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The sole Team USA coach: Azinger

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In all the years that I have followed Team USA in the Presidents and Ryder Cups, I’ve seen evidence of one coach: Paul Azinger. I’ll circle around to him in a bit.

Does anyone recall that the basis for these matches is the friendly exhibition? They don’t hold the key to anyone’s fiefdom, nor does the winner earn the right to rule over the loser. Let the golfers have at each other, but consider which golfers they are.

Consider the honor of carrying your country’s (or your union’s) colors. That’s a keeper for a lifetime. I’ve been in pro shops where, decades prior, the aging pro had competed for the USA side. How honored he was to display his team bag. Kevin Na, Kevin Kisner, among others, may never have that honor. They deserve to have it, as do many others.

Consider the honor of leading your side into the matches. Why should any captain have more than one opportunity at this? Thanks to the short-sighted decisions of ruling bodies, Larry Nelson and Sandy Lyle will never captain a team. They deserved to do just that.

Let’s circle back to Azinger for a moment. Remember what word he introduced into our lexicon? Pods. He divided 12 golfers evenly among three pods, and those golfers practiced and competed with only the members of the pod. Azinger put the team, the whole, above the individual. His team won, and did so in proper fashion. It was no War by the Shore (is there a shore in Kentucky?) and the team looked for all appearances, like it was having a great time. Nick Faldo and his side were helpless.

Remember how intense Captain Seve was? I loved that guy, but that was dumb. He was a captain, and he should have acted like a captain, like a coach. Instead, there he was, inserting himself into every situation, trying to intimidate. His guys still would have played great for him; they didn’t need the over-coaching.

I have to thank Captain Tiger for selecting Gary Woodland and not Rickie Fowler. Again, I like Fowler, but he doesn’t close the deal. Woodland earned his shot with his U.S. Open win. He never would have made a squad, because he’s not part of the clique. The Reed selection mystifies me; sure, Captain America has had great moments while bathed in the R, W, and B, but he hasn’t had many moments of late. Why not Na? Why not Kisner?

Don’t get me started on Tony Finau. All right, get me started. One tour win. A miraculous defeat of Tommy Fleetwood when the Ryder Cup was already lost. This is not a guy at the top of anyone’s list, and yet, there he is, selected by Captain Tiger. Utterly ridiculous. Not on form. If Finau and Reed win four points between the two of them, you shall color me astonished.

Steve Stricker remembers what it was like to drop off the face of the earth as a touring pro. I’m certain it happened to him twice. As the captain of Team USA Ryder Cup 2020, I hope that he remembers how fortunate he was to play on Ryder and Presidents Cup sides, and that he gives a guy on the edge, an outsider, a shot at something that will honor his family for generations to come.

I remember the Dream Team, that astonishing collection of USA ball players who annihilated the world. Have you seen Team USA lately? They don’t always win gold, or even silver, but the diversity of players is sizable. Guys who will always have a team jersey, the right to say that they represented their country.

Golf is so behind the times.

It’s just a game. We will still tune in, the ruling bodies will still claim their cash, the golfers will continue to eschew hunting trips in order to play in the matches. But the captain ought to be a coach and give some other guys a chance.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Dann B

    Nov 10, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    Can’t wait for Mayakoba. Kduooooche, kduoooooche. MK is a dbag

  2. Jack

    Nov 9, 2019 at 7:40 am

    Friends don’t let friends write when they are drunk.

  3. JJM

    Nov 9, 2019 at 1:43 am

    Agree with Na, think it would have been great to have him on the team and would have picked him over Reed but wasn’t Kisner on the last President’s Cup team?!?!

  4. Alex

    Nov 9, 2019 at 12:15 am

    While this seems like an alcohol infused series of random thoughts, I do agree on Finau. Great guy, everyone loves him, but a single win in 2016 shouldn’t get you a pick over Kevin Na who’s had two wins in the last six months.

  5. Your Dealer.

    Nov 8, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    You shouldn’t write while you’re high.

    • Gerald Teigrob

      Nov 8, 2019 at 9:17 pm

      Good point! Apparently that is acceptable here though!

  6. Robert Berardy

    Nov 8, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Thursday passed and once again i didn’t get picked by the President’s Cup captain. i didn’t even get a phone call. Rickie got a phone call. Short call apparently, but a call. If you want diversity then pick one of us amateurs. Why pick Na or Kisner? I played with Colin Montgomery at a corporate event the year he was Ryder Cup captain and afterwards informed him I was willing to switch passports if he would choose me for the European team. His reply was, “Well they did give me more picks this year so I will keep you in mind.” My 10 handicap may have scared him away, but its down to 9 now and if they let me play from the senior tees I think I could bag some points for the US.

