Secret to Azinger's success was breaking his big group into small ones

Associated Press

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Published: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 | 8:53 p.m.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Just as Captain Paul Azinger promised, the Americans partied into the morning hours after winning the Ryder Cup.

Egged on by his teammates, Boo Weekley told the story of the time he was a teenager in the Florida Panhandle and paid $5 on 10-to-1 odds that he could land a punch against an orangutan. Weekley finally regain consciousness in the back of a pickup truck.

"That was hilarious," Anthony Kim said. "I could hear that story 100 times and keep laughing."

Keeping to tradition and class, Team Europe joined the Americans in the team room, and the Americans paid their victims tribute by singing "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole," the European soccer song they had heard while losing the previous three times.

They celebrated as a team of 12 following a week in which they were three teams of four.

It was an intriguing concept that Azinger spent nearly two years cooking up. He built his team by doing personality profiles of three dozen potential players and grouping them accordingly.

The aggressive personalities were Kim, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan. The "Kentucky" group featured Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes and Weekley (a southerner) along with Jim Furyk, the misfit of the group who provided leadership. The emotionally quiet featured Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell.

They stuck together for three days of practice. Pairings came only from inside their "pod."

Azinger gave them ownership of their group, building team spirit within small groups. But it went beyond the players. He also assigned an assistant captain to each group?Raymond Floyd got the aggressive bunch, Olin Browne had the Southern group and Dave Stockton was with the other pod.

Azinger rarely saw any of them hit a shot, relying entirely on his assistants for updates on how they were playing, and who might need a lift. The captain zipped over to the seventh fairway when hearing Cink and Campbell dunk shots in the water during the opening session.

"I told them there's good news and bad news," Azinger said. "The bad news is you just made a 10. The good news is you only lost one hole. Now they have everything to lose, and you have everything to gain. Play the next shot. And they came back and won."

There was a feeling the Americans were more of a team without Tiger Woods, the dominant figure in golf. Looking back on how Azinger built his team, one suspects Woods could have easily fit into this concept.

Assuming Campbell would not have been on the team, Woods likely would have been part of the Kentucky group, providing leadership and experience. He probably would have been paired with Weekley, leaving Perry and Holmes together. Furyk would have moved into the quiet, unflappable group.

Azinger shed a little light on his concept during the closing press conference, but still gave credit where it was due.

"In the end, the players did it," he said.

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