RENO - Paul Azinger has carved out a new career for himself - golf analyst for ABC.
Azinger did some guest spots last year, but has been a regular in the booth on the eight weekends that ABC has televised golf this season.
Azinger found himself in the middle of some controversy this year during the final round at the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional in Maryland in early June.
Rory Sabbatini and Ben Crane were playing in one of the final groups of the day. At the 17th green, television showed that Sabbatini was already standing behind the green and Crane had yet to hit his approach shot from the fairway. When Crane finally hit, Sabbatini stepped onto the green and putted out. Sabbatini walked to the 18th tee and hit a tee shot, and was booed soundly for his lack of etiquette.
Sabbatini was blasted by Azinger on the air, and the tour veteran did the right thing.
"It's live TV," he said after playing in Wednesday's Reno-Tahoe Pro-Am event at Montreux Golf & Country Club. "You call it while you see it; while it's live. Everything you say goes into the air and is gone forever. You can't ever retrieve it. If I had any regret at all, maybe that I said he had gone psycho or something. But he sort of had. The only person irritated by it was Rory. Everyone else said it was dead on.
"I called Rory two days later and didn't apologize for anything I said. I apologized that he was in the situation that he was in, and that it had happened to him. I tried to give him advice on how he could spin it in a positive direction. I felt like I owed him a phone call. Rory knows he made a mistake, but it made him famous. Bad press is better than no press."
Azinger remains upbeat about his TV career, but it's easy to see he'd rather be playing and playing well than in the booth.
"I like it," he said. "It's a little harder than I thought it would be. You actually have to work. I had never had a job before. If you are unprepared it shows. You have to have tremendous knowledge of the golf course. It doesn't make me nervous. I get nervous trying to win a golf tournament. That's nerve-wracking stuff. That really gets you going. Every penny I made I was nervous. It comes with the package. Television is good for me."
Azinger won't know if he has his TV gig after the 2006 season because of negotiations between the PGA Tour and network television. He did say he feels the sport is watered down compared to the past.
Azinger, who withdrew because of poor play and a bad back in the 1999 RTO, is feeling a little better about his game these days.
"I started hitting it better last week at the PGA," Azinger said. "I missed the cut. I hit three stupid shots. I made a triple the first day and shot 72 and I missed a 12-inch putt on the fourth hole on Friday. I hit a lot of greens in regulation (in practice) and drove it straight. I haven't played that much, that's the thing.
"I want to play well, and I've wanted to play well for a while. I'm getting to the point where I need to play well. That's a little more desperate. Wanting to do it is one thing, needing to do it is another ball of wax. I need to play as much as I can at this point and I need to play better."
SHOT OF THE DAY
That belongs to Jesper Parnevik, who scored a double-eagle on the 616-yard par-5 ninth hole during his Pro-Am round.
Parnevik slammed a 3-wood from 310 yards away that landed on the fringe on the left side of the green, and slowly rolled down the slope and dropped into the hole. Not bad for just your second round on the course.
Parnevik, who is best known for having the brim of his visor turned upwards and the flashy colors of his pants and shirts, still wears the bright colors but wears his visor the conventional way.
"I had Lasik surgery a few years ago," said Parnevik, who was wearing aqua blue pants and a lime green shirt. "My eyes became a little light sensitive after that. I shade my eyes. It can get very bright.
"Ian Poulter and those guys try to make a statement. I don't think Union Jack pants are going to sell that widely across the world. As long as it's stylish and fashionable, guys can wear whatever they want. We try and keep it classic and fashionable but (with) a futuristic sporting look. It's been a long ride for us with J Lindeberg (clothes designer). It's hard to make golf society change. Now you see Nike and Adidas have copied J Lindeberg so we must be doing something right."
Azinger's team of Ron Rivera, Jamie Papp, Rick Laman and Scott Garawitz won the Pro-Am with a 21-under-par score of 51.
Two well-known names connected with the University of Nevada athletic program were also in the field.
Todd Okeson, who led the Pack to the Sweet 16 in the 2003-04 season, played on Carl Pettersson's team. Cary Groth, Nevada's athletic director, was a member of Scott McCarron's team, which shot a 16-under-par 56.
Mark Brooks, who won the 1996 PGA Championship, was the latest to withdraw from the RTO. No reason was given for his WD.
Seven players have withdrawn in the last three days, and another, Steve Elkington finished high enough at the PGA Championship that he made the NEC event. Elkington moved from 81 to 48 in the world rankings with his second-place PGA finish.
Guy Boros took Brooks' spot.
Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-128