Brooks Koepka has suddenly become the story ahead of the 43rd Ryder Cup. After Koepka's eyebrow-raising comments about how much he struggles to adapt to Ryder Cup weeks, former PGA Tour golfer and one-time major champion Paul Azinger was asked to weigh in The captain of the 2008 United States Ryder Cup team was not tepid.
"Brooks, when I just read that article, I'm not sure he loves the Ryder Cup that much," said Azinger, who now works as a commentator on NBC. "If he doesn't love it, he should relinquish his spot and get people there who do love the Ryder Cup. Not everybody embraces it, but if you don't love it and you're not sold out, then I think Brooks should -- especially being hurt, should consider whether or not he really wants to be there.
"Then if you add the Bryson [DeChambeau] dynamic to that, that would be an easier decision for him. Brooks is one of the most candid, most honest guys there is, and if he's blatantly honest with himself and doesn't want to be there, he should come out and say it. I don't know. I'm a fan of both players. I just feel like it's going to be one or the other. They're going to put the weight of the team on their shoulders or they're going to be a pain in the neck."
Azinger is a four-time Ryder Cup player and captained the 2008 team, which went on to beat Europe 16.5-11.5. It's one of just two U.S. wins in the last nine Ryder Cups. He somewhat famously adores the Ryder Cup and has been vocal about how his pod system (where he grouped players in foursomes and made that their mini team) in 2008 triumphed over Nick Faldo's Euro squad at Valhalla.
Koepka disclosed on Wednesday that, though he did get hurt at the Tour Championship, he will tee it up at Whistling Straits. This will be his third Ryder Cup (his teams are 1-1, and he is personally 4-3-1), albeit his first with this much controversy surrounding him. It's not just the comments he made to Golf Digest about galvanizing around a common cause, but a spat with DeChambeau has also run the breadth of most of this year. That's "the Bryson dynamic" Azinger was referencing.
The two have gone back in forth publicly, and it has seemingly exasperated DeChambeau at times. Both have reportedly agreed to stop their squabble for the sake of the team room next week. Azinger had some thoughts on both of them as well.
"I would say, can you guys put your issues aside and then get a yes or a no and then deal with whatever their answer was," said Azinger. "I personally feel like Brooks and Bryson can put the United States on their shoulders and carry this Ryder Cup team, and they can also be a royal pain in the neck. I personally think they can put this team on their shoulders and they will do it and put their differences aside."
It is not uncommon for the United States team to have issues at the Ryder Cup. Two of the last three have resulted in massive fallout after the matches. Phil Mickelson lit up captain Tom Watson in Scotland in 2014, and Patrick Reed threw a handful of folks under the bus after the 2018 event in Paris. Both of those happened following the matches, though, not before them.
U.S. captain Steve Stricker has plenty to sort out in the days ahead. He should be able to given the U.S. has an overwhelming talent advantage. But better teams have lost to worse ones in the history of this event, and so much of next week's pressure will be in the U.S. team room, which is not exactly the most unified place in golf right now. As long as it doesn't turn disastrous, though, Stricker should bring home just the second Cup of the last decade for the U.S.
"The Ryder Cup, it's a different animal," added Azinger. "Getting those right players together, like I said, like I did personality types, and I felt that trumped [similar] games. So that was my philosophy. The players fell in love with it. I gave them ownership of it. They made the decision. So it worked out great.
"But it was up to them once the bell rings. The worst part about being a captain is having no control whether or not you're going to win or lose beyond creating the environment. But if that environment, if on 15 of the Ryder Cup one guy misses and the other guy makes, whatever you did in the team room, I don't know how much that really mattered."
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