  7. Blade Junkie

    Nov 8, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    He’s picked as wild cards the 4 highest ranked players in the OWGR who weren’t otherwise in the team ? Seems pretty obvious … not to mention fair …. Finau is rightly in there on merit, not “diversity” …

  8. pelling

    Nov 8, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    “Pods” are the greatest scam in the history of team golf! These guys live next door to each other in Florida!
    Go Tiger!

  9. Dyson Bochambeau

    Nov 8, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    dios mio Ronaldo

  10. nick

    Nov 8, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    First of all, tony Finau has many top 10’s this year and more than the other players not selected. Also Reed won recently in the Fedex Play offs and has also been top 10 of late. Same with Woodland, top 10’s

    Choices were well thought out and correct.

    • Mike

      Nov 8, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      You can tell Roland only watches the majors.

    • Gerald Teigrob

      Nov 8, 2019 at 9:21 pm

      Do writers not watch the entire golf season? Finau is a class act. And he’s well-deserving. And Tiger’s selection of Patrick Reed shows no bias either. Leaving to Rollie to take something so special and turn it into something of a political nature instead of being a realist. And if Rollie forgot by now…who has coaching experience on the Ryder Cup? Tiger. I rest my case!

  11. F

    Nov 8, 2019 at 12:23 pm

    Put Ronald the clown back in the funny farm.
    Why was Finau picked? You said it yourself you clown!: DIVERSITY.
    Duh

  12. Scooter

    Nov 8, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Hmmm… not sure what to make of this article. It’s not about “giving a player a chance” its about putting together the best possible to team to win. It’s not a charity event, it’s a team tournament. Whatever point you were trying to make Ronny, I think you missed it on this one.

    • Gerald Teigrob

      Nov 8, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      I totally agree! Not sure what his point was, to begin with. Oh yeah, Paul Zinger. How about asking Payne Stewart to be the next captain. It makes about as much sense as this article does! Zip. Nada!

  13. Michael

    Nov 8, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    The USA will win the Pres Cup because they have better golfers but despite the team culture. The USA loses Ryder Cups because of this kind of endless navel-gazing about team events.

  14. tina

    Nov 8, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Clearly he’s choosing his Nike brethren. Should’ve chosen Na.

    • dixiedoc

      Nov 8, 2019 at 5:55 pm

      Absolutely. They ought to have a rule that Captains cannot play but vanity rules.

      • Gerald Teigrob

        Nov 8, 2019 at 9:25 pm

        If captains couldn’t play, I guess that means as an assistant Special Olympics Competitive team golf coach I am suddenly ineligible. What a wonky theory you have dixiedoc!

  15. cooljack

    Nov 8, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Wouldn’t it be cool to have an after party no matter who won and everyone just hung out in the spirit of the game instead of us against them?

  16. Ruthy Babe

    Nov 8, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Matt Azinger=Paul Kuchar
    Both Doooooouuuuuccchhheee

  17. Bernard Lang

    Nov 8, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Team USA won that Ryder Cup at Valhalla because it was at Valhalla. They could of won with Hal Sutton being their captain at that course. The team USA committee needs to focus more on where they play on their home soil, rather than trying to find someone like Paul Azinger. The Europeans do it best. They pick a venue, then select players whom would play well at that venue. Then after they see their competitors, they setup the course to hurt their competitors. It’s that simple. Here’s an example…Their are two scratch golfers
    One hits it 270 straight and is an excellent wedge player and putter, the other hits it 350 fairly straight and has a good short game. It’s going to matter which course you play on.

    • TXJM

      Nov 8, 2019 at 1:32 pm

      BL – great insight, but you’re missing-the-mark here. Tiger’s Captain’s Picks should prioritize HOT CHICKS. So Rickie Fowler should’ve received the 1st Captain’s Pick for girlfriend-now-wife Allison Stokke. Suzanne Stonebarger has that hot beach volleyball vibe… so Ricky Barnes is pick #2. The 3rd Pick is easy: Hunter Mahan – wife Kandi Harris was a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader & sweet like her name. Keegan Bradley is Pick #4 as long as Jillian Stacey (…not Auntie Pat) tags along. Word.

      • BL

        Nov 8, 2019 at 1:50 pm

        Haha… he would of picked Dufner then. Oooo, wait. He’s already slaughtered that..

  18. Cody Reeder

    Nov 8, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I am so confused by what your point is here….. What are you trying to say? Are you mad about who Tiger picked? Or are you mad about what this event represents? Or that no one really cares??

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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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