November 17, 2008

Would Azinger return as America's Ryder Cup captain?

That question was posed to Azinger as his plane taxied onto the runway at Dulles Airport early Monday evening. His anwer may surprise you...

Azinger's captaincy pointed the U.S. toward a wild Sunday celebration.

Azinger's captaincy pointed the U.S. toward a wild Sunday celebration.

That question was posed to Azinger as his plane taxied onto the runway at Dulles Airport early Monday evening, just after the captain led a delegation of players and PGA of America officials to the White House.

The answer might surprise you.

While Azinger played it coy, it was clear he would consider the position if offered to him.

This was not the Azinger who waved it off that glorious Sunday night at Valhalla GC, when American pride was restored and his team was already campaigning for "Zinger in '10."

But the days have turned into weeks and now months since the champagne was sprayed from the balcony at Valhalla, and the party went deep into the night at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. Azinger returned to his home on the Manatee River overlooking Tampa Bay and pondered his future.

Prevailing wisdom said there was no upside to returning: What he orchestrated in Kentucky was a walk-off home run. Take it and don't come back for another at bat. But Azinger is not conventional.

He is also not a kid anymore, and with his 49th birthday coming up in January, he is awaiting the Champions Tour to satisfy his competitive appetite. He is also not as marketable as expected, not even in the wake of the Ryder Cup triumph. The sagging economy has also hit the New York publishing houses, and big contracts to write a book about the PODs system and team building just haven't been flooding his doorstep.

So what's a man to do besides fish and play poker? Especially after he just visited the White House, shook the hand of President Bush in the Oval Office, and is a red state American who wants to do what's best for his country?

Azinger loved being Captain America. He's a patriotic guy from a military family. Whether he was in a Las Vegas casino, or buying gas at a convenience store in Southwest Florida, people were not just congratulating him -- they were thanking him. Then, when Bush compared their jobs, the honor and responsibility of the position really hit home.

"It would mean something to carry the flag [into Wales]," Azinger said, excited by the challenge.

He left his handprint on the Ryder Cup forever -- even a loss at Celtic Manor would not smudge his legacy at Valhalla. He rewrote the points system, upped the captain's picks from two to four players, instituted a system of breaking down the team into smaller groups to make its core stronger, and made a number of daring decision, such as his selection of unheralded J.B. Holmes as one of his captain's picks.

It's about whether the PGA wants to do something it hasn't done since honoring Ben Hogan with back-to-back captaincies in 1947-1949. The decision will be made by the executive committee of the PGA of America, specifically CEO Joe Steranka, and officers Jim Remy, Allen Wronowski and Ted Bishop, along with past president Brian Whitcomb. Past captains also weigh in.

In an interview with golfworld.com from PGA of America headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Steranka stuck to his copy points, restating there is nothing in PGA policy about a U.S. Ryder Cup captain returning, but noted that would mean somebody from this current generation of candidates would not hold the honor.

"That would be a big change for us," Steranka said

Corey Pavin is the logical next man in line. He interviewed for the job in 2004 and lost it to Tom Lehman, whom he served as an assistant captain. Also up for consideration are Davis Love III and Fred Couples. They are the only players in this crop who meet the criteria of being a major championship winner, having Ryder Cup experience and being in touch with today's players. Love said after winning the Children's Miracle Network Classic that, at 44, he wants to play on the 2010 team. Couples has boxed himself out by taking the 2009 Presidents Cup captaincy.

While the decision is usually announced right about now -- before Thanksgiving in a Ryder Cup year -- Steranka said the PGA is in no hurry. Before turning the page and letting the glow of Valhalla wash away, the association wants to take its time and make the proper decision. Steranka said there is no timetable on it.