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September 24, 2002

Paul Azinger


GORDON SIMPSON: Ladies and gentlemen, well, this is the first of the U.S. team players, here, Paul Azinger. Welcome, Paul. It's a place you've been to, the De Vere Belfry, but it's probably changed a little bit.

PAUL AZINGER: I don't remember seeing this Belfry, actually.

GORDON SIMPSON: Is it a better De Vere Belfry.

PAUL AZINGER: I don't know if it's better, I don't know if -- I think the way it was set up before, for match play was fantastic. There was a lot of birdies, and I don't think you're going to see a lot of birdies here. I know Chip Beck and I made 11 birdies in one match against Faldo and Woozy. And I don't think you're going to see any matches like that. The rough is deep, the fairways are squeezing in and out, and the bunkers are deep. It's just -- it's completely different. I think it's quite a bit harder.

Q. Some European players say that the Ryder Cup ranks for them right up with the Majors; where does it rank for you?

PAUL AZINGER: It's right behind the Majors, it's like probably 5th or something. It's exciting. The thing is you may be able to play in the Majors every year for 15 years, and not make a Ryder Cup team, you know. So there is a bit of a difference. I think if the European players are good enough to be exempt from the Majors, at least in the past, then generally they were exempt for the Ryder Cup. Now it's different. A lot of Europeans can be exempt from the Majors and not get on the Ryder Cup team. I imagine for them it was probably just as big a deal. It's right up there, I would agree.

Q. Paul, talking about the De Vere Belfry, the decision to play the 10th hole back all week, are you disappointed or surprised?

PAUL AZINGER: I'm really disappointed. I mean I think it's a mistake, quite Frankly, because I think that the 10th hole at the Belfry had a lot of history, and traditionally I would say 80 percent of the players could go for that green. And I think now it may be 20 percent. I can't possibly get there. I could hit a driver, I suppose, but I'm not going to. So it's turned into a 7-iron and sand wedge for me or pitching wedge.

Q. Do you think it was a decision directed at taking advantage away from the U.S.?

PAUL AZINGER: I have no idea. I don't know. We have more -- longer hitters, maybe, with Davis and Tiger, obviously and David Duval, Phil Mickelson, but even -- I'm not even sure they're all going to go for it. I'm pretty sure Tiger would. He crossed a 3-wood today and it landed nicely on the green. Calc was long, he killed a 3-wood and it barely landed on the front. Whether it went through the trees or cleared them, I don't know. But it was a very exciting match play hole I felt, like the way it was. And I was really surprised to see the tee back.

Q. What did you do?

PAUL AZINGER: I went for it twice, and I couldn't really get there. Actually I skinned one that went through the trees and was up there pin-high. But it's not the way to do it. It's a 7-iron and a sand wedge.

Q. Think back, if you can, to your rookie year at Ryder Cup, what didn't you know?

PAUL AZINGER: About Ryder Cup?

Q. Yes. Everybody talks about how you have to experience it. What didn't you know, and what surprised the heck out of you?

PAUL AZINGER: I didn't know that Lanny Wadkins was a nice guy (laughter.) Actually I didn't know that Tom Kite was going to be willing to give me a putting tip that would last the week. I think that the veteran players will give you information that you would ordinarily never receive. And I didn't know that being a part of that group was going to be -- it was just great. I don't know how else to explain it. But I was getting information from those guys, support and encouragement. I didn't know that Tom Watkins and Curtis Strange would be following me in the doubles matches against Faldo and Woozy. But it was pretty neat to see Watson and those guys high-fiving each other when we made a putt. I didn't know it was going to be like that at all.

Q. There's a sort of sense back in the States, I think, that there's not a hell of a lot of buzz about this right now, obviously having it an extra year. Tiger said a couple of things last week, the million dollar question; do you sense a sense of nonchalance or is it different for you guys this time in terms of being excited about it?

