For Paul Azinger, there’s all the other golf in the world, and then there’s the Ryder Cup. He lives it, breathes it and has been an active participant in it for the better part of the last three decades. He is deeply patriotic, frequently using the phrases “us” and “them” to describe the United States and European teams, respectively. And rest assured, he has thought plenty about how things are going to shake out at Whistling Straits when the two teams meet next week. In short, the Ryder Cup is serious business, which is why Azinger, the winning U.S. captain in 2008, would like to know the answer to just one question:
Is Koepka in, or is he out?
“I’m not sure he loves the Ryder Cup that much, if he doesn’t love it, he should relinquish his spot and get people there who do love it,” Azinger said Wednesday, in response to a Golf Digest interview in which Koepka discussed his frustrations with the Ryder Cup format. “Not everybody embraces it. But if you don’t love it, and you’re not sold out, then I think Brooks — especially being hurt — should consider whether or not he really wants to be there. And if you add the Bryson dynamic to that, that would be an even easier decision for him.”
“It’s tough,” Koepka told Golf Digest. “There are times where I’m like, I won my match. I did my job. What do you want from me? I know how to take responsibility for the shots I hit every week. Now, somebody else hit a bad shot and left me in a bad spot, and I know this hole is a loss. That’s new, and you have to change the way you think about things. You go from an individual sport all the time to a team sport one week a year. It’s so far from my normal routine.”
Koepka’s comments struck a chord with U.S. fans, many of whom saw his words as confirmation of the very thing that has defined recent American struggles: the Europeans play as a team, while the U.S. compete as a collective of individuals.
“It’s different,” Koepka continued in the interview. “It’s hectic. It’s a bit odd, if I’m honest. I don’t want to say it’s a bad week. We’re just so individualized, and everybody has their routine and a different way of doing things, and now, it’s like, OK, we have to have a meeting at this time or go do this or go do that. I can barely see my [personal] team. It’s hard to even go to the gym … There’s no time to do that at the Ryder Cup. There’s no time to decompress.”
The U.S. side enters the tournament on the back-end of a 20-year slump, a run of failure that’s been defined by underperforming expectations. The Americans have repeatedly entered tournament play as heavy favorites over the last two decades, but have won only three of the last 10 Ryder Cups, and only one in the last decade.
Koepka was already at the center of the Ryder Cup conversation — both for his occasionally prickly relationships with his teammates and for concerns about his health (a wrist injury forced him to WD from last week’s Tour Championship) — and his latest comments did little to shunt the spotlight.
“I personally feel like it’s gonna be one or the other,” Azinger said. “That Brooks and Bryson can put the United States on their shoulders and carry this Ryder Cup team, or they can also be a royal pain in the neck.”
It’s time for Brooks to make a decision, says Azinger: either buy in or back out.
“Brooks is one of the most candid, most honest guys there ever is,” Azinger said. “If he’s blatantly honest with himself, and he doesn’t want to be there, he should come out and say it.”