Technically, Paul Azinger took the lead analyst baton chair from the retiring Johnny Miller during the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. But the 12-time PGA Tour winner will officially make his NBC/Golf Channel debut at this week's WGC-Mexico Championship, and he's raring to go—and ready to make his own mark in a tower previously occupied by a broadcast legend for nearly three decades.
"I’m not going to be Johnny Miller, I’m just going to try to be myself," Azinger said on a conference call on Wednesday. "We’re living in an information age now where anybody and everybody who’s good on a computer can find out any stat they want. My philosophy is to be kind of the inside information. How these guys need to think. What pressure does to your body and how it feels. The magnitude of how something means to an individual, and of course, there’s the breaking down of the golf courses and the players in contention. You know, it’s just golf, so I look forward to talking about something I did for 30 years as a professional. . . . Anyway, I’m humbled to be here and I'm happy to be here."
Another key difference between Azinger and Miller will be their schedules. While Johnny, particularly over the past decade, worked a limited amount of tournaments, Azinger plans to work a full schedule. He will also be in the booth on Thursdays and Fridays in addition to the weekend, something Miller didn't do.
"I’m not worried about the fitness or anything, except about getting fat from just sitting around," Azinger joked.
The WGC-Mexico Championship starts a particularly busy stretch for the 59-year-old. NBC/Golf Channel will televise the PGA Tour for the next seven weeks, including the Florida Swing, highlighted by the Players next month. Azinger says there was no sort of practice or dress rehearsal with new play-by-play partner Dan Hicks before going on the air at TPC Scottsdale. The former Ryder Cup player and captain relied on plenty of past experience with ABC, ESPN and Fox, where he remains the lead golf analyst, to make the transition.
“This is a crack staff, not that anywhere else I’ve been wasn’t, but it is a pretty polished group here," Azinger said of joining NBC Sports. "They’ve been here a long time and they may even know what each other is going to say before they say it."
"The only difference I see at Fox was probably a little more anxiety because they hadn’t spent enough time to build confidence," said Azinger, referring to Fox acquiring TV rights from the USGA ahead of the 2015 U.S. Open. "But I think the next few years at Fox will be a real confident run because they’re very innovative over there (Azinger joined Fox in 2016). But there’s nothing that can replace what NBC has done over the years to cover golf. They’ve got all their ducks in a row. They know what to expect for the most part and where the cameras need to be, and I think that’s important. Graphics wise they’re all over it, and it’s just up to the announcers not to butcher it."
You can watch/hear Azinger, Hicks and the rest of the NBC Sports golf crew at the WGC-Mexico Championship from 2 p.m. (ET) to 7 p.m. on Golf Channel on Thursday and Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on a combination of the Golf Channel and NBC. And after being there for Rickie Fowler's drama-filled Sunday at TPC Scottsdale, Azinger is looking forward to having a front-row seat for similar exciting—and pressure-packed—finishes.
"I think it’s a privilege to be able to call golf. I almost want to do it like a public service just to say 'Hey, this is how (a player) thinks,'" Azinger said. "That’s what Johnny was doing and I think that’s what (Nick) Faldo does. We’re all cut out of the same mold. But I’m not going to try to be Johnny. He is a little more deficit thinker than I am I guess. I try to take a more positive spin. My thinking is more how is a guy feeling now and how can he get out of that and pull it back together?”