PAUL AZINGER: No, I don't think so at all. I think that sometimes the media expects us to be thinking about the Ryder Cup four weeks ago, five weeks ago, when the reality is that there's really nothing you can do to prepare for the Ryder Cup five weeks early. And there's no point in being at that tournament last week if you were using it for preparation for this week. Because we can all prepare at home. Tiger was there last week to win, and I was trying to do my best to win. And of course when I couldn't win, after my first two rounds, then it was obvious preparation for this week. So it's on the back of your mind. For me it's been on the back of my mind all season, but the reality is that for the most part, the players aren't focused on the Ryder Cup. It's not nonchalance, believe me. We talked in the room last night and our players are into it and we're up for it. We want to play well here. You can just know that for a fact.

Q. Can you talk about your feelings about being back here in the Ryder Cup and did you ever -- what was your confidence level as far as getting back to this position again?

PAUL AZINGER: Well, last year I was playing a lot better than I am now. I had a consecutive streak of 7 straight top 15's or something. I didn't lobby to be picked for the team or anything. I knew Curtis was considering me with about three or four other guys. And I was really glad he picked me. I know -- it's funny, because I guess -- I don't know how to put this -- if you've never had something, you don't know what you've missed. But if you've kind of always had something, you kind of always know what you've missed. I knew what I was missing, every time I missed the Ryder Cup, and I didn't like it. I knew what it was like in the team room and being behind closed doors. And I missed not being a part of it. It was nice, I was thrilled at the opportunity. Unfortunately we didn't play last year, but I'm still glad to be a part of it, even though I haven't played as well. I'm excited to be here.

Q. You've mentioned earlier about veteran players helping you in the past. I was just curious, A, if you feel that may be a role you can play on this year's team, helping some other guys, and B, do you consider yourself to be a leader of this team or do you kind of have to play well to be a leader or just your views on that?

PAUL AZINGER: I think that my role is to make points. I don't know how much I'll play. I don't know how -- I think Curtis, what he'll do in all likelihood he'll put the guys out there that are playing the best. If I continue to play poorly -- I'm close to playing really well, but I think my role is to make points and maybe be a source of encouragement if somebody gets down or something. But as far as -- you can't -- there's no motivational word or speech that I can give anybody, really. It's all in there already.

Q. This is along the lines of a couple of earlier questions. But there seems to be a feel that the European guys are more passionate about wanting the Cup. Is that an unfair perception, do you believe, A, and B, how much does the passion for wanting to have that Cup, whether it's in the U.S. or Europe, how much does that come into play? How much of a factor is that to this week?

PAUL AZINGER: Passion, pressure, whatever it is, I think there's probably always a little more pressure on the Europeans than the Americans. I think after what happened in '99 clearly that they're going to be as motivated as they can possibly be. When I was doing TV in 1995, Johnny Miller kept mentioning pressure and nerves, and I finally just tried to point out to him, isn't it funny, Curtis, that the team that has the pressure on them, seems to respond in the next series of matches. If Europe got waxed in the morning, they came back in the afternoon and played well, and they will too. And it was vice-versa. It just seems to be the way it is, the more pressure is on, the better the team plays, that has the pressure on them. And Sunday in '99 was very similar. The American team -- it was all on them. And they came out and they did it. Right now I would say that the Europeans feel that way, and I think that they'll be very prepared on Friday morning, and I think the challenge for our team this week is to be completely, totally prepared and ready to play on Friday morning, and not to get behind the 8 ball again. So I think your analogy is correct. I believe that the passion probably is very visibly on their side right now. We're not showing that same kind of passion, although we are very motivated in the back of our minds.

Q. You've always been very up front about your feelings about representing the United States. And I just wonder, considering why this event was delayed a year, is there a sense among the team that representing the United States is more important than it might have been before or is more of an issue than it was before?

PAUL AZINGER: Not for me, because I've always had that kind of patriotism anyway. My dad fought in Korea and Vietnam, he was 20 years in the Air Force, so that whole military thing has always been instilled in me and the patriotism. But I understand what you're saying, and I think maybe as a whole, representing our country now maybe is something we're a lot more proud of and I think that maybe actually it may make us determined as ever to do the best we can here this week.

