Commentary

Picture surrounding Ryder Cup captaincy gets murkier

Originally Published: December 4, 2008
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

CHAMPIONSGATE, Fla. -- There are few questions that Paul Azinger will not answer. He's typically quick with a quip. Witty. Engaging. Sometimes controversial, but usually just a man with strong opinions -- and he's not afraid to express them.

You probably should address all those questions to the PGA of America and not to me at this point. I don't know how to respond just yet. When I say that, I'm saying I don't know what you're supposed to know with respect to the PGA of America.

--Paul Azinger, after being asked about his future as Ryder Cup captain

So his curious way of answering several Ryder Cup-related queries on Thursday leads one to believe that something is up.

Could Azinger return for a nearly unprecedented second consecutive stint as U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 2010?

Azinger had every opportunity to say no -- but wouldn't.

"You probably should address all those questions to the PGA of America and not to me at this point," said Azinger, who guided the U.S. to a 16½-11½ victory over Europe at Valhalla in September. "I don't know how to respond just yet. When I say that, I'm saying I don't know what you're supposed to know with respect to the PGA of America.

"They want to get their message out when they get their message out, and I don't want to jump the gun and try to get the message out ahead of when they want the message out. I'm going to abstain from answering that question and just let them get the message out. It's kind of their message, and I'm going to let them deliver you that message."

If Azinger wasn't going to do it or didn't want to do it, wouldn't he just say so?

Two weeks ago, Azinger said during an interview with ESPN.com that he was not lobbying for the job but that "if it were offered to me, I would sure think about it."

Azinger, who is playing in this weekend's Father-Son Challenge at the ChampionsGate Resort with Aaron Stewart, the son of Azinger's late friend Payne Stewart, said again that he has enjoyed being Ryder Cup captain and that "it was the greatest experience of my life."

In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. victory, Azinger dismissed the notion of returning as captain. But weeks and months have now passed, and his answers Thursday were certainly curious, if nothing else.

The PGA of America, for its part, is in no rush to name a new captain, whether it's Azinger or another candidate such as Corey Pavin, the most mentioned successor.

"We're still in the same boat we were in 30 or 60 days ago," said Julius Mason, the senior director of communications and media relations.

In past years, the PGA of America typically has its captain in place by now -- a few months after the matches conclude, with an eye on being in place before the new season begins.

But the organization is enjoying the victory at Valhalla, and seems content to let this decision linger for a little while longer.

"My guess is that it's because we haven't won in a while," said Mason, referring to the Americans' three-match losing streak before this year. "I think everybody kind of enjoyed waving that American flag for a while. Not that we won't do that for the next two years."

As for Azinger?

"At this point, we're not ruling anything out," he said.

It does make you wonder. Both sides have had more than two months since the U.S. victory to figure out whether they want to break protocol and bring back a captain for consecutive Ryder Cups for the first time since Ben Hogan did it in 1947 and 1949.

Jack Nicklaus is the last to do it twice, captaining the U.S to victory in 1983 before losing on American soil for the first time in 1987.

Since then, the PGA of America has opted to name a new guy every two years.

Perhaps now is the perfect time to change that trend.

Azinger was a wildly popular captain who came up with a unique approach to molding his team, breaking them into three groups of four who practiced and played together throughout the week. And against a strong European team, he helped bring home the Cup for the first time since 1999, without having the best player in the world, Tiger Woods, who was unavailable due to injury.

And if you think there are not other mountains to climb, the U.S. has not won on European soil since 1993.

If the PGA of America wants another reason to break tradition, all the organization needs to do is look across the pond to Europe, which gave the job to England's Tony Jacklin for four successive Cups beginning in 1983. It should be noted that the Yanks have won just four Ryder Cups since then.

Jacklin went 2-1-1 and was followed by Bernard Gallacher, who went 1-2 in three appearances from 1991 to 1995. Since then Europe has also opted to move the job around.

Two weeks ago, Azinger acknowledged that the PGA of America does not need to feel rushed. Nobody can earn a Ryder Cup point for 2010 until the 2009 Masters. Then he brought up an idea.

"If I'm not the captain, it would be neat to have a ceremony where I hand the Cup to the next captain and say good luck," Azinger said. "The longer they wait, the better it is. That would be the best scenario and could bring a tremendous amount of hype."

Maybe now he knows he'll be alone at the ceremony.

On Thursday, he was uncharacteristically mum on the subject.

"I think the PGA of America deserves to get that message out, whatever that message is," Azinger said, when pressed for the last time. "I'm not going to say one way or the other. I'm not going to speculate. I'm not going there."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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