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September 18, 2008

Paul Azinger


KELLY ELBIN: If you would please announce the pairings for the morning foursomes, Friday morning.
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Do you have them in front of you? Okay.
KELLY ELBIN: Everyone has them in front of them, yes.
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Looks like Phil Mickelson against Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson; Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan against Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey; Justin Rose/Ian Poulter against Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell; Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk against Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.
KELLY ELBIN: So you have Mickelson and Kim versus Harrington and Karlsson at 8:05; Leonard and Mahan versus Stenson and Casey at 8:20; Cink and Campbell versus Rose and Poulter at 8:35; Perry and Furyk against Westwood and Garcia at 8:50.

Q. Do you feel the chemistry between Mickelson and Kim has been building, and what do you see in them? I know they've played a lot together. What have you seen in that grouping?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Well, they expressed an interest in being paired together as soon as Anthony Kim locked up his spot.
Mickelson called me personally and said he'd love to play with him, but so did about six other guys (laughter). I said, "Way to go out on a limb, Phil; you want Anthony Kim, really?" So I granted his wish for this first go-around.
But you know, they were able to play together -- they got paired together a couple times in some of this playoff stuff. They know each other pretty well.

Q. You talked a lot about the two Kentuckians and how you wanted to put them out there. Just talk about why maybe you didn't, and the pressures that you would have put had they been together in the first round.
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Well, you know, I think Kenny and J.B. together is a fantastic idea. My intention is to get 12 players out the first day, and I'm going to stick to that. And just the way that I decided to do it was for alternate-shot to put Kenny Perry with Jim Furyk.
I thought, both of those guys have alternate-shot experience. Furyk would be -- that would be a nice format for him as well as he hits it, and Kenny Perry actually likes alternate-shot better than anything else. So it just made sense to me that that would be a really solid pairing. Kenny has played terrific all week, and I like him going out fourth.

Q. How many drafts of these did you do? Did you have a lot of them where you scratched out names and put them together, or did you just kind of know what you wanted and put it down?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I did it all in my head. I never wrote one thing down that I scratched out. The only thing that I wasn't sure of was the order for the most part, but I was pretty secure as soon as I picked my four players that this was my first day.
I was really happy during the week to see that everybody was playing well and that I didn't have to make any real adjustments.
You know, Kenny and Furyk together looked like to me to be an easy first day. They practiced together all week, as did Cink and Campbell. Cink could have been with a number of people, but I felt Chad was a good fit. Justin and Hunter get along beautifully. They've known each other for a long time. I thought they made sense. They're great ball-strikers. Chad and Stewart hit it well, as well. Honestly, I've had this in my head for some time.

Q. There's a story on AP right now about Jim Furyk's wife. Can you talk about Jim Furyk -- and it indicated that he was having a hard time concentrating on his match or on his rounds; and also, can you talk about what would happen if, in fact, he couldn't go?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: That's not going to be a problem at all. I think she fell down last year sometime and jarred her neck, got like some whiplash, and she's had some disk issues. It hasn't bothered her for some time.
And I don't know if she slept funny or not, but she had a lot of discomfort in the back of her head kind of, nerves through bulging disk and that can radiate. The word I just got was that everything was fine; she's resting comfortably.
Jim felt like -- he said she's had this kind of before and that he was hitting it great. He knows the golf course, so he just felt like that he was useless the next five holes and that he would rather go see her, give her a big hug and then come back to the opening ceremonies. I don't see it as being a big deal at all. I think she's fine. Thanks for asking.

Q. A couple questions. Did you consider balls in your pairings?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No, I didn't consider the golf ball that much. I let the players work through the golf balls on their own.

Q. On your order, was there any consideration for Kenny batting lead-off just to get the crowd into it?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: You know, I could have put Kenny first if I wanted. I wanted to anchor the team with Kenny. I felt like that was better, let -- I just thought it was a better place.

Q. You said you've known the teams pretty much since you picked your four. How much time did you spend trying to figure out who Nick would put out, and in what order, or did that have anything to do with where you put these guys?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No. I haven't focused on anything that Nick is thinking or doing. I haven't seen any of his guys hit a practice ball or a chip shot or play a hole, except for TV a little bit on the news.
But I did see his, like, leak, whatever, but gave that no merit whatsoever. I have my players positioned where I wanted them to be, and I had them positioned in an order that I -- I could have mixed them up in just about any order. But I have them in the order that I wanted them to be in, and I did it because that's what I wanted for my guys.

