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Friday, June 11, 2010

Azinger's Pods

This isn't something I would normally be writing about, but I thought it was an interesting aspect of how mindset affects golfers.

Thursday morning I saw Paul Azinger on ESPN2's Mike & Mike in the Morning show. He was on to plug his new book, Cracking the Code, about how the Navy Seals pod system he used helped the Americans win the Ryder Cup. What I found so interesting was how Azinger chose the Ryder Cup team. As you may remember, Azinger asked for (and got) 8 automatic qualifiers and 4 Captain's choices. No big deal there.

Zinger used one of his choices to pick Steve Stricker, then grouped his 9 players into three 3-man groups. (Those are the pods, in case you're a bit slow today.) Again, no big deal.

Here's what I found so interesting: Zinger promised his players that he would not break up their pods when he set up the pairings, then gave them all a list of about 6 guys that he thought were playing pretty well... and let each 3-man pod pick their 4th member without any further input from him.

Isn't that just a radical idea? Zinger says the pods are still playing practice rounds together now, two years after the event, by their own choice.

How did he create the original pods? you might well ask. Apparently he grouped guys he thought would mesh well together. He described a Tiger/Phil pairing as what they called a "red-light" pairing, not meaning that they don't get along but that they both react very differently to pressure. He said he wanted guys who would react similarly, so they would instinctively pull together when the heat was on.

I was impressed because this was a pretty unique way to get the guys personally invested in the outcome. You can't just say the Captain made a poor choice when you not only knew who you were going to play with, but you chose some of the team members yourself. You can be sure that, at some point, those guys told their Captain, "We know you suggested that pairing, but we think this pairing will work better," and you can be pretty sure the Captain said, "Ok, you know your pod's strengths and weaknesses best." Let's face it -- everybody thinks they can be a good captain, so Zinger gave them the chance to prove it.

In effect, he made all of the players into captain's assistants, and gave each responsibilities that directly impacted the success of the team. Pretty smart, don't you think?

What we should probably take from this is how important it is to take responsibility for our own games. You shouldn't be using a swing just because somebody told you to "swing like this"; you should be convinced that this is the best swing you can use right now. Sometimes you have no choice, but when you do, you should play with people you choose to play with.

And you should realize that you have only a limited amount of responsibility for the results of your play. You can only do so much, so don't beat yourself up just because you can't control it all.

After all, even if both sides at the Ryder Cup had used pods, only one could win.


  1. Azinger definitely has the arrogance to believe that he is the center of the golf universe, and the things that he did profoundly changed the lives of the players on his team. I believe that he believes that the pods playing practice rounds together today had never played a practice round together before he put them together. I believe that he believes that there is an actual formula to winning a Ryder Cup and all you have to do is plug in the players to his formula...never mind that this is sports and the variables are infinite.

  2. But that doesn't change the validity of the idea. Having been part of some large group projects in the past (not sports-related), I have a little experience with the effectiveness of what he did. Pods are just another application of some old group relationship principles.

    Getting the players to "take ownership" of their team -- and put the good of the team ahead of their own egos -- is something we see more often in other sports. When Fisher "took over" for the Lakers in the last quarter of game 3 of the playoffs, or Davis for the Celtics in game 4 last night, you could see it at work. The ability of the rest of the team to "fall in behind" someone who typically doesn't take the spotlight is just another example of that principle at work.

  3. Yes - and how many times, when putting the teams together, or being put together in a team did you give homage to Paul Azinger ? :-D

  4. Uhhh... at the time, or since he offered to pay me? ;-)

    BTW, isn't "oh-mahj" a form of cheese known to cause gastric discomfort? 8-D

  5. Why do I doubt Azinger would be doing the paying ? He'd be charging since he's the center of the golf universe. (genuflect)

  6. Maybe the check came from his pod... ;-)

  7. Looking at this article written 4 years ago and now 2 more Ryder Cup losses later with a total of 3 losses in a row, I think Azinger looks like he is pretty dang smart. He captained the last U.S. victory and I would bet the next Ryder Cup Captain will have read his book. The comments in this section in this article written 4 years ago all trashed Azinger for using the pod system, I guess you were wrong too!

  8. I'm not so sure I was wrong, Michael. I agreed that the pods system was a good one but simply pointed out that NO system works if the players don't play well.

    Let's not forget, Raymond Floyd was one of 'Zinger's co-captains as well as one of Watson's. The techniques of the pod system were certainly available to this team; they just chose not to use them -- at least, not the way 'Zinger did.

    And I stand by my concept of "limited responsibility." After all, the score of the Watson/Kuchar pairing on Saturday morning would have beaten anybody in any session... EXCEPT the Rose/Stenson pairing they were up against. Some things are just beyond your control.

    In the final analysis the US Team got beaten because, overall, they just didn't play well. The rookies (let's include Fowler since he was Walker's partner) made 8.5 of the final 11.5 US points. When the rest of the team plays that badly, pods aren't going to make any difference.