Q and A: Bradenton's Paul Azinger discusses Tiger, the future of the game and his own playing career

jdill@bradenton.comMarch 16, 2014 

Paul Azinger, who captured the 1993 PGA Championship and a slew of other PGA Tour victories as well as being the last winning United States Ryder Cup captain (2008), sat down for an interview at The Concession Golf Club earlier this week to discuss the inaugural Concession Cup and other golf topics.

Azinger is an honorary chairman for The Concession Cup, which will take place May 1 to 3 at The Concession Golf Club. It will pit the top male amateurs from the United States against their counterparts from Great Britain & Ireland.

Here's what the Bradenton resident had to say:

Q: What will we see with the inaugural Concession Cup in terms of the talent level?

A: It's opportunity, really, to showcase the greatest players to never turn pro. ... Great Britain & Ireland and America, there's a bunch of unbelievable players that never turned pro. So the age group is 25 to 50 to be mid-am and then over 50 to be senior and then there are two super seniors playing. So there's 18 players playing. Ryder Cup format, the pressure's legit. I do truly believe that these are the guys that just made different choices in their life. ... These guys made the choice not to go pro, but they probably had the talent to play professional. If you think about

professional sports in general as role models, professional athletes as role models, that's a terrible thing. You can't be a role model when you are completely self-absorbed in order to be successful. There's very few professional athletes that can be really good and not be completely self-absorbed and borderline narcissistic in some way. You have to be that sold out for what you do. ... But these guys went a different direction, the guys that will show up here. And they chose to have a family and be around their families. ... You know whose here? Fred Couples if he never turned pro. Tom Kite if he never turned pro. Phil Mickelson if he never turned pro. Jim Furyk if he never turned pro. That's whose here. These are the guys that never turned pro.

Q: What do you make of the young crop in professional golf such as last week's winner Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth excelling so quickly?

A: Golf is a power game. It's less of a finesse game, but finesse is still important. It's still a difficult game. Guys aren't shooting in the 50s every week. Technology changed the way the players play. The game off the tee -- I think my generation drove it somewhere between a launch angle of about seven degrees and 12 degrees. But we didn't know it; we never knew that. A javelin thrower launches a javelin at 17 degrees to throw it optimum. Now they're starting to figure out that you can hit a golf ball at 17 degrees with the right amount of ball speed and spin. It's become math. You've got these NASA engineers that lost their jobs and now they're golf engineers and have started to figure this stuff out. Golf's become more of a science for the top players and less of a finesse. Golfers are more engineers now than they are artists. Lee Trevino was an artist. Seve was an artist. Tiger wants to be an engineer. Tiger used to be an artist. He's an engineer now. He has so much going on in his head. Mickelson's an engineer, but he's still an artist. He has the convergence and the guys that can converge the artist and the engineer; they go to the very top.

Q: What do you make of the theory that golf's popularity is waning due to its expensive nature and slow pace in today's fast-paced society?

A: It is an instant generation, isn't it? Instant coffee, instant rice, instant oatmeal. The cellphone. I will never forget the first time a guy had the cellphone and there was that little blue dot, and you could see where we were on the street in L.A. "This is unbelievable!" And you had the whole map, here we are moving along. And now? That was nothing. That wasn't that long ago, seven years ago? So the whole society has changed. Smartphones changed the world. And maybe that has hurt the fact that golf does creep at a certain pace. I still think it's a blast to play. You have to factor in economics. We're dealing of six or seven years straight of tough economic times, and I'm sure that's had a monumental effect.

Q: Are you completely done playing competitively?

A: I think so. I'm not going to make an announcement. But I'm starting to splatter that sweet spot again, buddy. I started playing a little bit more. I'm starting to hit that sweet spot on a regular basis, and I might get an inkling. ... When I first got there (Champions Tour), I thought we'd take up smoking cigars and drinking red wine at night. They're practicing harder than they ever have. ... Look at the scores the seniors got. It doesn't garner a lot of attention, because it's on tape every night on The Golf Channel after the event is over. So how many people are actually watching it? I don't know. But what I do know is that they work hard and they shoot low scores. Imagine shooting 18 under for three rounds. That's legit, dude. The courses are set up the same as how they were when we were playing the (PGA) Tour.

Q: Who are your early favorites for the Masters next month?

A: Dark horse favorite would be Sergio (Garcia). He led the European Tour in putting last year, and he always hits it well. I think he's grown up. He has his own personal demons. But as far as a pure, sure enough dark horse, I'd go with him. But it's hard to pick there because who would have picked (Charl) Schwartzel, who would have picked Mike Weir, who would have picked Zach Johnson? ... It's going to be Tiger (Woods), Rory (McIlroy), Adam Scott, Phil (Mickelson). It's going to be the same olds, same olds. Of that group, I think probably the best form of all those guys and it still looks like he can win tournaments without being a great putter is Bubba Watson. He can overpower the course. His cut is my draw. His cut is Nicklaus' draw. ... They say you have to draw the ball at Augusta and he cuts it. And he hits it a mile.

Q: Dr. Frank Jobe, who found the cancer on you, recently passed away. What's your memory of his influence?

A: He was like a father/grandfather figure to me. He had this calming influence. My wife pretty much said, 'I trust Dr. Jobe.' And so did I. ... I think he was a brilliant man. ... He invented the Tommy John surgery. He may be the greatest orthopedic surgeon of all time, and for what he's done in sports, his sports medicine clinic and all that, I think he's had as big an influence on football, baseball, basketball and in golf as any man alive as far as sports medicine is concerned. Dr. (James) Andrews might argue that, and he's a terrific human being. But they are running neck and neck in that regard. I cried when I heard that news about Frank Jobe. He saved my life. And that's just a fact. He 100 percent saved my life.

Q: Is time finally catching up to Tiger Woods?

A: The clock is starting to tick a little louder. ... I just feel like he's gone from artist to engineer. And Byron Nelson said a long time ago, 'There are two kinds of players. Those that need to know a little and those that need to know it all. And which one do you think is easier?' Tiger went from needing to know a little to needing to know it all. And how is knowing it all making it any easier for him? It's not. He's always said, "I want to be able to fix myself. I want to know it all." ... The golf swing takes a second and a half. And every great athlete, when asked in their moment of greatness what they were thinking, they all say the same thing: nothing. So I wonder if stuff is jumping in his head in that second and a half of that fluidity of motion that didn't used to jump in there, because he only needed to know a little. ... I'm guessing, it's speculation.

Q: How much do enjoy the broadcasting booth when you call the action during the British Open?

A: "I love it. I would love to do a few more telecasts, but I don't know where I can land at this point. I'm happy with my life. I love my life. I go to bed thinking, 'I can't wait to drink some coffee on that back porch.' That's a good place to be."

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