Paul Azinger is an interviewers dream, but not for all of the obvious reasons – yes, he’s a MajorChampion, Ryder Cup Captain and PGA Tour vet of nearly 30 years. He’s gone head to headagainst many of the fiercest competitors of his era: Faldo, Seve, Norman and he more thanheld his own. It’s Paul’s casual and engaging personality along with his confident views – thatmade the conversation among the most enjoyable to date. Azinger’s face lights up at thethought of the times spent with fallen friend Payne Stewart.
To be honest I could talk golf with Paul Azinger for hours, hopefully we’ll all get to see moreof him (than just once a year doing the Open Championship for ABC) in the future . . . thereare very few analysts in the biz with Azinger’s talent and insight.We sat down on April 29th, 2014 before the opening ceremony for the Concession Cup.
LinksNation: Haven’t seen you much since your captaincy at the 2008 Ryder Cup, where have you been?
Azinger: I stayed with ESPN and kept my card the year they left and now there’s no place to be. We do the British Open every year . . . I think we do a hell of job when you consider all of the producers and directors we have pushing buttons on that broadcast.
LN: That was quite an Open Championship last year, your take . . .
Azinger: It was awesome wasn’t it! Every year is like that. For Mickelson to win it – was good for us, and now it looks like Tiger might be back (for this years Open Championship).
LN: As talented as you are as an analyst, are you looking to do more? Has there been any offers?
Azinger: There’s no place for me to be right now, I’m happy right where I am. I like my limited work load, I go to bed at night thinking about how much I’d like to wake up and drink coffee on my back porch (laughter) . . . what could be better than that.
LN: When I was here about a year ago, our caddie told us you have the course record here at Concession Golf Club – shooting 65, it’s a tough course . . .
Azinger: It was a lot harder when I shot that score, let me tell ya. For example on #9, if the pin was over on the right, your ball could be on the green and trickle off into the Palmettos . . . they’ve cut the Palmettos way back and have taken so many of them outta here. The course is 2-3 shots easier than it was, I’m not kidding and it’s still really hard. It’s more scoreable for some reason now, it seems like it’s matured a little bit . . . there’s a little more room, I’m more used to it, maybe that’s it. I was 5 under thru 12 the other day, and I hadn’t played in 4 weeks . . . I’m still probably 500 or 600 over par here. That’s no BS, it’s that hard. If I go to Gator Creek which is respectable, I’m probably 400 or 500 under par over there . . . the complete opposite.
If you hook the ball, this place probably isn’t that hard a course, which is the antithesis of a Nicklaus design, there isn’t a hole out here where you can’t really hook it. My agent came here just after it opened, he was a 4 handicap at Gator – fairways & greens were rock hard, bunkers didn’t have much sand in them . . . perfect for dropkicks right over the green, just brutal around the greens. I said I’ll bet $100 you can’t break 100, he’s says “Buddy c’mon, 100!”, he says ok like he’s just gonna steal from me. John Huston was with us, that day. My agent (Tom) shot 50 on the front and chipped in on the last hole for a 56 on the back – 106! (laughing as he recalls the moment with former agent Tom Elliot)
LN: You’re the Honorary Chairperson of the 1st Concession Cup Matches, will you be giving a speech later today?
Azinger: Apparently. I might read something, but I think the most enjoyable part of the evening will be when Gary Koch has Tony Jacklin and Jack Nicklaus on stage telling stories and talking.
LN: Any plans for people to see you play any golf at all ?
Azinger: I’m still not ruling out that I might play golf, I promise. I told my wife the other day that I’m hitting it good enough now that I might just committ on a Friday and slip into town on a Wednesday, but I don’t know. I could honestly still play Bay Hill, Jack’s tournament, the PGA, there’s alot of places I could still play. I’m exempt for the Champions Tour . . . why don’t I go out there? I just wake up with dread of the idea of packing and getting on a plane and preparing and practicing. The guys that do it are so completely sold out, so good still . . . to think that I could somehow because I played how ever long my career was – to think I could just go out there and be competitive is probably an assumption that’s not really realistic.
LN: How are those guys still doing it at that age, week to week, month to month, city to city at 55-60 years old?
