Paul Azinger may have kicked off the entirely-too-early Ryder Cup smack-fest on Sunday at the Honda Classic when the NBC Sports analyst intimated that Tommy Fleetwood, who was contending to win the event, needed to prove himself by winning on the PGA Tour.
Down the stretch at PGA National, Fleetwood put himself in position to capture his first PGA Tour victory, and in the midst of the back nine, Azinger ruffled some feathers with his assertion that Fleetwood would like a Stateside win to validate an already-stellar career.
“There’s a lot of pressure here. You’re trying to prove to everybody you’ve got what it takes and these guys know you can win all you want on that European Tour, the international game and all that, but you have to win on the PGA Tour,” Azinger said during an NBC booth hit. “(Lee) Westwood took offense to that actually yesterday when asked about that. Two wins on the PGA Tour but he’s all, ‘Oh I’ve won 44 times all over the world,’ but it’s not the PGA Tour, though.
“And they know that and I think Tommy knows that. It puts a little pressure on Tommy — but this is where they want to be, isn’t it? They want to come here, they want to prove that they can win at this level.”
A good example of why I wouldn’t advise watching PGA Tour golf with the sound on pic.twitter.com/rQEHjY5cTa
— Garrett Morrison (@gfordgolf) March 1, 2020
The intimation that Fleetwood, who has won five times on the European Tour, needed to prove himself somewhat did not go over well with golf fans of all nationalities, but especially those who compete regularly on the European Tour such as Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
I like @PaulAzinger a lot. And get on with him great. But Paul please do not condescend or disrespect the @EuropeanTour and our players like that. We have slapped your arse in Ryder Cup for so long ??????I know you captained a win but seriously that was embarrassing today.
— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) March 2, 2020
“I like (Azinger) a lot. And get on with him great. But Paul please do not condescend or disrespect the (European Tour) and our players like that,” Poulter wrote on Twitter. “We have slapped your (ass) in Ryder Cup for so long. I know you captained a win but seriously that was embarrassing today.”
One minute Paul walks down the range wishing you good luck before you play the next he’s condescending to the tour you play on and disrespects the tournaments you’ve won around the world. I’ve won in 19 different countries over 4 decades. That is disrespecting a lot of people!
— Lee Westwood (@WestwoodLee) March 2, 2020
“One minute Paul walks down the range wishing you good luck before you play, the next he’s condescending to the tour you play on and disrespects the tournaments you’ve won around the world,” Westwood said. “I’ve won in 19 different countries over 4 decades. That is disrespecting a lot of people!”
Azinger clarified his comments on Monday after reaction to his comments created a kind of firestorm.
“I wasn’t trying to be malicious. I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone,” Azinger told Golfweek.com. “But professional golfers choke for two things: cash and prestige. And the PGA Tour has the most of both.”
While there should always be room for nuance in these types of conversations, Azinger’s delivery on the broadcast seems to be the sticking point for many who have been offended — either actually or manufactured.
Either way, the groundwork has been well laid, and the most recent captain of the European Ryder Cup team, Thomas Bjorn, has taken Azinger’s “shot” at Fleetwood as the opening salvo for the matches in Wisconsin later this year.
It was so easy for @PaulAzinger to say that @TommyFleetwood1 has won around the world and is a world class player. Now the time has come for him to prove that on the strongest tour in the world.
He was at best ignorant, at worst arrogant in delivering that.
Bring on September !
— Thomas Bjorn (@thomasbjorngolf) March 2, 2020
“It was so easy for (Azinger) to say that (Fleetwood) has won around the world and is a world-class player,” Bjorn tweeted. “Now the time has come for him to prove that on the strongest Tour in the world. He was at best ignorant, at worst arrogant in delivering that. Bring on September!”