Paul Azinger is rated by many, including many top players, as one of the best Team USA Ryder Cup captains of modern times, has controversially stated that Brooks Koepka should stand down from the USA Team if Koepka “does not love the event.”
Azinger, 61, is a former USPGA Champion who won 16 events in a lengthy professional career that started in 1981 and which saw him make four appearances in the tournament as a player.
He was part of the US Team that tied in 1989 and then won in both 1991 and 1993, before making a return to the team in 2002, where he suffered his only Ryder Cup defeat.
The Zinger was then named team captain for the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, where he captained one of the best United States team performances in the competition as they claimed back the cup over Team Europe with a 16.5 to 11.5 victory.
Given his record in the Ryder Cup and how well the team performed with him as captain, Azinger has been lauded by many players, including several that featured in that victorious 2008 US Team, as the go-to-guy for anything Ryder Cup related in the US.
That is why his comments regarding Brooks Koepka could be potentially problematic not just for Koepka, but for the American team as they prepare for the tournament next week at Whistling Straits.
The issue started when Koepka admitted in an honest interview that he found the demands of team competition, such as in the Ryder Cup or Olympics, as “odd” and something he struggled to cope with mentally.
Having suffered a wrist injury this season, there have also been concerns over Koepka’s fitness levels, despite the player texing Golf Week magazine on Wednesday that he was “good to go” for the tournament.
Azinger though wasn’t buying any of it.
“Not everyone embraces it ,” stated Azinger.
“I know players who felt that way. I’m not sure he loves the Ryder Cup.”
“Brooks is one of the most honest and candid guys and if he is honest with himself and he doesn’t want to be there, he should say it.”
“He should relinquish his spot and get people there who do love the Ryder Cup.”
Koepka was conspicuous by his absence this week at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin when all eleven of the other players on the United States team attended a two-day meeting at the course in preparation for the tournament.
Instead, Brooks stayed at home to give his wrist, which he injured in the third round of the Tour Championship when striking a tree root, additional time to heal.
That prompted Koepka to confirm his plans to play next week by messaging:
“I’ll be there. I’m good to go. I’m feeling good. Been doing my rehab, doing everything I need to do to be ready for the Cup. I’ll be there ready to play.”
However, Koepka admitted in a frank interview that competing in the Ryder Cup was challenging as it was “so far from my normal routine” and that he found it difficult to “decompress” during and after the event.
“You go from an individual spot all the time to a team sport one week a year. I can barely see my team. It’s hard even to go the gym. It’s more demanding than I’m used to, and there’s a lot of emotion there, so by Sunday, you’re just dead,” he commented.
The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that Koepka has enjoyed a lengthy spat with fellow Team USA player Bryson DeChambeau over the last couple of years and while the two have reportedly agreed to put their differences aside for this event, there is no doubt that tension remain.
While despite they are from different countries around Europe, Team Europe’s team ethic is never in question, it has been an issue for Team USA over the years, particularly when Phil Mickelson made comments about Tom Watson’s captaincy after their heavy loss at Celtic Manor.
Mickelson felt then, that Team USA did not play as a team and that only Azinger had managed to instil that team spirit effectively in US teams up to that point.
It is therefore going to be interesting to see whether Koepka’s comments and his absence from the meeting this week has any effect on Team USA heading into the event.