U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger and his European counterpart Nick Faldo are the same. Each has worked in the broadcast booth. Each has ripped a major from Greg Norman. Each has talked himself into a pickle or two. And when they met as players, in a 1993 Ryder Cup singles match at The Belfry, they played to a draw. Each man was an intimidating, even frightening presence. Azinger's Ryder Cup battles with Seve Ballesteros were so nasty, Seve was moved to declare, "The Americans are 11 nice guys and Paul Azinger." (Azinger wore the rebuke as a badge of honor.) Faldo won three of six majors when others wilted in his presence (Greg Norman, Scott Hoch at Augusta) or a group ahead of him (John Cook at Muirfield).
But they are also different, these two. Faldo was prodigious, winning the 1975 British Youths Amateur and English Amateur titles before turning pro and copping 1977 European Rookie of the Year honors. Azinger was a late-bloomer, unable to break 40 for nine holes until his senior year of high school. Faldo's a Hall of Famer. Azinger? Nope.
Faldo was No. 1 in the World Ranking for 81 straight weeks in 1992-94. The highest Azinger ever climbed was sixth, in 1994, the same year he underwent chemotherapy and radiation for lymphoma in his right shoulder blade. Faldo holds Ryder Cup records for most matches played (46) and points won (25). Azinger played 15 matches and won a quarter as many points. Faldo has all but abandoned his own playing career for broadcasting. Azinger still whacks it around on the PGA Tour (he's made one cut in seven starts this year).
What does Azinger admire most about his counterpart? "His undying commitment and thorough approach to everything he does," Azinger says.
When asked the same question of Azinger, Faldo replies, "Not a lot."
He's kidding, of course — "He is a fierce competitor, with a passion for the Ryder Cup," Faldo says — but Faldo's quip speaks to the often-strained relationship these two men have had, a tense bond forged by two big personalities at so many big golf tournaments over so many years.
But don't expect more fireworks at Valhalla, because, as both captains have stressed, the Ryder Cup is not about them — it is about the players, their countries and the spirit of competition.
"We have reached an agreement where we want to create a really memorable experience," Faldo says. "There will be some fun and games along the way but we both want the Ryder Cup to be well fought with all the finest qualities of golfers upheld."