Paul Azinger used to say for years that the only thing that made a player choke was cash or prestige.
So he’s not afraid to use the word “choke.”
Just don’t expect to hear it when he takes over for Johnny Miller on NBC Sports next year. Azinger has pledged to call the shots the way he sees them — that’s the advice Miller has given him — but he has a different perspective when it comes to his vocabulary.
“I’m not afraid to use that word, but I’m not going to stick it on somebody because I don’t think that’s fair,” Azinger said during a conference call to announce his hiring by NBC. “It’s irresponsible as a broadcaster to do that. I want to help build their brand, not tear them down, and I want to do it in the way that I do it.”
He also pointed out that Miller, who once said he should have a doctorate in “chokology,” never called anyone a choker.
“I think he said, ‘If there’s ever a shot you could choke on, this is it,'” Azinger said.
Azinger has used “choke” frequently in discussions on golf, mainly his own, and it’s always been the same topic. He long has said that only two things cause a player to choke: cash and prestige.
“That’s about it,” he said. “I just don’t see any value in labeling somebody a choke. I would probably go about it a different way.”
Meanwhile, Azinger picked up a new nickname during negotiations with NBC.
The network first contacted him in 2013 when Azinger was with ESPN, and it was little more than contact. But when Miller began talking seriously this summer about retiring, Azinger was the first phone call.
It reached a point where Tommy Roy, the golf producer at NBC Sports, wanted to meet with him. Roy lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, and Azinger lives near Bradenton on the Gulf Coast of Florida. They decided to meet in Ocala, a halfway point.
“We found a Ruby Tuesday just off the freeway, so that’s where we met,” Roy said, confident that no one would recognize them.
The meeting went well, and Roy believed Azinger would be the right fit. Then, it was up to the NBC executives to work on a deal.
“Whenever we have big-time deals at NBC, we operate in total secrecy,” Roy said. “So from that point forward when we had any internal texts or communications on this, we always referred to Paul as ‘Ruby Tuesday.'”
The final World Golf Championship of the year provides an opportunity for a first at the HSBC Champions.
No country has ever had four players win the four World Golf Championships, and even with only 19 players in the field — two of whom are not PGA Tour members — the United States has a chance to just that.
Phil Mickelson won the first one at the Mexico Championship. Bubba Watson won the Dell Match Play three weeks later. Justin Thomas won the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Oddly enough, none is in Shanghai for the last WGC.
The Americans did sweep the WGCs in 2013 with three players. Tiger Woods won the Cadillac Championship at Doral and the Bridgestone Invitational, while Matt Kuchar won the Match Play in Arizona and Dustin Johnson won the HSBC Champions.
Americans in three other years won all the WGCs, but that was before the HSBC Champions was added in 2009. Woods won two WGCs in 1999 and 2005 (Jeff Maggert and David Toms won the Match Play in those years). Woods and Steve Stricker won WGCs in 2001 and the third one was canceled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
GETTING TO THE TOP
Brooks Koepka reached No. 1 with his eighth victory worldwide on a main tour — three majors, two PGA Tour events (Phoenix Open and CJ Cup), two on the Japan Golf Tour (Dunlop Phoenix back-to-back) and one in Europe (Turkish Airlines Open).
That’s the same number as Fred Couples when he first got to No. 1 by winning at Bay Hill in 1992. It’s one more victory than what Jason Day had when he first reached No. 1 in the world at the 2015 BMW Championship.
The fewest for a player when reaching No. 1 for the first time is five victories by Tom Lehman, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Lehman won four times on the PGA Tour and the Casio World Open in Japan. Woods won five times on the PGA Tour. McIlroy won three times on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour. All three had won a major.
Akshay Bhatia and Yealimi Noh have been selected players of the year by the American Junior Golf Association, an award that dates to 1978 and includes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Inbee Park and Paula Creamer.
They will be honored Nov. 18 at the Rolex Junior All-American Awards Banquet at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Bhatia, a 16-year-old from Wake Forest, North Carolina, won the Junior PGA Championship by holing a 40-foot chip for eagle on the last hole. He had two other victories this year, including a 10-shot win at the Polo Golf Junior Classic, and was runner-up at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
Noh is a 17-year-old from Concord, California. She won five times this year, including the Junior PGA, the U.S. Junior Girls and the Canadian Women’s Amateur, and she was low amateur in the two LPGA Tour events she played.
She played for the winning team in the Junior Ryder Cup and Junior Solheim Cup.
Paula Creamer tied for 12th in the Buick LPGA Shanghai on a sponsor exemption, her best finish since a tie for seventh in June 2017 at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. … Lee Westwood and Luke Donald remain the only two players out of 23 who have never won a major but were No. 1 in the world. … Fran Quinn tied for third last week and moved from No. 64 to No. 45 in the Schwab Cup. It’s the second straight year he advanced to the second playoff event with a top-10 finish. … Steven Bowditch is having spinal fusion surgery after finally finding the source of his pain. The Australian missed all but two cuts in 2017 and all eight PGA Tour events he played last season. … Michelle Wie will miss the rest of the year after surgery on her right hand.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The average world ranking of the last five winners of the Sanderson Farms Championship is No. 459. The highest ranking belonged to Ryan Armour last year at No. 321.
“I’m not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy’s kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years.” — Woody Austin after beating Bernhard Langer by one shot in the Dominion Energy Charity Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.
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