Paul Azinger Overcomes Long Odds To Become Golf Star
By Jeff Navin // February 9, 2012
Former BCC Star Shines In Pro Career
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Brevard Community College provided Paul Azinger a place to play golf when it didn’t look like he’d be any more than a weekend player.
Azinger, who is a possible nominee for enshrinement in the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame, went on post 12 victories on the PGA Tour and two on the European Tour, after following his Sarasota High buddy Rick Stallings to BCC in the autumn of 1978.
Stallings had been offered a scholarship to play for coach Floyd Horgen, whose Titans had won three consecutive junior college national championships.
Horgen allowed Azinger to join the team as a walk-on, but Horgen never got a chance to coach either of the Sarasota High players.
Howard Sutton, a wealthy Louisiana businessman, coaxed Horgen to become the golf coach at Centenary College where he could coach his son, Hal Sutton. Sutton went on to become a standout on the PGA Tour.
Azinger also never broke 40 for nine holes until his senior year at Sarasota High.
Jim Suttie replaced Horgen as BCC’s golf coach, and he wasn’t overwhelmed with Azinger’s game when he saw him play during fall practice.
Azinger was the No. 3 player on BCC’s B team that spring until he impressed Suttie with a victory in a match play event among team members at Royal Oak in Titusville.
A summer job at Bay Hill in 1979 then helped Azinger move his play to the next level. He worked as a counselor at Arnold Palmer’s Golf Academy. The pay was $80 a week, which included his room.
But, the real perk was being able to play all the golf he wanted at the facility. When he returned to BCC, he became a fixture at No. 1 or No. 2 in the Titans’ lineup.
Suttie also knew when too much coaching could hurt his star player.
Azinger had a firm left-handed grip, which coaches later tried to change. That led to a slump early in his professional career. He briefly lost his PGA Tour card before going back to his firm grip.
Suttie knew better and had Azinger work with local pro John Redman, who also believed in a strong grip.
As a Titan, Azinger won Golfweek’s Florida State Amateur Match Play Championship.
After graduating from BCC, Azinger accepted a scholarship at Florida State. He won the Metro Conference Championship and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in his lone season with the Seminoles.
He turned pro in 1981. After battling problems with his grip and swing, Azinger won the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament in 1984.
A retired boxing trainer, Mac McKee, helped Azinger with visualization techniques, where Azinger would imagine where his shots would go.
McKee, who knew Azinger’s wife Toni when she was a child, also was a proponent of breathing exercises.
First PGA victory
Azinger defeated Sutton by two strokes at 16-under-par 268 to win the Phoenix Open on Jan. 13, 1987 for his first PGA Tour victory. He then beat Sutton by one stroke on May 3 to claim the Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational at 17-under 271.
Azinger then won the Greater Hartford Open by six strokes against Dan Forsman and Wayne Levi at 15-under 269 on June 28.
Those three victories gave Azinger the momentum to become a force in a major for the first time.
He finished one stroke behind Nick Faldo in the 1987 British Open in Muirfield. Bogeys on the final two holes foiled his bid to win the prestigious event in Scotland.
Azinger, who was diagonosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma shortly after winning the 1993 PGA Championship, was ranked among the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings for nearly 300 weeks between 1988 and 1994.
Azinger wrote his book ”Zinger,” which chronicled his battle with the cancer, which was near his right shoulder blade.
He capped his comeback with a seven-stroke victory against Stuart Appleby in the 2000 Sony Open in Hawaii. Azinger carded 19-under 278.
Just before the cancer diagnosis, Azinger defeated Greg Norman on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff after the two finished regulation at 12-under 272 in the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness in Toledo. Faldo finished one stroke behind.
Azinger’s best finish in The Masters was fifth in 1998. His tie for third in 1993 was his best showing in the U.S. Open.
His other PGA Tour victories include the 1988 Hertz Bay Hill Classic, the 1989 Greater Hartford Open, the 1990 MONY Tournament of Champions, the 1991 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, The Tour Championship in 1992, the 1993 Memorial, the 1993 New England Classic and the 2000 Sony Open in Hawaii.
Azinger also won the BMW Internatonal Open in both 1990 and 1992 on the European Tour. Both of those victories came in playoffs.
Besides the 1984 victory in the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, Azinger teamed up with Bob Tway to win the 1988 Fred Meyer Challenge.
In 1991, he teamed up with Ben Crenshaw to win the Fred Meyer Challenge once again. Azinger won the 1994 Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge with Fred Couples and Norman.
In 2008, Azinger was the U.S. Ryder Cup captain. His strategy of dividing his 12 players into three groups of similar personalities helped the U.S. earn its first victory against Europe since 1999.
Azinger, who was born in Holyoke, Mass. on Jan. 6, 1960, lives in Sarasota.
His father, Ralph, was an Air Force navigator who flew C-141s in Korea and Vietnam. His mother, Jean, was a 4 handicap, who chipped in three times during a 1959 golf exhibition with Hall of Famer Patty Berg when she was seven months pregnant with Paul.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Azinger has worked as a golf commentator for ESPN. He competed in the 2006 and 2008 World Series of Poker.
In 1999, Azinger gave the eulogy for his friend Payne Stewart, who died in a plane crash. Azinger’s two managers, Robert Fraley and Van Arden, also died in the plane crash.