Commentary

Azinger chooses three assistant captains

Updated: August 8, 2007, 7:37 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

TULSA, Okla. -- The job is largely ceremonial, or so we thought. It is about picking the uniforms and, when the time comes, the players. It is about matching them up during the competition. And, lately, it's been about explaining another defeat.

Paul Azinger seems intent on changing that.

The 2008 Ryder Cup is more than a year away, and the players have barely started earning points and won't do so in any great way until January. But Azinger, the U.S. Ryder Cup team captain, has not sat idly by.

"I have to say that mentally, it's kind of consumed me," Azinger said Wednesday at Southern Hills Country Club.

He used a news conference at the PGA Championship to announce his assistant captains, normally an occurrence that would barely get noticed. But Azinger made the unusual move of name two long-ago U.S. captains, Raymond Floyd (1989) and Dave Stockton (1991), along with PGA Tour player Olin Browne.

This comes after Azinger initiated significant changes before even taking the job, including getting four at-large selections instead of two and putting the emphasis on earning points next year. The Ryder Cup will be played at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville next September.

"To have Raymond Floyd, Dave Stockton, Olin Browne there with me I think is going to be fantastic for me," said Azinger, 47, who played in four Ryder Cups and never lost a singles match. "I'm just trying to surround myself with people to give us the best opportunity to get this thing back in America."

The U.S. has lost to Europe in three straight Ryder Cups and in five of the last six. The last two were routs, despite a team with players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk.

"Europe has really stepped it up," Azinger said. "They have a selection process that gets their hottest players there and they have become an amazingly solid group of players. I don't think the fault of us not winning is necessarily a down turn in American golf or anything like that. I think it's the fact that Europe really has had a better process of getting players on the team and that European players have really gotten that much better."

Azinger's qualifying plan really doesn't kick in until next year, when players will earn points based on PGA Tour money earnings. They are only getting points for the major championships this year. The idea is get players on the team who are performing well next year, not ones who earned a majority of their points in the previous year.

By getting four at-large selections, only the top eight point earners will automatically qualify.

Now he has added a couple of major championship winners who played on and captained Ryder Cup teams.

"I'm really counting on Raymond's and Dave's experience," Azinger said. "I'm going to lean on them to be with the players, talk to the players, do the things I can't do. It's an eclectic group of guys, too. Our personalities are all different and there's no individual who's going to slip through the cracks that won't be communicated with in any way, shape or form."

Azinger has gone so far as to take suggestions from the public.

"It hasn't gone our way the last few Ryder Cups, and I'm pretty sure everybody out there has an opinion," Azinger said.

What next? It's probably time to work on those uniforms.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com