Paul Azinger changes US Ryder Cup selection methods
Paul Azinger took over the U.S. Ryder Cup team in more ways than one, persuading the PGA of America to give him four captain's picks and revamping the criteria so that money and majors determine who makes the team.
"I'm going to get the blame if it doesn't work," Azinger said Monday. "I would like some of the credit if it does."
Azinger, a former PGA champion and cancer survivor, was introduced as the next U.S. captain at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., where the 2008 matches will be played.
The changes were bold, and Azinger feels the Americans have nothing to lose. Europe has captured the Ryder Cup eight of the last 11 times, winning by its largest margin -- 18 1/2 -9 1/2 -- the last two times. Two months ago at The K Club, Europe became the first team to capture all five sets of matches.
Azinger wanted a qualifying process that would give him the best players, and it reflects his personality. He has often said during his 20-plus years on the PGA Tour that he got nervous only when cash or prestige were on the line.
"I just felt like it was time for money to be the barometer," Azinger said.
Under the new system, one point will be awarded for every $1,000 a player earns in the 2007 majors, and in regular PGA Tour events in 2008. Two points will be given for every $1,000 earned at the 2008 majors.
The PGA of America took care of one argument -- tournaments held opposite majors -- by offering only a half-point per $1,000 at those events. Last time, John Rollins nearly made the U.S. team by winning the B.C. Open, which was held the same week as the British Open.
Because the Ryder Cup points system was to begin after the PGA Championship in August, PGA president Roger Warren said players would be awarded one-fourth of a point for every $1,000 earned over the last 11 weeks.
The new system eliminates some glaring problems under the old criteria, when points were based on top-10 finishes.
Several players complained that they could finish 11th at the Masters and get nothing, while someone could finish ninth at the Houston Open and earn points. And with so many international players on the PGA Tour, there were some weeks when only a couple of U.S. players earned points.
Warren said only 58 percent of the Ryder Cup points were distributed last time.
Plus, it distinguishes between strong and weak events on the PGA Tour. Previously, a player earned as much from The Players Championship as he did an opposite-field event.
"The goal is to try to get to the point where Paul feels that he has the players that he needs to come to ... win the Ryder Cup," Warren said.
Azinger said no one would be assured of making the team starting the 2008 season because points will have been awarded only during the majors the first year. He thought that would make players feel as though they earned a spot on the team, instead of coasting for the final few months.
"That's better than what we had," said Scott Verplank, a captain's pick in 2002 and 2006 and one of the few Americans with a winning record. "Apparently, they spent some time on this and I commend them for trying to fix it. But I don't think anything is going to matter until we figure out how to play that game as a team."
"Zinger is a strong personality, somewhat of a free thinker," he added. "I think he'll be super."
He takes over from Tom Lehman, who played in 1995, 1997, and 1999, but was unsuccessful in his only stint as captain. Still to be decided is when Azinger will make his captain's picks.
The United States has never had more than two picks since 1989, and they were announced the morning after the PGA Championship.
Warren said the qualifying process again will end at the '08 PGA Championship, but that Azinger would have until Monday a week before the Ryder Cup to make his four picks.
Part of that is a massive change in the PGA Tour schedule. Starting next year with the new FedExCup competition, a "playoff" series begins two weeks after the PGA Championship, with three big tournaments leading to the Tour Championship. In 2008, the Ryder Cup will be held the week after the Tour Championship.
"I like the idea of being able to pick four players," Azinger said. "I like the idea that I don't have to pick them immediately after the PGA Championship. I have an opportunity that no other Ryder Cup captain has had, and I really appreciate that."
Azinger also said he was "awe-struck" to get the job. He played on four Ryder Cup teams and was 5-7-3, going 2-0-2 in singles while usually taking on Europe's best.
His counterpart at Valhalla will be six-time major winner Nick Faldo, who has earned more Ryder Cup points than any other European. Faldo and Azinger were golf analysts for ABC Sports the last two years, and they have a rivalry in the Ryder Cup, battling to a draw in a 1993 singles match that had no bearing on the outcome.
He was diagnosed with lymphoma in his shoulder after the Ryder Cup, and won only one more time on the PGA Tour the rest of his career.
Azinger said Faldo will be under more pressure trying to follow after Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam, all of whom guided Europe to victory.
"I've got more of an everything-to-gain situation," Azinger said. "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 on Nick if he gets it wrong."
November 7, 2006