GLENEAGLES, Scotland — Paul Azinger is not ruling out a return as Captain America in the Ryder Cup.
But that’s not what America needs.
And neither does Azinger.
His reputation only grows each time the Americans fail. Why would he want to risk that when there is no guarantee of reward? With so much focus on a dysfunctional U.S. team, it’s easy to overlook that Europe might have been the stronger side, anyway.
Azinger was in a Harley-Davidson bar in Florida on Sunday when the Ryder Cup ended. He answered his phone and said, “Dude, why is my Twitter blowing up?”
The reaction to such a resounding loss and embarrassing exit in the Ryder Cup was to bring back Azinger in 2016 at Hazeltine. So when Derek Sprague takes over as president of the PGA of America the weekend before Thanksgiving, Azinger should be the first person he calls.
Not to hire him. To listen to him.
Azinger might be the one person responsible for giving the Americans their best chance in a game that has gone global.
His greatest contribution had nothing to do with pods, rather how the team was chosen. He refused to take the captain’s job for 2008 unless the PGA of America agreed to toss out its outdated qualifying system in which points were rewarded only to the top 10 at PGA Tour events. That stopped working as the tour became populated with the best players from around the world.
And he somehow persuaded the PGA of America to copy the PGA Tour. The new qualifying system is just like the one used for the U.S. Presidents Cup team: based strictly on money dressed up as points. He also asked that the number of captain’s picks be doubled to four players.
That prompted Azinger to say, “If we win, I’ll go down as having the lowest I.Q. of any genius who ever lived.”
He sure looked like one. His system of “pods” was genius. Three groups of three qualifiers told Azinger whom they wanted as a captain’s pick (Steve Stricker was a pick but treated like a qualifier that year). They were accountable for each other as a pod, and ultimately a team.
Phil Mickelson referred to it as a “winning formula.” It’s more about the philosophy than the details.
And above all, it’s about team.
That’s what Europe has figured out. The Americans had that under Azinger. They also had it under Davis Love III, except that Europe had better putters at Medinah, and that works in any format golf is played.
But to identify the problem with the Americans is to study the team that keeps beating them. That starts with how the captain is selected.
Paul McGinley wasn’t chosen by a club pro.
The 12 players on the tournament committee for the European Tour put him forward as the captain. It’s the same system that selected Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie. It will change for 2016, but the same principle applies. Getting the players invested started with having everyone under the same flag.
The past three captains, one player from the tournament committee, and European Tour chief George O’Grady are on the panel that picks the 2016 captain.
How did PGA President Ted Bishop decide on Watson? Reading a book.
He was coming home from the boondoggle in Bermuda known as the PGA Grand Slam of Golf when he read a book by the late Jim Huber on Watson’s remarkable run at Turnberry in 2009, when he was an 8-foot putt away from winning the British Open at age 59. He called Huber about his “out-of-the-box” idea, and Huber loved it. Bishop consulted his officers, called Watson, and a year later took a chance.
“I think it’s important for the people to understand that the PGA of America has an obligation to try to pick and find the captain that we feel is going to put our team in the best position to win,” Bishop said when he introduced Watson as captain. “We feel he’s certainly the perfect person to do this, based on his playing record in Scotland.”
It’s hard to say which is more dreadful. That he would connect Watson’s playing record in Scotland with his ability to lead players half his age? Or that the PGA of America alone decides to should be captain?
Why not involve the players? Why not involve the past captains?
Europe has a formula that began under Tony Jacklin and has been used in various capacities by just about everyone except Nick Faldo, whom Azinger referred to as the “lone wolf.” Faldo brought his own system, and it was the one European loss in the past 15 years.
All of Europe seems to be involved in the Ryder Cup.
The PGA of America runs this show by itself, and there is a built-in disconnect because it has no involvement with PGA Tour players except at the PGA Championship every year, and the Ryder Cup every other year.
There is no continuity in America, even on the rare occasion when it wins.
The Ryder Cup is closely contested because the players are great. Even so, Europe has won eight of the past 10.
And unless something changes, the gap will only widen.