Q. Sam Torrance said he apologized to you guys at the 10th, after you cut past the Europeans. Were you very quick or were they much slower?

PAUL AZINGER: We started off on -- I don't know if we were 15 minutes behind them or 30 minutes? Were we 15 or 30 behind them? 30. We caught them on the third hole. We were in the fairway on 3. And we took our time, hit our chips and did what we do. We got on 3, and waited a long time on the fairway. We discussed where their lead group was going to be. We didn't see any harm in cutting over, rather than staying behind them all day. It was only the third hole. So those guys, they maybe prepare differently than we do. It's not that big a deal, we didn't hold anybody up, and off we went. We got carted back out and played 3 through 7. Mike told me on the way over that Sam actually said something to his team and told them to pick it up a little bit.

Q. Last week you talked to us about how you felt that the Ryder Cup, recent ones had gotten -- these weren't your exact words, but the gist -- slightly out of hand. How would you like it to be brought back into line, as it were? What things need to be done to make it more of the way you, for example, would like to see it?

PAUL AZINGER: I'm not sure I heard everything you said.

Q. In Ireland last week we were talking and you had said that you thought that some of the recent Ryder Cups had become, for want of a better word, had gone over the top, to use a British phrase. How would you like things to be redressed?

PAUL AZINGER: Well, you know, you're probably talking to the wrong guy here. It's so different than it was in the late '80s and early 90's, I feel. What happened in '99 was just something that I think happened as a result of just an overflow of emotion with respect to the crowd and the actual events. And it was a mistake, and I think the American players recognize that the enthusiasm just boiled over, when they charged out there like that. I'm sure they all regret that at this point. But in the late '80s and early 90's, we didn't really know those guys too much. And now we all know each other, and even go out to dinner with each other some. I haven't, particularly, but I know that there's guys that they dine together. It's a different -- it's just a different generation of players, and we get along. And I think that the competition will be as intense as ever, but I think the sportsmanship will also be something that everybody is very conscious of. And I don't think there's anything that anybody needs to make a concerted effort to do, I think just instinctively and naturally golfers are gentlemen, and will treat each other as such. We know each other. It's different.

Q. Would you explain the tension and the pressure that comes from a Ryder Cup and what causes that to be different, say, than from trying to win a major championship?

PAUL AZINGER: Well, I'll tell you what, I think this is it in a nutshell. In a major championship you play well on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to get yourself in contention. Now, you may be a little nervous on Saturday if you're leading, but it will go away as you go through the day. Saturday night is generally not a whole lot of sleep going on, you might wake up at 2 in the morning, wide awake, and you're feeling the burden of teeing off at 2:00 to try to win a major championship. Sunday it's hard to eat breakfast and it's a bad feeling, but once you get out and hit balls, generally you're okay. But you have to bare in mind that you've played yourself the previous three days into that position. So you're confident.

The Ryder Cup, especially in this case, we were picked for this team last year, we all made this team last year. We are now thrust into Sunday major championship pressure the first day, and we didn't necessarily play ourselves into that spot. So it's kind of like giving us your first ever speech to 500 people. It's not easy. That's why experience oftentimes plays a big factor. In a major you play yourself into that position. So you have that going for you. At the Ryder Cup that pressure is the same, but you haven't maybe necessarily performed your way right in there.

Q. Could you not look at it as playing yourself into this position over a longer period of time?

PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, you could, but for me I've always had major peaks and valleys my whole career when I've played. But in the end, I think that as a player, for me personally, I just -- all the anxiety and all the stuff, the gala dinners and all that stuff before the matches tends to add to the pressure, but once you get on the first tee and you hit the first shot and you're walking down the fairway and you look over to see the two guys you're playing against, and in the end it's just us against them. And you kind of put behind you the importance of it and the magnitude of what it means. I'm just playing those two guys over there, that's the way I look at it.

End of FastScripts....

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