Long appreciated for his grit, Paul Azinger has always been a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t picked to win a major. He wasn’t supposed to come back from cancer and win again. No one expected him to become one of the most respected television analysts in the game and he certainly wasn’t supposed to upset Nick Faldo’s European Ryder Cup team at Valhalla in 2008.
Now in an exclusive interview, Azinger shares his thoughts with The Post’s Steve Eubanks on everything from Tiger and bad backs to the Ryder Cup and motorcycles.
THE POST Bad backs seem more prevalent now than ever before. Why is that?
AZINGER When I had back problems, every orthopedic specialist I spoke with pointed out that I had a bulging or herniated disc but also let me know that almost every human being in the world does as well. Sometimes the bulge protrudes enough that it strikes a nerve and the surrounding muscles spasm to protect the disc. That is very normal and something that you find in a large percentage of the general population regardless of whether or not they play golf. A ruptured disc is a much more serious and scary situation. That requires a surgical repair. But a bulging disc, which is what we keep hearing about, is quite common.
THE POST Every Ryder Cup year that the U.S. doesn’t win, you look better and better. Are you surprised that your successful pod strategy – breaking the 12-man team into three fourman units – hasn’t been more thoroughly embraced?
AZINGER Not really, because it was unique to me and to that team. Not everybody believes you have to go to such great lengths to create a good team atmosphere, and they might be right.
The American team last time (at Medinah in 2012) had it sewn up and let it get away on the last day. Davis (Love III) and I spent a lot of time talking and if you think back on the pairings, he put guys together in a very similar way. It was just never identified as the pod system. Whatever you called it, that team dominated the team portion of the competition. It was the collapse on Sunday in the singles that turned it in Europe’s favor.