Azinger: Lack of hobbies (laughter erupts), I was thinking of taking up cigar smoking and drinking 18 yr old scotch . . . I got out there and these guys are all practicing till dark, and I was like what the hell?! In all truthfulness, I look down the driving range and see a bunch of Hall of Famers who are more committed than me, that’s the truth.
LN: You’ve taken some heat in the past about some Twitter posts, fair or unfair?
Azinger: I laid off Twitter, because I just didn’t think it was helping me any to be honest about the way I felt about things. As soon as you say something political then you’ve divided yourself along party lines. Common sense thinking is really shunned, atleast that’s how it appears to me. If you read my timeline for the last nine months there isn’t much on there.
LN: Switching gears to a topic the golf world just can’t get enough opinions on, does Tiger catch Jack and break his record (19 majors)?
Azinger: I dreamed about it last night, I dreamed that he did.
LN: REALLY! Do tell . . .
Azinger: I always said that he would catch Jack, but now I’m not so sure. With a bad back, if he was a little more transparent it would be a little easier to give an answer. If he had a leaky disc or bone fragments or something and had to have surgery . . . but if his back was just bugging him and it was bulging like every other human being who’s walking the face of the earth, then he jumped the gun. I don’t know if he did or not, I don’t know the answer to that. Will he catch Jack, It’s hard to say he can’t when you look at Vijay Singh – who had the better part of his career in his 40’s, but Vijay wasn’t having surgeries. I tend to think he will not, and a big part of the reason that I think he will not is because of his self image more than anything. He is no longer revered like he was, he is no longer considered the most disciplined athlete on the planet as he was. He is no longer intimidating as he walks onto the tee as he was. All of the things that he was, he is no longer . . . but I think the most damaging aspect of that is dealing with the emotion of shame – it’s the worst human emotion. Possibly low self esteem comes with that . . . I don’t know. You see him wearing sunglasses on the course, I don’t think he feels good about himself – that’s just me. He never did before because he wanted to cut holes through you with his eyes. The physical issues are where he’s not very transparent, on the emotional side he’s not even a sniff of what he used to be – that’s probably why he won’t do it. I just don’t think he’ll do it, and I think it’s more emotional then physical.
LN: Is Watson going to pick him (Tiger won’t qualify on points) ?
Azinger: He said he would. I think you have to pick him, he’s still the best player in the world. I think it would be almost impossible not to pick him. A hurt Tiger might be better than a healthy 13th player, I don’t know.
LN: In my interview with Ben Crenshaw last year, I asked him if he’d consider another Ryder Cup Captaincy, he said categorically no. He related his thoughts about the Country Club, the history with Ouimet in 1913 and the remarkable comeback they had in ’99 . . . he just felt like he could never write a better story than that – all valid reasons to rest on his memory from Brookline. Your thoughts if you were to get the nod again, like Watson this year?
Azinger: I would say probably not, but I wouldn’t say categorically no. I would only do it over there. I wouldn’t mind the challenge of taking it on over there . . . because that’s a whole other world over there. I think that we would be heavy underdogs with everything to gain. I would drum into their heads that they’re being underestimated and that there is no shortcut to success. I would consider it, but personally I think if I was ever the captain again it would have to be about 10 years from now.
A rare sight: An American Ryder Cup Captain celebrating with the trophy – Azinger did in 2008 at Valhalla
LN: Would you stay with the pod system ? (Azinger used a military style scheme that utilized like personality types into 3 separate groups of 4, it was a huge success at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla).
