It’s been a controversial week for former PGA Tour player and Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger.
Azinger, now an analyst with NBC Sports and Golf Channel (he also does work for Fox Sports during USGA events), is no stranger to good golf. He’s a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, including a win at the 1993 PGA Championship, and was ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking for 292 weeks throughout his career. So what he says as an analyst carries some weight.
Unfortunately, Azinger made some comments ahead of the final round of the Honda Classic this past Sunday that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, namely European golfers.
What did Paul Azinger say?
Tommy Fleetwood, an Englishman currently ranked 10th in the world, entered the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National with a one-shot lead. Azinger was attempting to set the stage for the final 18 holes and this is what came out.
“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.”Paul Azinger
That European Tour. Ouch.
While Fleetwood did not win the tournament, he’s still won five times on the European Tour, along with the season-long Race to Dubai title in 2017. Again, he’s ranked 10th in the world, one of four international players currently ranked in the top 10, including the top two in Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm.
Azinger continued to belittle Fleetwood’s accomplishments, which also include two runner-up finishes in major championships, by bringing Mark Wilson into the conversation. For those unaware, Wilson is a five-time PGA Tour winner that won the Honda Classic back in 2007. By the way, Wilson’s highest world ranking was 47th in 2011. His current rank, you ask? 2,092.
This set off a number of European players, who blasted Azinger’s claims that the European Tour essentially doesn’t matter.
How European players responded to Azinger’s comments
One of the biggest names to speak out against Paul Azinger’s comments was former world number one Lee Westwood. While Westwood has won just twice on the PGA Tour, the Englishman has 44 worldwide wins, including 25 on the European Tour. He certainly wasn’t happy with what was said.
“One minute Paul walks down the range wishing you good luck before you play, the next he’s condescending to the tour you play on and disrespects the tournaments you’ve won around the world. I’ve won in 19 different countries over 4 decades. That is disrespecting a lot of people!”Lee Westwood on Paul Azinger
2018 European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn said that Azinger’s comments were “at best ignorant, at worst arrogant.” Rory McIlroy chimed in as well, calling the comments “a little nationalistic.” Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter, who’s never been one to bite his tongue, tweeted on the situation as well.
Following the backlash, Azinger did offer somewhat of an apology, but it really only had to do with the wording.
“Bad grammar. If I had said ‘the’ European Tour, the whole thing would have been different.”Paul Azinger
How Azinger’s comments could affect the Ryder Cup
Not that the European team needs any extra help, but the comments made by Paul Azinger have given the European team a little extra fuel heading into this September’s Ryder Cup. The 2020 competition will be held in the U.S. at famed Whistling Straits in Wisconsin and Euro captain Padraig Harrington, who was recently named as a finalist with Tiger Woods for the World Golf Hall of Fame, says that the comments will bring some extra edge to the competition.
Europe has won nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups, including a blowout of the U.S. in France in 2018. Paul Azinger was the U.S. captain in 2008 when the Americans defeated the Europeans, 16.5-11.5, at Valhalla.