Q. I know you said you're going to play all 12 guys tomorrow. I'm just wondering, looks like just two rookies out for the morning stuff. Is experience -- did you want to get some experience out there early? Was that a factor there for you?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No. Experience wasn't a factor in the way I put them out. I put them out based on what I thought -- what I felt is quality alternate-shot scenarios.

Q. Did you wonder whether Anthony might be particularly vulnerable leading off as a rookie?

Q. Yes, in terms of experience.
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Not really. The guy made the clinching putt at the Walker Cup. He's got a little experience; not to compare the Ryder Cup to the Walker Cup.
I'm not worried about him. The guy has won two tournaments this year on the two hardest courses we play all season. I have a lot of confidence in Anthony Kim. I like my first pairing.

Q. Were you at all hoping that Sergio and Lee were in that first group off? I know they're sort of the target group. That's their fearsome twosome, so to speak. Did their lineup shake out, I guess, the way you had envisioned or hoped if you were worried about that at all?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No, I mean, I'm not -- I'm sure anybody who plays Sergio and Lee Westwood consider it a great opportunity, and that's the way that any one of those four teams I put out are looking at Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.
When you get to play a guy who's never lost, you're going to have everything to gain and nothing to lose. I honestly felt like that he would put them out the first day; I didn't know where.
I like the fact that Kenny Perry gets to play Sergio with an everything-to-gain, nothing-to-lose kind of mind-set. I feel that Kenny Perry will go out there and be free-wheeling knowing that Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia are pretty formidable. I couldn't have drawn that up any better, I don't feel; to have Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry against those two guys, I like that a lot. I hope that play well enough to get it done.

Q. The USA have not won an opening morning session in this competition since 1991. How important is it that the guys you've selected here produce a win tomorrow morning?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Well, I think it's important to get off to a good start. It doesn't -- we won in '93, we won in '99, and we didn't win the morning. Is that what you're saying? I honestly don't look at that.
. Those are teams from the past, and we're looking right now at what's important now, and what's important now are that we have 12 different players and they have a bunch of different players. So.
It's like saying that the Boston Red Sox have the jinx of the Bambino. I guess it was a big deal for a while, but who cares now, right?

Q. What was it like for you all to see Muhammad Ali, to get to take a picture with him? Did you all kind of become kids there for a minute?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, it was great to see him. It's hard to see him in the kind of shape that he appears to be in. I'm quite sure that he could hear what I was telling him. I saw his eyes open up and I could see his eyes moving.
He was very conscious of what I was telling him. I told him that -- I spoke at his house last year. We went there, and it was really an honor to be there, pretty cool to be in Muhammad Ali's house. I told a story there, and I reminded him of the story when I was really young. I remember watching him when he fought Ken Norton and Ken Norton broke his jaw; I want to say it was the third round.
I told him this: "I'll never forget that as long as I live, when he broke your jaw in the first or third round, and I've loved boxing my whole life," and his eyes opened up and he was totally listening. I told him that was an inspiration for me, to never quit no matter what it was that I was doing. It was a great privilege to be able to sit next to a great man.

Q. As you look at that list of names, is there a part of you which wishes you were going out there to play tomorrow, or have you fully embraced the non-playing captain's role?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No, I don't want to play. I don't want to go out there. There's nobody on the European team I want to play (laughter). Been there, done that.

Q. Do you also have in your head how you're going to send them off tomorrow afternoon, as well, or will it take something drastic to change that?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I've already got it.

Q. What have been the benefits of having Matt Killen serve as swing coach for three of your guys, Kenny Perry, J.B. and Chad and also yourself, and also, has it helped in any exchanging of information this week?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: You know, I've talked to Matt a little bit. I think it's really cool that Matt Killen is 23 years old and he's teaching three of the guys that are on this team. The three swings, Chad Campbell, Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes couldn't be any different. It shows the diversity of his ability to teach. He was real secure in how they were hitting it.
I actually called Matt before I talked to J.B. just to make sure, and it's a comforting -- it's kind of neat. Says a lot about Matt's ability.

Q. Two quick things: First of all, who's hitting the first shot, Phil or Anthony?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I don't know yet.

Q. Secondly, how much of a decision was it for you to pair Justin with Hunter, knowing that Stricker and Mahan had gone 2-0 in foursomes last year at the Presidents Cup? Was there some thought to that?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: No, not really. I didn't really think about that. I've done this a certain way. I have a certain strategy and philosophy in the way I approach this team, and I'm sticking to my guns on it.
I'm flexible in a lot of ways, but there was some things I just wasn't going to be flexible about. You know, I see things the way I see them. I like the way it's working out so far. I think Hunter would have been great with Stricker or Campbell or anybody.
But tomorrow I like him with Justin (laughing).

