Paul Azinger isn't just another player in the Senior PGA Championship. He's also an author, having just published a book in which he discusses how he went about spurring the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team to its amazing victory. (Getty Images)
Azinger reveals Ryder Cup secrets in new book
Paul Azinger isn't just another player in the Senior PGA Championship this week. He's also an author, having just published a book in which he discusses how he went about spurring the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team to its amazing victory.
T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer, PGA.com
PARKER, Colo. – What exactly was the secret to Paul Azinger inspiring a team of 12 Americans to overcome adversity and recent history to reclaim the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999 at Valhalla Golf Club in 2008?
The former U.S. captain answers that very question in his new book called, “Cracking the Code,” co-authored by Dr. Ron Braund, a corporate team builder, and with an assist from author Steve Eubanks.
Azinger, who is in the Denver area this week making his debut in the 71st Senior PGA Championship at Colorado Golf Club, will hold a book signing in the golf shop at the course from 2-3 p.m. on Wednesday.
“I’m pumped about the book,” said Azinger, whose 2008 U.S. Team included an astonishing six rookies. “The book is called, ‘Cracking the Code,’ and I spent a year and a half doing it, pouring my heart and soul into that book. It’s a behind-the-scenes look that tells the story and carries you through what happened that week at Valhalla and in the weeks leading up to it.
“It’ll make a terrific Father’s Day present, I think. It’s a short book, only about an hour-and-a-half read. There are beautiful pictures. We published it ourselves,” he added. “When you’re doing a book, you’ve got to pick out the paper and all that. There’s a lot to it. I’m happy with it and I’m looking forward to seeing how people respond to it.”
Leading up to Valhalla, Azinger came up with the idea of creating “pods” – or groups of four players – while watching a show about Gibson guitars on the Discovery Channel. Azinger was so captivated he couldn’t change the channel, and then caught a documentary on how the Navy turns its recruits into SEALs. Part of the process involved breaking them into small groups – an idea that stuck with Azinger.
Applying the idea proved genius.
At Valhalla, were the Americans snapped a three-match winless drought with a 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory, Azinger’s pods looked like this: Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan were in the "aggressive" pod; Kenny Perry, Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes and Jim Furyk comprised the "redneck" pod; and Stewart Cink, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell made up the "steady" pod.
“To me, that Ryder Cup was bigger than winning the PGA Championship,” said Azinger, whose lone major win was the 1993 PGA Championship. “The PGA was an individual achievement, and that was great to win the PGA and get the press off my back about winning a major, but the Ryder Cup was different.
“I had never coached or captained anything in my life. To be able to be the leader of 12 men and the figurehead was just something I’m so proud about,” he added. “To watch those guys come together and bond as a team and for the Ryder Cup to be something that they can embrace again was special.”
Azinger said the U.S. victory in 2008 was monumental for a number of reasons – one of which was it changed the perception that the Presidents Cup was becoming more meaningful to the U.S. players since it was an event that they were having steady success in.
“It looked as if the Presidents Cup was going to end up being a safer place for them to be because they weren’t as scrutinized and they were winning it,” Azinger said. “My fear was that the Ryder Cup would lose the players as much as anything.
“For them to have won and for a lot of those guys to – for the first time – see the difference between Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, I think was huge. Now they recognize that there’s a massive difference between the two events. I think that it was good for the players on this Tour to see that whole thing unfold.”
And, it could pay dividends for the United States in Ryder Cups for years to come. Those six rookies at Valhalla included 20-somethings Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes.
Through last week’s HP Byron Nelson Championship, a total of eight U.S. players in their 20s are among the top 20 in the latest Ryder Cup standings, including three among the top eight, who will receive an automatic spot on the team.
“What I told everybody at that Ryder Cup was that that Ryder Cup in general was a stepping stone to greatness,” Azinger said, pointing to the success of the younger players at those matches and since. “And it is. You rarely see a guy win a major before he’s won Ryder Cup. It’s a big deal.”
Overall, Azinger said the experience as captain couldn’t have been more special.
“It is nice to win over in Europe, don’t get my wrong, but to be home and to feel that crowd energy and to own that crowd… we embraced that crowd and my message to those guys, and it’s stated in the book, ‘Look, play to play great, play aggressive and show off for this crowd,’” he said. “They did.”