Paul Azinger Thinks It’s Emotion That Makes Ryder Cup Special to Players

Tiger Woods and Paul Azinger, The 34th Ryder Cup,(AFP via Getty Images)
Tiger Woods and Paul Azinger, The 34th Ryder Cup,(AFP via Getty Images) /

“This is an emotional event for the players. It means the world to them,” Paul Azinger said in an NBC press conference in advance of the Ryder Cup.

How nervous do players get?

Scottie Scheffler said he was so nervous at the last Ryder Cup that he couldn’t feel his arms.

In 2021, Steve Stricker was crying even though he was the captain, not a player.

Davis Love III became so nervous that he tried to change the order of play in alternate shot in 1993 at the first tee. He knew that he had odd holes and his partner Tom Kite had even holes, but it didn’t dawn on him that he would actually have to hit first.

"“You can literally see guys like Jordan Spieth, who are just unbelievable pressure players, get up there on the first tee and they’re just literally shaking, and part of it is excitement and part of it is nerves.” — Davis Love III, 2016 Ryder Cup captain."

“I just figured out that No. 1 was an odd hole,” Davis Love III recalled telling Kite when they approached the tee. “I don’t want it. I can’t do it.”

Kite told him to just hit one out into the fairway. Love said it was the most nervous he had ever been. Making matters worse, they were playing Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.

“Not a good way to start your Ryder Cup Career, playing the Spanish Armada,” Love quipped in an interview for The Golf Show 2.0.

“You can literally see guys like Jordan Spieth who are just unbelievable pressure players get up there on the first tee and they’re just literally shaking, and part of it is excitement and part of it is nerves,” Love added.

It happens to everybody. Emotion. Nerves. Jitters. Whatever you want to call it.

Love, who was the U.S. Captain in 2016 at Hazeltine, recalls watching Brooks Koepka pull his first tee shot into the hospitality tents every day because he was so excited and so nervous.

Azinger, who was Ryder Cup Captain in 2008 and who played in four Ryder Cups, 1989, 1991, 1993, and 2002, thinks it’s because it means so much to win it.

“I think for Europe it’s immeasurable what it means for them to win the Ryder Cup. I think it’s more measurable for the Americans,” he said.

One thing he may have meant by that is in the past there were some years, particularly in the late 1980s and 1990s,  when Europe winning the Ryder Cup would secure sponsors for many European Tour events for the next few seasons. Without that victory, they were unsure what their schedule would have looked like.

Europe relied on their stars to bring home the Cup and they delivered. It was up to Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam. Europe’s Big Five. They knew they were expected to play every match and win the event.

Incredibly, they did it, and they passed on their winning ways to youngsters coming up. The tradition has continued for the last 30 years.

“I think the U.S. has more pressure because they haven’t won over there in 30 years,” Dan Hicks, NBC Sports Anchor said about the upcoming contest.

Azinger, who was a victorious Ryder Cup Captain, has some theories of his own about what it takes to succeed in the Ryder Cup, and number one is knowing the course.

“If you’re just getting there and you haven’t seen it, maybe just a handful of our guys or less, they’re going to be cramming for finals,” Azinger noted.

The U.S. team has not always done the advance preparation to the degree that Europe has.

“The key to winning Ryder Cup always, I don’t ever believe there’s been a shortcut to it, you have to get the right players there, but you have to out-prepare the other team. Knowing the course is the key to that,” Azinger added.

There are many other details, naturally.

Azinger is also a big believer in knowing who is playing with whom ahead of time. Perhaps far enough ahead of time that they can play some practice rounds on the PGA Tour.

European tournaments allow Ryder Cup captains to put players together in the first two rounds of a tournament to let them adjust to each other’s styles of play. This was done most recently at the BMW PGA Championship.

“I got stuck about three times in my Ryder Cup experience playing with a guy that I never even played a practice round with,” Azinger explained. “I wanted to put an end to that with my team, for sure.”

John Wood, who caddied in Ryder Cups, thinks it’s important to spend time on the greens with your partner.

“You don’t want to get out there on Friday and not have your routine down.  Am I going to call this guy in to read putts with me? Am I going to stick on my own unless I want his opinion?” Wood explained about what has to be decided.

He recalled caddying for Hunter Mahan in the Ryder Cup, and they were partnering with Steve Stricker. Mahan’s usual strategy on a par five, if it was out of reach, was to leave a number to the hole. They called Stricker over and asked him what he liked in that situation.

“He looked completely confused,” Wood recalled.

Then, Wood said Stricker told them, “Just get it as close to the hole as you can, I don’t care where it is, if it’s in the rough or the bunker or the fairway or behind the tree, get it as close as you can to the hole, I’ll figure it out from there.”

“It wouldn’t have been Hunter’s style at all to play that way,” Wood noted. “When we had to make the decision in the tournament, it made it a lot easier to make.”

Wood also noticed that the Europeans take a lot of time in practice looking at the greens.

"“If you watch them, it’s a very, very disciplined approach. They work hole locations together with their partners during the practice rounds,” he said. “Once they get into the tournament, they’ve got all those putts read. We’re sitting there surprised they make everything.”"

One thing is certain, though. No matter how it turns out, there are sure to be lifetime memories made, one way or the other as Jim Gallagher, Jr., said.

“I remember going out and playing Seve (in singles), which to me was the pinnacle of my golf,” Jim Gallagher, Jr., said. “I remember coming home and seeing my daughter Mary Langdon with a T-shirt saying ‘My daddy beat Seve.’ It took my confidence to a whole new level. It’s an experience I’ll always remember.”

They have all seen the Ryder Cup grow from small to massive as well.

“The grandstands are bigger. Just the whole atmosphere has changed,” Gallagher recalled. “The pressure is amped up now, especially as we mentioned the U.S. not winning for 30 years.”

“I think it’s 10 times what it was,” Azinger said.

"“In ’91, there weren’t even grandstands behind the bleachers. Actually in ’91, the president of NBC was wondering why it was on his TV with some of the stories.”"

Nobody wonders anymore.

Next. More Ryder Cup Coverage. dark

The leading point-getter for the U.S. in Ryder Cup history is Billy Casper with 23 ½ points, followed closely by Arnold Palmer with 23. Next, with 21½ points, are Lanny Wadkins and Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson has played more Ryder Cups for the U.S. than any other player, participating 12 times.  Next most is Jim Furyk who played nine times. Then it’s Billy Casper, Raymond Floyd, and Lanny Wadkins, each having participated eight times.

The Ryder Cup begins Friday, September 29th.