In 1949, Ben Hogan captained his second consecutive United States Ryder Cup team. No one else has had a second straight term since, and it's clear that Paul Azinger is not going to follow in The Hawk's footsteps. That's unfortunate.
While some people felt that Azinger stirred the pot a little too aggressively at Valhalla, it's tough to deny that he did a lot of things right too.
Before heading to Kentucky, Azinger overhauled the qualifying process to give himself a better chance of fielding a team of hot players. He also got the number of captain's picks changed from two to four, giving himself more versatility in filling out his lineup. Once he was in Kentucky, Azinger's management of the event, his team and the local crowd would have made Jack Welch proud. He moved the foursomes matches to the morning sessions and the fourball matches to the afternoon. On practice days, he split his 12-man team into three four-man pods to help the golfers bond and learn more about each other's game. He encouraged his players to toss commemorative pins into the crowd as they prepared early in the week, choreographed the pep rally held on Thursday night, and implored the whole Bluegrass State to become the 13th Man.
The players bought in, the fans bought in, and on Sunday evening the champagne flowed as the United States celebrated its first Ryder Cup win since 1999.
Having done all that—and with the American players lobbying for his return—Azinger should have had the 2010 job if he wanted it. And according to the AP, Azinger was considering it, but Corey Pavin will almost certainly be named the next Ryder Cup captain when the PGA of America makes its official announcement Thursday.
Fair or not, Pavin, another feisty player who excelled under Ryder Cup pressure, is going to be compared to Azinger. It will be a tough act to follow. Any lingering resentment European golf fans feel toward Azinger will be directed squarely at Pavin, who won't have control of the course setup as the visiting captain in Wales. The U.S. shouldn't count on any help from Mother Nature, either—unlike Louisville, Wales in early October is cold and wet.
If Pavin and the United States team come through with a W against another stacked European team, everything will be grand. But if he and his team lose, the second-guessing over not giving Azinger another captaincy will be as loud as the chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole!"(Photo by Robert Beck/SI)