Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Paul Azinger

Paul Azinger won a major, beating Greg 
 Norman in a playoff at the 1993 PGA Championship; overcame lymphoma in his right shoulder; and has enjoyed critical acclaim for his candor as a broadcaster.

Still, the 50-year-old's most enduring legacy may have been confirmed during a recent interview at a Chicago hotel restaurant, where two separate diners interrupted Zinger from his breakfast to thank him for his successful captainship at the 2008 Ryder Cup. "It's pretty nice," Azinger says of the gratitude, which he says he still receives just about everywhere he goes.

Relinquishing his captain's duties and the accompanying attention hasn't been easy, Azinger admits, but he has filled the hole with occassional rounds on the Champions Tour, guest spots on television, and writing and promoting his latest book, a tell-all about—what else?—his winning ways at the Ryder Cup. Azinger also makes time for two of his favorite pastimes, fishing and foosball.

We don’t recommend challenging him at either.

GM: Did you have a Ryder Cup letdown after it was all over?

Azinger: Yeah, a massive one. It was a two-year buildup to that crescendo moment. Even some of the players felt that. I think that’s natural when you win. Afterward, there weren’t a lot of offers for me, and I wanted to be busier. I even bought a crotch-rocket (sports car) and started driving around really fast. That’s how I got my rush for a while.

GM: Were you disappointed you didn’t get an encore captaincy for 2010?

Azinger: It’s like asking a woman right after she delivers a baby whether she wants to have another one—she’s probably going to say no. I didn’t want to be captain again right away, obviously, but as time wore on, I changed my mind and did kind of lobby for it. I thought, I can sit back and enjoy this or be a risk-taker and carry the flag to Europe in 2010. I decided to be a risk-taker, but I waited too long. By the time I called the PGA, they were already talking to Corey Pavin.

GM: How important was the U.S. win at Valhalla?

Azinger: It was pretty significant at the time. We were fighting two wars and gas was $4 a gallon. America was down in the dumps, the economy in a recession. For a few days, we weren’t Democrats and Republicans, we were all Americans.

GM: Will your Ryder Cup legacy be greater as a player or a captain?

Azinger: I don’t know. When I played in ’93, I had a feeling I was going to be a Ryder Cup captain someday. As a player, I was an overachiever. But as a captain, I might have been an overachiever, too. America had lost five of six coming in and won only four times in 25 years.

GM: Did you ever get over the fact that you broke through in ’87 but couldn’t play the Ryder Cup because you didn’t take a PGA of America business course?

Azinger: I still think about that. I had no idea that missing a sweater-folding class would keep me out of the Ryder Cup. Honestly, I’d heard of the Ryder Cup but I didn’t really know what it was then. In 1980, I couldn’t break 80 two days in a row, and suddenly in 1987, I was the player of the year. That was a big leap. All I was trying to do was get my card and get exempt. Then all of a sudden, I should’ve been on this team and I wasn’t. At the time, I didn’t know what I was missing.

GM: Should either of this year’s captains, Pavin or Colin Montgomerie, read Cracking the Code, your new book about your successful Ryder Cup strategy?

Azinger: I don’t think it would hurt. There’s a thin line between winning and losing, razor thin. The important thing to learn from this book is that the relationships trump the assets. It’s learning who these guys are and communicating with them according to their personalities. You don’t say the same thing to everybody and expect them all to react the same way.

GM: Any chance Monty will pick up your book?

Azinger: Oh, I think Monty will read the book, I really do. I don’t know if Corey will.

GM: Wasn’t it ironic that in your greatest Ryder Cup moment, you were missing the game’s greatest player?

Azinger: People ask me all the time, were you better off without Tiger Woods? I don’t know how you could think you would be. I missed having him there. I think he missed it, too. I told him a year and a half earlier how I was going to use this Navy Seals concept of breaking into small groups, either three four-man teams or four three-man teams. He loved it but was adamant it should be three four-man teams. Tiger was the main reason I wanted to be captain. I’d been thinking, Tiger is going to play 20 or so Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups, how can I do something really memorable for him? He would’ve been in the "redneck pod" with Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes and Boo Weekley. So I think it would’ve been a week he’d never have forgotten.

GM: Does the Tour have a Tiger-addiction problem?

Azinger: It seems so. The Tour has a marketing gap. You’ve got to market and promote more than one guy. Ratings drop 60 to 80 percent without Tiger. Well, that can’t be tolerated. You’ve got to create other brands, other players. Saturday at the Daytona 500 a couple of years ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. did $1.5 million in merchandise out of his trailer in one day. If John Daly wants to sell his brand, he has to take his trailer off site because he’s in competition with the PGA Tour. The players are really the brand, but the problem is, the PGA Tour wants to be the only brand.

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