Q. How important was it to you given the way that Phil has played in the last two Ryder Cups to maybe get him off a little bit, and was that sort of what you were thinking pairing him with a guy that's as fiery and electric as a youngster like Anthony?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: I didn't hear your whole question. Just a little louder.

Q. How important was it to you given the way Phil has played in the last two Cups to get him off and maybe to get him inspired by playing with a young, electric guy like Anthony Kim who plays a similar game and is fire I and excited?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Playing with Anthony Kim was me getting a request. Each one wanted to play with the other. So I thought I would give them a little ownership of that.
But as far as anything that's happened in the past, I can't emphasize enough that if you dwell on the past, especially in this game, you're not going to be very successful.
So what happened two years ago and four years ago is something that happened. Everybody recognizes that we got beaten and beat badly. That's why I took it upon myself to suggest the way that we pick the team. I thought it was very important to get a current team here, players that qualified more on a one-year system, not a two-and-a-half-year system. And everybody that made it on this team deserves to be here.
The eight guys that qualified, six of the eight guys won a tournament this year, the other two guys, Ben Curtis, played terrific in each of the last two majors and finished second after he was picked. And Steve Stricker played well every week and just missed making the team.
You know, in the end, you know, you have two pretty big thrashings, so what do you do; you make the necessary adjustments to try to win the rematch. In Ryder Cup the rematch doesn't always mean the same players. I just don't see why I would look to the past. We're all about what's going on here and now, and the group that we have together. We're focusing on trying to prepare to the best of our ability.
I've got both hands on the steering wheel. I'm trying to do everything right, dot all the I's and cross all the Ts, and it's like drawing back a bow string. For two years, I've been pulling that string back, and now I've got to let the arrow go, I just hope I've pointed it in the right direction. What else can I do? I'm going to be hitting in the cart like this (sitting back with cap on sideways.)
Don't get me wrong, there's certainly ways to communicate with players, and I intend to communicate with each player based on their personality. But what happened in the past has no bearing on what these guys are going to do, and if we get pounded again, then you just look at Europe and say, wow, maybe we need to include who-knows-who.

Q. Just curious two years into this and it starts tomorrow, what are your feelings right now?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: My feelings right now, I feel very happy. I'm confident. I've enjoyed sharing this experience with a bunch of my really close friends. You know, I've felt like this entire match that it wasn't going to be all about me; it was going to be about my players, making it a great experience for them and making it a great experience for my family and their families and my assistants.
That's the way I want it to be. I want them to have the time of their lives, but I feel like to do the due diligence and serve as the captain that you have to make the necessary adjustments to try to get the right people on this team.
So changing the selection process was, I think, the majority of the work. The rest of it was waiting to see who stepped out and qualified and then get these guys to get prepared. I mean, what else can you do?
So, I've enjoyed every minute of it. It's gone really, really fast. When I was first announced, I have to say that two years seemed like a lifetime away. But now that I'm here, it was like the blink of an eye. You know, there's only three days left, and it's going to be over and we'll be talking about the outcome. So we're here.

Q. There's been a lot of talk leading up about the setup of the course. Now that you've spent some time with the team out on the course, is there any advantage that you see now, now that you've put tees in the ground, and say, hey, yes, this is exactly what I had in mind?
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: Well, to pretend that I have an advantage is to pretend that I was watching what Europe was doing and trying to neutralize anything that they're capable of, and that's just not the case.
My thought was that if I could exploit an advantage I would do it; if there was a perception of an advantage, I would look for it; if there was anything I could find, I would go for it. But in the end, I really -- I couldn't really see anything.
The decision I made on the way the course is set up is to allow the players to play, and I just really felt like that I didn't want my team to feel handcuffed off the tee. And I didn't want them to feel -- I wanted them to have every opportunity from the fairway and from the rough, mainly from the rough. If they hit it in the rough, then I want them to be able to hit shots.
I think that we have a bunch of really good shot-makers, terrific iron players, and I just didn't think a lot of deep rough would play to our strength, I mean, if they're chipping out.
KELLY ELBIN: Captain Azinger, thank you very much.
CAPTAIN PAUL AZINGER: All right, thank you.

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