might have actually sprained your wrist and missed a tournament along the way?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I've never had a foosball injury, I'm proud to say. I know one player on this Tour that did have a foosball injury, and I told him I should be the only guy he ever told that to. I won't tell you. I'm heads and tails the most dominant foosball figure in this room. Every night, I own everybody to the point that they won't gamble with me; so I've generated zero revenue for my children's college fund.

Am I one of the best foosball players in our area? No, I'm not. My old caddie, Ted Scott, who caddies for Bubba Watson, was a World Foosball Champion as an amateur. I asked him to teach me how to play foosball. I played it in high school and college and got away from it like everybody else in this room.

I think Pac-Man put foosball out of the way. There's an underground foosball. You can go on foosball.com and find foosball in every city in the country. I do that. As a matter of fact, when I got here on Saturday, I had a friend text message me that he was coming to the tournament and that there was a foosball party, on all-day foosball party on Saturday, and they were barbecuing and kegs of beer and the whole deal.

I said, "Cool, text me the guy's number. I will call him when I get in town."

I called him a little later than I wanted, and I called him, he said: "We've got a tournament, it's a pick your partner, it's a blind draw, whatever it was. We're running another one soon."

Dinner ran late. I called him at 9:30, he gave me directions over the phone, and we probably got -- it was 13 miles out of town, and I rolled into this -- it was like a crack house for foosball players (laughter). I swear to God, there wasn't a stick of furniture in his house. There was people willy-nilly all over the place.

I don't think anyone is in that house during the week; that they just go out and hang out on the weekends and have a big time. It was a little bit like Silence of the Lambs walking in the basement going down there to play foosball. There was 25 people in there, nobody smoked downstairs, it was really hot, had this eerie lighting, concrete block walls, and here I roll in, here comes the captain, and I promise you, not five people knew who I was. They were all totally sweating and totally into their foosball deal.

I played foosball for an hour and a half on Saturday and I got home after that, something like that. I am a total foosball junkie. I'd like to see foosball get back on ESPN or X Games or something like that, because it is a tremendous game that requires a tremendous amount of skill.

It's a hand-eye game, and I would like to see somebody pick it up. We'll see. Maybe this will help. I can't believe I spent ten minutes on foosball. I'm really sorry. I want to apologize to all of you about that.

My foosball game, honestly, is very -- when I go down there and play with guys like that, I actually held my own, but they figure me out and I end up getting shut down by most people.

Q. You said J.B. was playing well. Did you see him hit it on the range this morning when everybody stopped to watch?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No, but everybody stops to watch. It's an anomaly what he can do.

For any of you who have been to the Innisbrook course, the driving range there is kind of a downhill driving range and there's a greenback there to keep balls from bouncing into this pond. The pond is a pretty substantial pond and there's pines on the over side of the pond, and J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson were having a driving contest and everybody stopped to watch.

I was killing drives, I'm not short, and I'm bouncing them into the green fence short of the pond. He's flying it 60, 70 yards, 80 yards. He hit it 100 yards past Jim Furyk yesterday on 16.

You know, it's fun to watch. There's never been anything like it. There's two guys that really honestly no one has ever seen the likes of it before, Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes.

Q. On the screen out there, they've been showing you and Faldo in a poker competition for Golf Channel. Could you tell us what happened?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: In the poker? Yeah, I mean, poker can be a total blind luck, which of course he -- I make a big raise, he calls with ten-deuce and I've got ace-king and of course a ten hits or a deuce hits and he beat me.

Next question. He was lucky.

Q. They also had a fishing competition.

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Once again, I caught the biggest fish, I caught the most fish, dumped twice as many fish, and he beat me. So you had the biggest fish combined and he beat me by a little bit.

And then of course the one that really mattered was golf, and of course I win that one. We all knew that would probably happen, right? We had fun doing it. It was exhibition all the way.

Q. You said one of the things you wanted the players doing today is thinking about who they might want to play with in alternate-shot. Given the fact that you've had the same foursomes together two days in a row, is it a pretty good guess that your pairings will come out of those foursomes?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: If you're starting to see a pattern? Is that what you're telling me?

Q. Yes.

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, there's a pattern developing. Yeah, probably. I mean, common sense would tell you that.

To tell you the truth, I honestly wrote down pairings before I even picked my four players. I already had an idea how I wanted to fill out my team.

I've got the first day's pairings done, but they're subject to change.

Q. I know you've said that you don't see a lot of positives, or any positives, in not having Tiger Woods here, but as you know, in history and sports, teams have risen up missing a quarterback, the Miami Dolphins way back with Earl Morrall. Can you find any positives at all in trying to rally a team when someone of the stature of Tiger Woods is missing?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: We haven't really delved into that at all. We haven't talked about the fact that he's not here. It's been so long since we've known he wasn't going to be a part of this, really since the Tuesday after the U.S. Open in June, so there hasn't been any discussion of that.

I honestly still can't tell you how you can paint a positive picture for the greatest player on earth to not be here. It's a huge blow, and I really wish he was on the team.

I mean, it's one of the things I'm going to miss the most is not being able to spend time with the likes of a Tiger Woods, and it's unfortunate. But the only positive I could see that could come from that is that maybe the Europeans have fed on the fact that Tiger was on the team in the past and got maybe a little more up.

But that's not to suggest that Europe is not going to be up for this. I can just see where it would really fuel those guys to want to beat him.

But from our other perspective, I don't see a way to paint a positive picture in any way. I hear what you're saying, I just don't see it working that way.

