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As U.S. Ryder Cup slump deepens, PGA looks to Azinger, new strategy for success

By S. Adam Cardais,
Contributor

Ryder Cup LogoSomething needs to change if the Americans are going to stand a chance of beating Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup Matches - something the PGA of America and Paul Azinger understand.

The Europeans have won eight of the last 11 Ryder Cups, including the 18½-9½ whipping they handed America at this year's event at the K Club in Ireland.

So when the PGA of America introduced Azinger as captain of the 2008 U.S. team at a Nov. 6 press conference, succeeding Tom Lehman, it also introduced a few changes to the system used for selecting the squad, doubling the number of captain's picks and weighing performance in the run-up to the event more heavily.

Azinger, a cancer survivor and four-time Ryder Cup player, had a hand in the changes, asking the PGA of America to consider giving him more captain's picks when he was approached about taking over the team.

"I'm going to get the blame if it doesn't work," he said. "I would like some of the credit if it does."

If Azinger seems sanguine in the face of the challenge of resuscitating a flat-lined team, that's because by all appearances he is. The former PGA Championship winner said yesterday that U.S. players should have a "nothing-to-lose" approach in 2008. Nick Faldo, skipper for the Europeans in 2008, will have to contend with higher expectations, he added.

The next Ryder Cup matches will be contested in America, at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Azinger will want to win at home, and the PGA of America no doubt wants the same.

At the announcement press conference, Azinger and PGA officials talked about the captaincy choice, the new team-selection system and U.S. chances in 2008.

Roger Warren, president of the PGA of America, on Azinger:

"The Ryder Cup captain has to be an individual who understands, first of all, what the Ryder Cup means to the game of golf, what the Ryder Cup means to the PGA of America, what it means to this country."

So when we go out and we look for a Ryder Cup captain, we look for someone who's had that experience, who's had quality experience and who understands the relationship between the Ryder Cup, the game of golf and the PGA of America.

We asked Paul Azinger to be the Ryder Cup captain because we know he understands the Ryder Cup. We say to Paul, we challenge him to continue to lead the Ryder Cup in the way that it continues to be, the greatest event in golf, to hold the high standards of the Ryder Cup, of the PGA of America and finally, to play to win.

Azinger on being chosen:

"I just want to say that it is, I think, the greatest honor that you can bestow on a professional golfer to ask him to captain a Ryder Cup team, and I'm awestruck by it, and I really appreciate the opportunity and your confidence in me."

Warren on changes to the selection process:

"We did have a lot of conversations about this between now and the last Ryder Cup. We spent time talking to Paul, we spent time talking to past Ryder Cup captains. We knew that if we had won the last Ryder Cup, the system that we used would have been great because we won, but we can't sit back and look at it and say we can continue doing the same thing."

Azinger on changes to the selection process:

"I think that one of the most important things that we've done is evaluate the selection process for 2008. I just hope that this is a process that will ensure that we have the hottest and best Americans on this Ryder Cup team.

For me to be able to get four picks is fantastic. I like the idea that I don't have to pick them immediately after the PGA Championship. I think that that's just a little too soon, and to be given the luxury to wait one, two, three, four weeks, I don't know, we'll determine that, but I think that I have an opportunity that no other Ryder Cup captain has had, and I really appreciate that."

Azinger on U.S. prospects in 2008:

"I believe in the very end the responsibility is going to fall on the players, and hopefully they'll be comfortable and hopefully we'll have a little more of a nothing-to-lose and everything-to-gain attitude coming into this Ryder Cup.

I believe for the first time ever on American soil we're going to be the underdogs. I don't think I'm overstating that. … The European Ryder Cup team is fantastic, and they have been for a long time, and it's about time that we genuinely recognize that fact."

Azinger on Faldo:

"He is in a little bit of a tough spot. I mean, when your team wins [five out of six], you're expected to win. … I have more of an everything-to-gain, I think, situation than he's in. There's going to be a little more heat on Nick to get it right, and I think a little more of the microscope will be on Nick if he gets it wrong."

 
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