Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Paul Azinger is a PGA champion long known as someone who says what he thinks, usually with some degree of clarity, which makes him a good fit as a TV analyst. And that's what he does now for NBC and at the U.S. Open for Fox.
He could have started much sooner if not for 20 years ago at the Sony Open.
Azinger and NBC host Dan Hicks are working their second straight week for Golf Channel's telecast of the Hawaii swing. This week brings back strong memories for Azinger, who won the Sony Open in 2000 for his first victory since his recovery from lymphoma, and what turned out to be the last victory of his career.
His strongest recollection is breaking down in tears in the office of Greg Nichols, then the head pro at Waialae, because it was Azinger's first PGA Tour event since the death of close friend Payne Stewart and two of Azinger's managers who also were on the private jet that crashed.
“Tears were pouring out of my eyes,” Azinger said. “And I just said, ‘I walk out here and it’s like life goes on, like that tragedy never happened.’ And Greg said, 'I guarantee you they’re all thinking about it. But you just can't hear them and you can't see them.' And I just snapped out it.”
Equipped with a belly putter that soon became the rage — and got the attention of rules makers who eventually outlawed the stroke to use it — Azinger shot 63-65 and was on his way to a wire-to-wire victory.
It was relevant in other ways.
Azinger revealed last week that CBS Sports had talked to him about taking over in the booth from Ken Venturi, who was nearing retirement. Azinger was 39.
“And then I won,” Azinger said. “And it was after Payne died, and I didn't know what to do. I still thought I had a little game left in me. I wanted to win because I hadn't won after I got sick and all that. And then when I won, I didn't really see myself doing it (television) for a while. ... It was the right thing at the time.”
That Sony Open landed Azinger a spot as a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup, and captain Curtis Strange picked him for the 2001 Ryder Cup, which was postponed a year because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But Azinger never won again. He had only one other runner-up — to Tiger Woods by seven shots at the Memorial in 2001 — and eventually switched over to TV in 2005.
WORLD HANDICAP SYSTEM
Leading golf authorities spent some seven years coming up with a modern set of rules. It took about that long to develop a handicap system everyone in the world can use.
The World Handicap System is new this year, and American golfers were able to start posting scores on Monday. Some handicaps were bound to change slightly because the system now takes the best eight scores from the most recent 20 rounds (down from 10 scores).
The idea was to consolidate various handicap calculations from around the world into a single index that applies in every country.
“There were six systems worldwide and they were each good. It's not that any of them had flaws,” said Steve Edmondson, the USGA's director of handicap and course rating. “That wasn't the driving factor. We wanted a single set of rules for measurement of a golfer's ability anywhere in the world.”
Along with using the best eight scores from the most recent 20 rounds played, the World Handicap System will be able to make adjustments for playing conditions, such as a day when the wind is blowing 20 mph. The “playing conditions calculation” involves a model that takes into account all scores posted on a particular course that day. That makes it important for players to post scores on the day they play.
— The handicap will be updated each day instead of twice a month.
— The new maximum score for handicap purposes, known as “equitable stroke control,” is now a net double bogey. That would mean a double bogey plus however many strokes a player was getting on that hole. Edmondson said the net double bogey is used in other areas of the world.
— How many strokes players receive will depend on course rating, slope rating and par. Strokes now are determined by a formula that includes the course rating, minus par. Edmondson said this would allow a little more equity depending on the tees used for that round.
Abraham Ancer has a new name on the front on his cap and a new passion.
Ancer met Aaron Marquez during the pro-am at Colonial a few years ago and they hit it off. He describes Marquez as a sponsor, supporter and big brother. They kicked around the idea of a tequila company, and Flecha Azul was the result.
Ancer says they have been working on it for the last year and the tequila should be available in Texas next month.
“We're both Mexican, we both love tequila so we said, ‘Let’s give it a whirl.’ We're excited to showcase it,” Ancer said Tuesday at the Sony Open. “I really wanted to put my name on something I'm passionate about, something I enjoy and something that I drink. I don't drink anything else. Everybody who knows me know if I'm going to drink, I'm going to drink tequila on the rocks.”
They have blanco, reposado, anejo, extra anejo and cristalino, the last of which is his favorite. Ancer says he hopes to change the stigma of tequila, which he says stems mostly from college activity.
“They're already drunk and they have tequila shots — it's probably pretty bad tequila — and you mix it and ... yeah, you end up throwing up,” he said. “You wake up and you remember, ‘Wow, that tequila really did me.’ We're trying to get the culture to understand how tequila works.”
Brooks Koepka is now 1-up on Rory McIlroy in player-of-the-year awards, and he drew even when it involved a vote.
The Golf Writers Association of America voted Koepka its male player of the year for the second straight year. Koepka won the PGA Championship, was runner-up in the Masters and U.S. Open, tied for fourth in the British Open and won his first World Golf Championship.
Koepka also won the points-based award from the PGA of America. McIlroy won the vote of PGA Tour players, though the tour doesn't disclose the vote total or how many players voted.
Koepka received 44% of the vote from the GWAA, compared with 36% for McIlroy, whose four victories included The Players Championship and the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup.
Tiger Woods received the other 20% of the vote.
Jin Young Ko was the landslide winner for female player of the year with two majors, an LPGA-best four victories and the second-lowest scoring average in LPGA history.
Scott McCarron, who won three times and the Charles Schwab Cup, won the GWAA's senior player of the year, beating out Steve Stricker and his two majors.
Brooks Koepka is ready to get back to work. Having not played since a knee injury in South Korea on Oct. 18, Koepka will return next week in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour. He is scheduled to play the Saudi International the following week. ... Three more spots in the British Open are available this week at the South African Open to players not already eligible who finish among the top 10. ... Justin Thomas now has multiple victories in three of his last four seasons on the PGA Tour. ... The USGA has teamed up with actor Don Cheadle to help promote the value of public golf. Cheadle also will be a U.S. Open brand ambassador.
STAT OF THE WEEK
In his last two PGA Tour starts, Xander Schauffele was the defending champion and lost in a playoff.
“It's very hard to win out here. Should I have won more? I mean, I think so. Or could I have? Yes, I believe so. But I've still got a few good years left in me.” — Dustin Johnson, a 20-time winner on the PGA Tour.