Last September at Valhalla Golf Club, captain Paul Azinger and the U.S. Ryder Cup team answered one of the biggest questions in the world of golf: What would it take for the U.S. to win back the Ryder Cup after three straight losses?
Turns out the answer was, at least in part, Azinger's new and innovative strategies. He paired players with complementary personalities; he gave himself four captain's picks instead of two; he overhauled the points system so that the hottest players had a better chance of qualifying; he brought in an infusion of young talent. All those moves turned out to be brilliant, and it didn't hurt that the U.S. finally started making putts.
Now the biggest question facing Corey Pavin, who was introduced Thursday morning as the next U.S. captain, is this: Will he follow Azinger's winning strategies at Celtic Manor in 2010?
"I think Paul and I are similar in the fact that we love The Ryder Cup," Pavin said Thursday. "There's going to be a lot of things I'll be thinking about, and a lot of strategies and a lot of plans I'll be working on, over the next two years. I have a few ideas already."
Pavin added that no matter the details, "it will be my system," and said that he'll have to make some changes because the U.S. team will be the visitor in 2010. "Obviously, having played over at The Belfry in '93, it's a different challenge, as I said, and there's going to be some different things that need to be done."Pavin's approach makes sense. He will consider the strategies of Azinger, and several former captains, but it will be a new year and a new team, so he needs to find his own path to victory. Here are some of the new challenges Pavin will have to factor in: Winning with Tiger: There is little doubt the team dynamic is different when Woods is around. Granted, it's much easier to have fun when you're winning, but this year's American team -- especially Boo Weekley and Anthony Kim -- seemed looser and more inspired than nearly any other in the Tiger era. Pavin will face the difficult task of finding a partner for Woods -- Anthony Kim and Jim Furyk will be likely choices -- and coping with the hoopla that surrounds one of the most famous people on earth. It will be interesting to see how Pavin integrates the world's greatest individual star into the team.
The good news for Pavin is that he and Woods became close at the 2006 Ryder Cup, when Pavin's duty as assistant captain to Tom Lehman was simply to "be with Tiger." No Home Crowd: Azinger had the advantage of the raucous Louisville fans, who were thrilled to cheer for a U.S. team that included Kentuckians Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes. Pavin's team won't have that advantage. The U.S. has only won twice in Europe since 1981, and Pavin was on the last team to do it in 1993. Unless Davis Love III makes the team, Pavin won't have a single player on his squad that has won in Europe.Course Setup: The yet-to-be-named European captain will be able to work with the superintendent at Celtic Manor to set up the course to his team's advantage. At Valhalla, Azinger chose wide fairways, penal-but-playable rough and slower greens. Pavin will have very little, if any, input on course conditions.Despite those three challenges, Pavin will have one major advantage over his predecessor. The defending team starts with a half-point advantage."It's nice to have a little cushion there," Pavin said.