Paul Azinger, the last man to lead a winning U.S. Ryder Cup team, talks Presidents versus Ryder pressure, and whether he’d be a captain again.
Why does the U.S. dominate the Presidents Cup and struggle at the Ryder Cup?
I think it’s pretty clear why. Europe is divided and bonded in small groups by nationality. And they partner up that way. You have the Spaniards who play together. The Englishmen. The Irishmen. The Swedes. They know each other—they’re bonded by blood. We’re just the Americans.
But we’re all Americans. That’s not bonding?
We’re 12 guys. They’re already in small groups. My strategy was to use the Navy SEALs concept to team-building. Take a large group of 12 and create the small groups. It’s unnatural for us, but it’s natural for Europe. And how unnatural is it for the International team? They’re from all over the globe. Koreans, Japanese, South Africans, Canadians. I think the fact that they’re scattered makes it more difficult for them. You can’t bond in three days. My philosophy, and I totally believe this, is that Europe is already bonded in small groups. You look skeptical. You think that’s bulls---?
Not necessarily, but I think you may be glossing over friendships among the Internationals. The Aussies are buddies. The South Africans get along well. These aren’t 12 total strangers.
There’s one guy from India on the team. There’s one Japanese guy on the team. They have language barriers. I just think it’s more difficult.
Do friendships produce that many points?
Yes, because nobody wants to let anybody down in Europe. There’s a different level of commitment to the party. I believe that’s what bonded our team [in 2008]. Nobody in any pod wanted to let the other guy down. They were bonded so well for each other. The Irishmen love each other. If you win a point for Ireland, it’s a big deal for them. Nobody wants to let anybody down. It’s just harder for the International team to bring these guys in from all over the globe and be sold out.
Is the U.S. team’s mentality different at a Presidents Cup?
When we show up at the Presidents Cup, we’re more relaxed and we have more experience. And we’re more bonded. We come from one place. All of a sudden we’re the more cohesive group. In Ryder Cups, Europe is more bonded and cohesive. The International team is a group of megatalents. They could easily win anytime, but I think it’s more of a challenge. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it. Nick Price thought that was insane, but you have to start looking for intangibles. Look at Las Vegas. If you play perfect blackjack, the casino [still] has a one-and-a-half percent advantage. They build massive hotels on that one percent. Plus, a lot of people don’t play perfect blackjack. So, if it’s that close, if it’s razor-thin, there’s an intangible that slides you over.
If you go by World Ranking, the U.S. players have an edge on Europe over the past 15 years.
We didn’t have the intangible that Europe has. We didn’t have what the Navy SEALs use. I’m not comparing golf to war, but they use small groups and guys have to rely on each other. Europe has it naturally. That’s the only thing that’s glaring to me. The discovery that Europe is bonded by small groups naturally was the real kicker for me when I was a captain. We went with the Navy SEALs concept and broke them into pods and based on their personalities. And we gave them ownership—they picked who filled out their pods. Europe has all of this naturally.
Has the PGA of America called to gauge your interest for 2018?
I would never rule it out, but I don’t expect a call. I’ve spoken with them a lot, but that’s not the discussion. The discussion is doing everything possible to create the best environment for 2016. It’s not about 2018. After the [Phil] Mickelson podium thing, I got tossed in the middle of that. The goal was to go to the PGA and articulate what I thought were problems. They needed to put a business model in place similar to what Europe has.
Does this model exist now, thanks to the newly created task force?
The PGA uses the same model to pick their presidents as Europe uses to pick their captains. You’ll see the captain with two future captains as assistants. They’ve got it! There’s no shocking difference from what happened two years ago to 2016. Whereas with us, you’ve got Davis Love one year, Tom Watson after that. It’s a big difference.
Would you take the job in 2018?
I’ll say this: not if we win in 2016.