Who knew that a throw away twitter comment upon learing Paul Azinger was writing a book about Ryder Cup strategy from someone with 130 followers could generate a mini argument about the merit’s of Azinger’s strategy.
So, I went back and took a look at how Azinger’s strategy might have affected the outcome of the 2008 Ryder Cup.
For those of you that forget, Azinger was widely praised for being some kind of Ryder Cup strategy genius because the US won. I decided to take a look at how much of a genius he is.
To do this, I ran three different 2008 Ryder Cup simulations on an adjusted version of the President’s Cup simulation I got from XLSSports. In the first version, we’ll call it Azinger, it has every match-up exactly as how it was done in the 2008 Ryder Cup. In the second version, we’ll call it Captain’s picks I switched out Chad Campbell and J.B. Holmes* with the two highest ranked Americans not already on the team. That would be Ben Crane and Pat Perez. I substituted Ben Crane in every match Campbell played and Perez in every match Holmes played.
*Mahan and Stricker were good captain’s picks. Campbell is close enough that there is almost no way to say Azinger is right or wrong. J.B. Holmes was a terrible pick.
Finally, I did a third version, we’ll call it mine, I took my four captain’s picks, and aligned them in a strategy that I thought would make the most possible points. I stayed with Crane and Perez as captain’s picks, though if I was actually making the picks I would have selected Steve Marino.
*refer to this President’s Cup strategy for the basic idea.
First off, I have to give credit where credit is due. Azinger did a good job with his alternate shot pairings, where your partner does matter. He also limited the use of weak links on the team, J.B. Holmes, Boo Weekley and Chad Campbell as much as could be expected given the popular sentiment after the Euro’s sat there week links for two days then blew it in singles.
Another point that should be noted is the Americans were actually a stronger team from top to bottom. I had Sergio and Karlsson as the two best players in this event from 2008, but from top to bottom the Americans were much more talented. Like in the President’s Cup, having two really weak players compared to the rest of the field, is pretty damaging to your chances to win. For this reason the simulation I did below for Azinger gives the Americans an almost 54% chance of winning the cup.
–Individual matches simulated 1000 times, overall Cup simulated 10,000 times.
It’s strange to think now, but even with the “genius” Paul Azinger running this team the Europeans would have flown back with the cup 46 times out of 100.
My Captains picks
There actually isn’t too big a difference here, because as I said, Azinger only had one really weak link in Holmes and he only played sparingly. Subbing Perez for Campbell is a small improvement, but in reality these guys are pretty similar.
Anyway, By putting in the captains picks based solely on my 2008 rankings it does up the US’s chances to around 55%. Not huge, but I’d much rather have 55% of 1 million dollars than 54%.
To be fair here, I just used some basic rules. 1/8,2/7,3/6,4/5, were the teams in terms of ranking on the US team I used for all best ball matches. I don’t really see a legit reason to use anyone, but your best 8 in best ball situations, though if you wanted to sub out the 7th and 8th guys, there is almost no drop down to 9 and 10.
For alternate shot, I used my knowledge of golf to make good teams. I started from the top of the US team and went down, ensuring that I would use the best players. For singles, I lined the US up 1-12 and sent the off in this order.
In each session, I used my teams in an order of strongest to weakest. If I was actually captain I doubt this is how I would do it. There seems to be a strong tendency to put strong teams at the top and bottom of the order, and for the US it would have been incredibly beneficial to try and pair best team with best teams(which would have been basically a coin flip) and then dominate Europe’s weaker teams. To be fair to Azinger, I didn’t do this because knowing the order of the pairings presents an advantage to me that Azinger did not have.
As you can see, another small jump up in the US chances to win, with my strategy. After what happened to the Euro’s in 1999, no one is going to take a chance sitting a guy both days anymore, but I definitely think its the best strategy to win. Afterall, a weaker European team had the US on the ropes going into Sunday using it. If Justin Leonard doesn’t make a 50-foot putt, that strategy is thought of in a new light.
-It’s hard to say Azinger was an awful captain. However, I see NO proof, or no legitimate reason that he was some great leader worthy of writing a book, like everyone is proclaiming.
-Nick Faldo clearly was not thinking right. There is no reason Justin Rose or Oliver Wilson should have seen the light of day before Sunday. That would have increased there chances to win a lot.
Paul Azinger certainly did some things well as US Captain. I seriously doubt there was anything important in his strategy other than 12 US guys playing well over a meaningless sample size of 28 matches. I’m certainly not buying his book.