Azinger isn't lobbying, but is intrigued by thought of returning

Updated: November 20, 2008, 9:48 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Paul Azinger's last victory on the PGA Tour came in 2000, and until he took on the captaincy of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, he kept a pretty low profile.

[+] EnlargePaul Azinger
AP Photo/Morry GashU.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger celebrated his 2008 win. Will he return for 2010?
That all changed with the U.S. victory over Europe in September.

"I was out of the spotlight for a long time, but now I can't go anywhere without people recognizing me and acknowledging the Ryder Cup," Azinger said. "And I've had more people say thank you than congratulations."

Perhaps it is such a reaction, along with the fact that there isn't a long list of candidates ready to succeed him, which has Azinger open to the idea of returning to the post in 2010, when the U.S. tries to retain the Cup in Wales.

"It hasn't been offered to me, and it's not really up to me at this point," Azinger said Wednesday in a phone interview. "I'm not lobbying for it. I think the PGA of America has the decision to make, if they want to offer it to me or if they feel there are other guys who deserve a crack at it. I'm not sure exactly how they are thinking.

"I've expressed to them, if it were offered to me, I would sure think about it. It's kind of up them, it's not up to me. Even if they offered it to me, I'm not sure what my answer would be. I have to play it close to the vest. I don't want to look like I'm lobbying for it, but I don't want to completely rule it out. I know that's not a good answer."

Azinger, who turns 49 in January, is a 12-time PGA Tour winner who won the 1993 PGA Championship and played on four U.S. Ryder Cup teams.

Two years ago, he was named captain for the matches at Valhalla, and accepted the job only upon the condition that there be changes to the team selection process. Azinger changed the points structure, and received four captain's selections (rather than two).

He also came up with a team-building plan that divided the 12-man squad into three groups of four players who practiced and were paired together during the matches. The U.S. won for the first time since 1999 and only the second time in the past seven Ryder Cups.

I loved that role as captain. I think my handprint is on the Ryder Cup for a long time. The selection process worked. The team-building concept, breaking the team into small groups ... it's stuff that's never been done, I'm sure. They sold out for me in this concept and bonded in small groups ... I think it would work again. I believe in it.

--Paul Azinger

"I loved that role as captain," he said. "I think my handprint is on the Ryder Cup for a long time. The selection process worked. The team-building concept, breaking the team into small groups … it's stuff that's never been done, I'm sure. They sold out for me in this concept and bonded in small groups … I think it would work again. I believe in it.

"We had a lot of advantages at Valhalla that are going to be given up when you go overseas, as far as knowing the golf course, setting up the course. There's a time zone change. There are going to be different players. You're at a disadvantage.

"The challenge of that intrigues me, I guess."

One of his players from the '09 team is intrigued as well.

"Zinger gave us a great model for success,'' Phil Mickelson said in a conference call Wednesday. "Rather than stray from it, I think it would be a great idea to have him return. But I don't want to interfere with the PGA of America and their decision-making process because the captaincy has always been a wonderful way to validate a player's career. It's such an honor and a highlight, so I don't want to detract from the PGA's process. But I thought Paul's model for success was a great one.''

PGA of America officials have said they are in no hurry to make a decision on naming a captain, as they are still enjoying the Valhalla victory. And, if the current process remains in place, no points can be earned for the 2010 team until the Masters in April.

The U.S. has not had back-to-back captains since Ben Hogan in 1947-49. Jack Nicklaus was the last to captain more than one team, doing so in 1983 and 1987.

But the PGA of America does not have a lot of options, either. Corey Pavin, 49, a 15-time tour winner including the 1995 U.S. Open, is the most likely successor to Azinger. Pavin played on three Ryder Cup teams, interviewed for the 2006 captaincy and served as an assistant to Tom Lehman that year.

Others who have been mentioned include Fred Couples and Davis Love, but Couples is out of the running for 2010 because he is the U.S. Presidents Cup captain next year. Love, 44, who is coming off his 20th career victory at the Children's Miracle Network Classic, said he wants to try to play on the 2010 team, with his eye on the captaincy down the road.

In the aftermath of the Ryder Cup victory back in September, Azinger dismissed the notion of returning, even while his players chanted "Zinger in '10, Zinger in '10." But a couple of months of letting it soak in, with no apparent rush to name a new captain, at least have him weighing the idea of continuing.

"I just want to make sure it's understood that I'm not lobbying to get this," Azinger said. "There are basically two scenarios, and it's very intriguing to have one be me. But I support them whatever they decide."

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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