When Paul Azinger was asked to be the don of the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2008, he made the PGA of America an offer it couldn't refuse, given America's recent woes: he wanted free reign to revise the qualification process for the U.S. side.
Instead of players earning points only for top-10 finishes (an 11th at the U.S. Open was useless, while a ninth at the GMO was worth points), they would now receive a point for every $1,000 earned in 2008 PGA Tour events and the 2007 majors, and two points for every $1,000 won in the 2008 majors. Make the cut, get Ryder Cup points.
"We're tired of getting beaten and I want players who are red-hot, if I can find them," Azinger said late last year.
Another change: Players earn only half a point per $1,000 at tournaments opposite majors, making it foolish to duck the British Open for the U.S. Bank Championship.
But the biggest change is that Azinger will get four instead of two captain's picks, and he won't have to announce them until Sept. 2, well after the points race ends on Aug. 11. European captain Nick Faldo unveils his picks Aug. 31, meaning Azinger could theoretically select two-thirds of his team based on Faldo's final roster.
Will it matter? Curtis Strange, who captained the 2002 U.S. team, said recently he believes it's much ado about nothing, that Azinger will likely just pick the players ranked 9-12 on the points list. History, on the other hand, says Azinger's decision is a shrewd one: Over the last five Cups, the two wild-card picks have outperformed the ninth and 10th qualifiers by an average of 3.6 to 2.5 points per competition.
Says Azinger: "I think changing the way our team is picked is a step in the right direction."
Time will tell.
United States Ryder Cup Qualifying
Azinger will announce his four captain's picks on Sept. 2. His other eight players will earn a spot via a points system that's based on:
• Prize money earned in the 2007 majors. One point for every $1,000 earned.
• Prize money earned in 2008 "official" events from Jan. 1 through Aug. 11, the PGA Championship. One point for every $1,000 earned. In events played opposite the majors and World Golf Championship events, one-half point is awarded for every $1,000 earned.
• Prize money earned in the 2008 majors. Two points for every $1,000 earned.