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The Ryder Cup: How Did Azinger Do It?

USA captain Paul Azinger and his team celebrate winning the Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club.  (Paul Childs, Action Images)
USA captain Paul Azinger and his team celebrate winning the Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club. (Paul Childs, Action Images)

Each week the fast-approaching Ryder Cup, scheduled for September in Scotland, comes more into focus. Lately, on the American side of the pond, there has been much interest in U.S. captain Tom Watson’s strategies between now and the time his roster becomes complete.

Here’s my advice for Watson:

Talk to Paul Azinger. And then talk to him some more.

Azinger captained the last American team to capture a Ryder Cup, a pulsating 16½-to-11½ win against a European side captained by Nick Faldo, a guy who couldn’t even pronounce all his team member’s names correctly at the opening ceremonies.

Let’s look at the team Azinger took to Valhalla and led to victory. And let’s drill down on what those players are doing now.

Kenny Perry – current world rank: 1,048
Chad Campbell – current world rank: 413
Ben Curtis – current world rank: 367
Stewart Cink – current world rank: 159
Anthony Kim – current world rank: T1,529
Justin Leonard – current world rank: 168
Boo Weekley – current world rank: 70
J. B. Holmes – current world rank: 242

Of the other four players on that Yank side (Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker), all are ranked worse now than they were at the end of 2013.

No one could, or would have predicted this mass slide.

Yes, 2008 was six years ago. But it wasn’t that long ago.

And yes injuries have played a role in the regressions of, most notably, Kim, Weekley, and Holmes. Perry has moved on to success on the Champions Tour.

Still, Tiger Woods’ knee injury kept him from even being considered for Azinger’s team.

Azinger’s now-famous “pod” system was the main strategic reason given for the togetherness that worked so well for the Americans that week in 2008, even though stalwart Stricker contributed just half a point.

The Euros reasserted their dominance in 2010 in Wales when the Yanks couldn’t even get their rain suits to work, and then again at Medinah in 2012 when a late-Sunday European surge spoiled a lot of hard work done by American captain Davis Love III.

And the Europeans will be favored again at Gleneagles later this year.

Tom Watson knows his onions. But he can be stubborn at times to a fault. He needs to pick up the phone. And if he already has, he needs to call Azinger again and ask how in the hell he pulled it off.

Looking back now at Valhalla now with the benefit of hindsight, what Azinger and his players and their system achieved in 2008 is beginning to look like one of the great upsets in golf history.


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