US believe underdog status is a boost
U.S. captain Paul Azinger believes his team have everything to gain by going into this week’s Ryder Cup as underdogs against holders Europe.
The Americans have lost the last three matches in the biennial team competition, and five of the last six, and will be without Tiger Woods for the first time since he made his Cup debut in 1997.
“The Europeans have brought an incredible team over here and we have a great opportunity to change it,” Azinger told a news conference at the Kentucky Exhibition Center after the European side landed at Louisville airport on Monday.
“We have everything to gain in this situation. Not a lot of people expect us to pull this off, minus Tiger Woods. Everybody feels pressure but hopefully they (my players) will be free wheeling out there. That’s my hope.”
European captain Nick Faldo felt the absence of the injured Woods could spark the Americans in their bid to win the trophy for the first time since 1999.
“The American team might want to show the rest of the golfing world, the rest of America and maybe Tiger, that they can play and they can perform better and they can win without him,” the English former world number one said.
“On my side, I reckon this is the one (Ryder Cup) that Tiger was going to play a blinder and win every match. I think they have lost out on a few points.”
Both captains agreed the partisan crowd at Valhalla Golf Club could be a pivotal factor when the 37th Ryder Cup starts on Friday with the opening foursomes matches.
“The most obvious thing is the crowd support will be a bigger percentage, 25 percent Europeans here to 75 percent American fans,” Faldo said.
Azinger has two Kentucky natives, Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, in his 12-man team and is banking on them to trigger huge roars.
“I might put them out first day, first match, to get everybody going,” he said with a smile. “We’ll see.
“The message to the crowd is: ‘Be enthusiastic, raucous, crazy if you like but keep it all within the realm of good sportsmanship’.
“The local fans are already motivated. If I could hand pick any place in the country, this would probably be the spot.”
Faldo and Azinger have played in 15 Ryder Cups between them but they each experienced very different feelings in the build-up to their first as captain.
“I was more nervous as a player coming in trying to figure out the golf course and who I would be playing with, stuff like that,” said Azinger, who has competed in four Ryder Cups.
“As a captain, I feel like I’ve got the lion’s share of my work behind me. I don’t feel a lot of stress or pressure.”
Faldo played in the last of 11 Ryder Cups in 1997.
“As a captain, your golf clubs are in your mind,” he said. “There’s a lot of thinking. You’ve got to prepare yourselves for team meetings and all sorts of strategy.
“The players here, they have a very simple goal. They are itching to get out on the golf course and get out and play.”