The captain of the American team for Ryder Cup 2008, Paul Azinger, has already shown great determination to do whatever it takes to wrestle the Cup back to the Americans in Valhalla in September. He introduced a radical shake up to team selection by doubling the size of his personal picks, from two to four, and has transformed the qualification criteria for the other eight players.
Now, he’s requested a change in the format of the competition itself.
The first two days of the Ryder Cup require the teams to play in pairs. There are two different formats: alternate shot (European translation: foursome) and best-ball (European translation: fourball). These are self-explanatory; alternate shot requires each player to play every other shot whereas the best-ball allows both players to play their own ball and then choose the best score at each hole.
At the last two Ryder Cup events, the morning session has been best-ball with the alternate shot format in the afternoon. In Valhalla, both Friday and Saturday’s play will start with alternate shot. The justification for the change? Azinger will do anything to gain an advantage for his own team and he believes that the US team should have an advantage in alternate shot. If this is the case, then he feels it’s better to get off to a good start rather than playing a futile catch-up game, like the Americans have in recent defeats.
This single-minded determination to do ‘whatever it takes’ to give his team the best chance of success is very encouraging for the US team. Azinger has also revealed that the PGA of America are open to modifying the course appropriately to align with the strengths of his selection.
“Maybe if everybody hits it as straight as Jim Furyk … I don’t know if I can narrow the fairways, but I can sure have the rough deep,” Azinger said. “But if I have a bunch of Bubba Watsons, J.B. Holmes, Pat Perez, Phil Mickelson, guys that crank it and bomb it, maybe there won’t be rough. I don’t know yet. We’ll see.”
Our take: changing the selection criteria is very significant, this should really help Azinger get his best 12 players on the course. Changing the order of fourball/foursomes? It’s probably not that significant. Suggesting that the Americans will do better in alternate shot is a little whimsical. But Azinger’s clear focus to adapt as required should build confidence for the US team.