Azinger: I’d probably do it there, but with a slight tweaking. I have some other ideas about how I would take on the team building concept there, team building is the key. I wrote that book “Cracking the Code”, it wasn’t arrogantly written – it was a reality. It’s razor thin, the difference between winning and losing a Ryder Cup. They’re advantage, they’re intangible to us is that they’re bonded by nationality in small groups. The Irishmen will play together, as will the Spaniards, as will the Englishmen – they all do. The U.S Navy seals team build in small groups, they take 12 guys and break them into small groups of four, or 30 guys and break them into six groups of five and they get them to sell out for each other. That was my philosophy, and the extra step was – we used personality profiling just through observation together based on Myers Briggs/DISC concept of team building, which was to use green light personalities. Guys that process information the same . . . we threw best friends out the window, threw like games out the window and went strictly on personality types. I put them together based on personality types, then gave them ownership of their groups. I created three/three man teams . . . I had 4 picks. I picked Stricker, now I’ve got 9 players (8 qualified and 1 pick). 9 players – each of the 3 man teams I let them pick who would fill out their team. They frickin loved each other! They choose who filled out their group, and they were so sold out for each other. Furyk made a comment, he said “It’s the only time I’ve ever gone to a Ryder Cup where I wasn’t so much concerned about my game as I was to make the others round me better.” What better message than that?
LN: The PGA didn’t tap into that (philosophy)?
Azinger: They knew what I was doing.
LN: Perhaps, but why not bring that concept along to future teams?
Azinger: Because they give the captain that authority. I never talked to Corey Pavin . . . he didn’t give a crap what I did, he didn’t care. Not like over in Europe, they’re talking to each other over there. I talked alot to Davis (Love) and they kicked ass in the team game. We talked, where they lost their edge – I don’t know. Something happened magically for Europe . . .
LN: I was there, it felt like divine intervention from Seve . . . just nuts.
Azinger: As far as the team concept, Davis applied it. They were ahead four points, team concept is the code. The code is they are bonded by nationality in small groups and are so sold out for each other. That’s the way it is, if there is any crossover – they’re best friends.
LN: Crenshaw mentioned to me when we talked, that Payne was the soul of that ’99 team . . . what do you think the Ryder Cup meant to him?
Azinger: Payne just loved the Ryder Cup more than anything, he had a passion for it.
LN: I know you were one of his closest friends, what do you miss most about him?
Azinger: Being able to give him crap (ridicule), and to have him give it back to me. Just hangin out, he just was fun . . . he liked to party. He was naive, he would say stuff that got him in trouble all the time, not out of ignorance or being opinionated – just naive. I used to love to be able to call him and tell him he was a dumb ass (Zinger breaks into laughter at the memory). What a golf game, who knows what he would have accomplished by the time it was over, if that was his mountain top at the U.S Open or if he would have carried on from there. A confident guy is hard to beat, take away a guys confidence and he never thinks he’ll get it back, when he gets it he never thinks he’ll lose it.
LN: What’s next up for Paul Azinger?
Azinger: I’m writing a book. I’m thinking it’s going to reveal three age old (golf swing) fundamentals that have been missed. 100% missed, one for sure that has been missed. I look at every single player that is in the Hall of Fame or even on the PGA Tour – you can put a bag over their head and identify who they are . . . because every golf swing is a fingerprint – except for three things, so I’m writing that book. It’s going to be called “Swing Simple”. Then after that, I’m not sure. I’d like to travel the Oregon Trail, or the Transamerica Crossing of the United States – all off road on my motorcycle. Golf wise I still may go play, but I don’t know.
LN: Does the flame still go in an out?
Azinger: Yeah, like if I went out there today and hit the sweetspot all day long – I think it’s stupid not to go play. When I was out here the other day with my friends and they’re good players, they’re saying “Why aren’t you out playing? Why don’t you play!?” It’s one thing to do it here, it’s something else to do it out there. Trust me, you can kick ass at home, but it’s a different thing to go out there and do it when that bell rings – it’s different. I know what it’s like when that bell rings . . . I just know what it’s like. It’s not easy, when some guy says “Oh yeah, I know so and so he probably could have played the tour” and I’m thinking I don’t know man, I just don’t know . . . it’s hard. I was out there 28 years with a homemade grip and a hatchet swing. There are thousands of guys that hit it good, thousands of guys . . . but there are only handfuls of guys that can play competitively at that level and travel – get comfortable with that suitcase, babies & wife. You have to learn the courses . . . missing 3 cuts in a row and feeling like you’re losing it all, entourages, fitness . . . it’s like a whole other life for me. Once you get out of that, it’s like WOW!
Special thanks to Tom Sprouse & Jane Dally