Forget fun and bring your game faces. That’s the message being delivered to Team USA by the last man to come up with a winning formula for Uncle Sam’s boys in the Ryder Cup.
“It’s great that they’re all friends,” said Paul Azinger, who was at the helm for a 16.5-11.5 victory at Valhalla in 2008, of the Americans seeming to be heading into this event with a tighter-knit group of players than the teams that lost the last three stagings.
“But (Team USA captain) Davis Love told a story the other day about something (European captain) Darren Clarke said to him. He said to Davis ‘you guys have so much fun during the week that our guys want to stay in your team room because we’re not having that much fun’.
“But then Davis said to Darren ‘yeah, but you have more fun on Sunday nights’. I hope Davis remembers that. It’s not about having fun. You don’t want to take 12 guys, put them in a room and everybody try to have fun.
“There’s nobody trying to have fun on Saturday night before the final round of The Masters if they have a chance to win. They are dealing with the pressure. So I don’t know what this whole idea is that somehow we’ve all got to have fun. It certainly isn’t the recipe for success.
“The only recipe for success is to get prepared. But, when you have to try to force fun on a group, then you have a problem. There’s nothing fun on Friday morning when that bell rings and there’s 600 million people watching and all you did was have fun all week. You’ve got to get prepared and I hope Davis is telling them to get ready for this.”
Azinger implemented a “pod system” to good effect in Louisville but has since watched Corey Pavin, Love and, most recently, Tom Watson at Gleneagles two years ago end up as losing captains in the transatlantic tussle.
A 16.5-11.5 defeat in Perthshire, coupled with the fall-out from that, which included Phil Mickelson publically criticising Watson, led Team USA to set up a taskforce and reappoint Love, who was denied victory at Medinah in 2012 by Europe equalling the biggest last-day fightback in the event’s history.
“I felt like Davis deserved another chance. What he brings is a bit of continuity, which is something Europe’s had for so long,” observed Azinger. “When America are talking about this new system in place, that’s the biggest thing. I met with the PGA of America on four separate occasions - I wasn’t a part of the task force, I just went directly to them - and I talked to them about creating some continuity.
“I talked about what Europe have had in place since Tony Jacklin. Their future captains are at Ryder Cups as assistants and we don’t have that. We don’t have any continuity, we never do the same thing from one Ryder Cup to the next, it’s willy-nilly and fly by the seat of our pants. Whatever the captain wants to do, that’s what he does. It doesn’t work.
“Watson’s philosophies back-fired at Gleneagles but, Davis’ didn’t. At Medinah, he put together a good concept and they had a four-point lead and it’s just unfortunate they let that get away, but I think Davis will build on that.”
Even if Team USA suffers an unprecedented fourth defeat in a row this weekend, Azinger sees a brighter future on the horizon due to players like Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods being involved on this occasion as vice-captains.
“Win, lose or draw, I believe the Americans do have something in place now that’s going to be reasonably consistent,” he added. “If they win this one, then the next captain is going to be at this Ryder Cup as an assistant and be able to see what Davis did and try to be consistent with that while adding his own little nuances.
“Just to go willy-nilly with every Ryder Cup has been very ineffective. Hal [Sutton] did it his way, [Tom] Lehman did it his way, I did something completely different. Corey Pavin didn’t care what I did but Davis and I talked a lot. He put together this whole concept of team building and used kind of what I did and was unfortunate that they didn’t win.
“Watson didn’t care what we did, he moved on and did what he wanted to do. Now here comes Davis again and he’s trying to be more inclusive with a lot of player input. There’s a philosophy in place now that I think is going to be something that they’re going to repeat over and over again. Hopefully it will be a winning formula.”
*Sky Sports is the only place to watch The Ryder Cup live, as part of an autumn of sport including Premier League, F1, England cricket and rugby’s Autumn internationals.