Q. Back to alternate-shot. I have two questions on this. What various issues do you weigh when you're trying to determine who you match up in alternate-shot? And the second question would be when a guy like J.B. Holmes has so much more, different power than someone else, does that create problems for you, and how would you look at that issue?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I see no problem with the power J.B. Holmes has, other than that if he hits it off-line it goes further off-line. That's always the problem the bombers have had in the past. I see nothing but positives out of his length and his power. I.

Believe that a lot of the light games or opposite games can work well in that combination of alternate-shot, but I believe as important are personality types, and I believe that personalities play a big role in putting players together.

Q. Both Kenny Perry had spent some time here last week charting all the greens, playing the golf course a couple days, J.B. Holmes has known this course for a long time. How much are they involved or helping you in any way, shape or form trying to give that information to the players in regards to the conditions and different things you might want to try to do on the golf course during the matches?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: At this point we haven't gotten into talking about the golf course in the team room too much. I want everybody to get comfortable on the golf course. Kenny and J.B. know it better than anybody.

J.B. knows it better than anybody. He's taking lines that nobody even is looking at, and he's hitting it well. He's just doing things that are super-human at this point.

We just haven't gotten into that yet. Tonight is the night. I told them today that we're going to talk about the golf course tonight. We have a lot going on tonight with the gala dinner, but hopefully we'll get back early enough and we'll hang out in the team room a little bit, and I'll be picking some brains with respect to that. Everybody likes the way the course is set up. I think both sides really like the way the course is set up. I'm giving the players an opportunity to play.

On the Tour, we have a lot of elbow injuries and wrist injuries and some shoulders because I just think the rough has been too deep week-in and week-out on a regular basis. This is the week I want players to have the ability to play golf and enjoy the fact that they're here. It's a stressful enough week without being handcuffed off the tee because the rough is four and a half inches or so deep. My belief is that I want everybody to have a chance to play, and the best players will win in the end.

I like the way we hit irons -- what would be the worst thing I could do with a team that plays great iron shots is handcuff them out of the rough. That's my philosophy.

I don't feel -- the rough is not short or anything because we have a power advantage. I think equally, we're equally yoked in power, both teams.

So I'm looking to let our guys play golf, that's it. But we have not come together yet to talk about the course, but so far everybody likes the way the course is set up.

Q. A number of your players are talking about the crowd and the noise they're making, the impact they're having on them. Is that on the increase, do you think, and how important will it be over the three days?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Well, it helps. It's like The K Club; the crowd was so energized there. It was hard to watch as an American player, but it was the right -- it was the way it should be.

I think what you're going to see here is the same kind of energy and maybe even a greater energy from this crowd, and if we play well, I think the energy will be pretty intense. I really look forward to a boisterous crowd that's having a lot of fun, and hopefully the more enthusiastic the better. But kind of up to us to play well.

Q. When you do your pairings, how much are you thinking about what he's going to put out there to try to match him up, or do you not think about that and you just roll them out there and it falls where it may?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: With J.B.?

Q. I mean what Faldo does.

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Oh, Faldo?

Q. How much do you think about matching your guys up to his, if at all?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I believe that there was a time when it was important to look for certain players in Ryder Cup. You know, we tried to find Seve and tried to find Faldo or Montgomerie, and they tried to find Tiger and Phil maybe in spots. But I don't believe that -- these two teams I don't believe anybody is looking for anybody.

I haven't given the European Team anything that they might be considering any consideration whatsoever. I'm really just focused on trying to get my team ready and get them prepared. I honestly have not even -- I haven't spied on them. I think they've got a couple spies following us around a little bit, but that's okay (smiling).

Q. Nick Faldo has a sports psychologist who does some work with him out here. Do you have something similar and can you imagine the stresses of captaincy make that sort of role important?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Are you asking me if I have a sports psychologist hanging with us?

Q. With you, because of the stresses of captaincy.

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Well, I'm going to tell you what. The stress of being a captain is far less than the stress of being a player, I can assure you of that. I feel no stress as the captain at this point, none whatsoever.

I do have a lot of people that are in my camp that are helping me.

Q. I recognize it's a different competition, but the past four Presidents Cups, the Americans are unbeaten, and they've beaten a very good International, Team kind of lopsidedly. It's a reverse of the results we see in this competition. Why do you think that is?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I'm not sure why that is. The one obvious to me is that The Presidents Cup has had a one-year system. The Ryder Cup has had a two-and-a-half-year system. That's a big difference. But we changed the system. That's one big difference.

Other than that, I don't know what to tell you. I really don't know. I don't know. Sometimes I don't know is the only answer you're going to get.

Q. Returning to the crowd issue, you talked about how much of a help they can be to you. We've seen that Europeans are trying something of a charmed offensive out there?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Charming the crowd?

Q. They're signing lots of autographs as they're hitting balls out there. Do you think there's anything they can do to win over a home crowd, or do you have to accept that they're on the wrong end of it on Friday?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Well, they should start out on the wrong end of it if they play well on Friday, just like any home team. You can quiet a crowd.

Q. Boo Weekley showed what a character he is in here yesterday. What does he bring to the team?

CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I'll tell you what, he was hysterical. I don't know how many of you were in here to hear Boo Weekley yesterday, but when he came out about what I can come bait with anybody, I don't know if that's a word, and if it is I don't know how to spell it. He's hysterical.

He hasn't become like the mascot Woody Austin was at this point, but Boo Weekley brings a great golf game to this team. That's what I'm looking for. We're all pretty loose and comfortable in the team room. I want a guy to play well. Boo Weekley is playing great. Hits it good every day.

KELLY ELBIN: U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain Paul Azinger. Thank you very much.

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