Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Ryder Cup Questions With Paul Azinger

Paul Azinger, captain of the victorious 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team be part of ESPN’s 11-hour coverage on Friday. Before heading to Wales, Azinger talked with me. about what happened two years ago and what he expects this time.

Q: You had 12 PGA Tour wins including a PGA Championship. Where does being captain of a winning U.S. Ryder Cup team rank among your career achievements?

Azinger: It’s head and shoulders above anything else I ever experienced. To take on a leadership role and to represent the United States and those players, it was a gift, really.

Q: You had great success by putting players into four-man pods during the Ryder Cup, matching players with similar personalities. Is that evidence of how influential a captain can be in these matches?

Azinger: I believe the captain can set the tone and create the environment. My priority was to give them ownership. I didn’t feel it was my priority to dictate anything to them.

I asked them to prepare in small groups. I told them there are no short cuts to success but they were the best in the world.

I also told them to be aggressive and to show off for the crowd. I told them they were all big boys and I wasn’t going to be holding their hands.

Q: Do you agree with the perception that the U.S. is an underdog entering these matches?

Azinger: I do believe we’re underdogs for numerous reasons but not because of one glaring reason or one player. We’re playing in a different time zone and they’ll definitely have a home-course advantage.

I think our selection process got our best players there. I can’t argue to take one guy off our team but you could argue that you could take two players off the European team to put two others on.

Q: Some people questioned whether Tiger Woods belongs on the team. What do you think?

Azinger: I saw what some fans were thinking but he absolutely belongs. He’s the No. 1 player in the world. Colin Montgomerie was criticized for leaving the No. 7 player in the world off his team. When (Woods) is not at his best, he still beats virtually everybody.

Q: What are the three things that you’ll be looking closely at as the matches get underway?

Azinger: The first thing is the height of the rough. We have assembled what I think is the longest-hitting Ryder Cup team ever but they maybe aren’t the most accurate team. If the rough is high, it will neutralize their power.

The second thing is the significance of a good start by the American team. If that doesn’t happen, the hole they dig may be too deep.

And third, whoever is behind, I’ll look to see what kind of adjustments they make and will they be enough.