Azinger’s comments wrong but welcomed

John Craven

Paul Azinger (L) and Dan Hicks (R) (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

John Craven

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Sat in the media centre at Royal Portrush during the 148th Open, a voice over the intercom requested by show of hands, who would like to join Brooks Koepka for a press conference in the interview room.

No arms moved.

The voice echoed around one more time, audibly disbelieving that for no extra charge, those gathered in the media hut wouldn’t wish to walk all of twenty paces for the opportunity to speak to the then world number one.

Again, no hands were raised.

I felt like I was back at school knowing the answer to the teacher’s question but saving face by holding back. Koepka’s outspoken; confident bordering on cocky but his straight talking’s not to everyone’s taste.

When asked if Patrick Reed cheated, Koepka answered “yes”. When asked about slow play, he labelled it “embarrassing”. And when asked if he could change one thing in golf, he went after the blazers breaking bread in country clubs knowing golf’s oligarchs wouldn’t like it:

“Everybody always says, ‘you need to grow the game’. Well, why do you need to be so buttoned-up? ‘You have to take your hat off when you get in here.’ ‘You’re not allowed in here unless you’re a member, or unless the member’s here.’

“Really? I just never really liked the country club atmosphere. I know that drives a lot of people away from liking me.”

Good thing Koepka’s not overly concerned about courting people’s kindness.

“This might come across the wrong way,” he said of players on tour, “but I already have enough friends. I don’t need any more. Just because we work together doesn’t mean we have to be friends. I’ve got enough friends.

“I just don’t want to be that close with everybody I compete with. I don’t even have Rory’s phone number.”

Before Sunday night, Koepka was like a one-man band free from the shackles of the company narrative. That was until Paul Azinger took to the stage at the Honda Classic in a bizarre attack on the European Tour.

With Tommy Fleetwood edging ever closer to a maiden PGA Tour win, former US Ryder Cup winning captain Azinger displayed some extraordinary ignorance when depicting the pressure the Englishman would be feeling down the stretch.

“A lot of pressure here, you’re trying to prove to everybody that you’ve got what it takes. These guys know, you can win all you want on ‘that’ European Tour or in the international game and all that but you have to win on the PGA Tour.”

Suddenly Azinger was channelling his inner Eamon Dunphy.

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was “found out. A nothing player,” on Dunphy’s watch. Cristiano Ronaldo was “a disgrace to the game. His petulance, temperament, throwing himself on the ground. It was a disgrace to professional football. This fella Ronaldo is a cod.”

A “cod” who’s scored over 700 goals and assisted 200 more in less than 1,000 appearances, but who needs statistics when you’re pontificating to the masses?

In Fleetwood’s case, regardless of how things transpired on Sunday night with his hopes ultimately sinking on 18, he’d already produced at this level, and above it. His wins in Abu Dhabi in 2017 and 2018 were measured with field strengths of 330 & 351 compared to an inferior 281 at this past week’s Honda. We could speak of his Ryder Cup record against the Americans too but that would just be gloating.

Whatever Azinger’s intentions were with his comments, he certainly poked the bear, but I for one am grateful for Paul’s zingers. No more than the polarising Eddie Jones who rekindled my hatred for English rugby, Azinger has lit a fire under the European Tour that should bode well for Padraig Harrington’s team talks come Whistling Straits in September.

Golf needs rivalry. You can promote it like Koepka, with confidence and class. Or you can encourage it like Azinger, with confidence and crass.

Either way works for me.


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