Golfer Paul Azinger: Cancer Survivor and Major Championship Winner

USA team captain Paul Azinger shares the Ryder Cup with fans after his team's 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory on the final day of the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club on September 21, 2008
Paul Azinger shows off the Ryder Cup after captaining Team USA's victory in 2008. David Cannon/Getty Images

Paul Azinger's golf career as a player thrived in the late 1980s and early 1990s before being interrupted by a battle with cancer. He made a mark on the Ryder Cup both as player and team captain, then entered a career in broadcasting.

Fast Facts: Paul Azinger

  • Known For: Professional golfer and golf broadcaster
  • Nickname: Zinger
  • Born: January 6, 1960 in Holyoke, Massachusetts
  • Education: Brevard Community College, Florida State University
  • Key Accomplishments: Winner of the 1993 PGA Championship, winning Ryder Cup team captain, lead golf analyst for the NBC television network
  • Spouse: Toni (married 1982)
  • Children: Two daughters, Sarah and Josie

Tour Victories and Major Championship Wins

Azinger won 12 times on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour. The first of those wins was in 1987, the last in 2000. (His tour victories are listed at the bottom of this article.)

In the four professional major championships, Azinger won once: the 1993 PGA Championship.

Awards and Honors for Azinger

  • PGA Player of the Year Award winner, 1987
  • Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1989, 1991, 1993, 2002
  • Member, U.S. Presidents Cup team, 2000
  • Captain, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 2008
  • PGA Tour Courage Award winner, 2000

Paul Azinger Biography

Paul Azinger is probably best-remembered for the passion and intensity he brought to the Ryder Cup. That might best (or worst, depending on your point of view) be exemplified in the back-and-forth accusations of rules violations that Azinger and his Ryder Cup arch-nemesis Seve Ballesteros engaged in during the contentious 1991 Ryder Cup.

"Match play is in this man's blood," European captain Tony Jacklin said of Azinger. "The better the player Azinger went up against, the better he played. Even Seve Ballesteros, who could intimidate almost anyone, couldn't faze Paul."

Azinger's Ryder Cup play engendered respect in opponents despite the fact that he had an overall losing record as a player (5-7-3) during a period of European ascendancy.

But Azinger beat Jose Maria Olazabal in singles at that 1991 Ryder Cup, a key point in the Americans' win. As a captain's pick in 2002, Azinger holed out on the final hole to gain a halve against Niclas Fasth in singles.

And in 2008, his Ryder Cup experience came full-circle when he captained Team USA to a relatively easy victory, the only USA win during a 12-year stretch from 2002 through 2014.

Azinger was introduced to golf at the age of five. But unlike many tour pros (especially the really good ones), he didn't dominate at every junior level. In fact, Azinger didn't break 40 over nine holes until he was a senior in high school. He had to begin his college career in junior college, but finished it at Florida State University, and turned pro in 1981.

It took a couple trips through Q-School before Azinger began to make a mark on the PGA Tour. He first cracked the top 100 on the money list in the 1985 season, then finished 29th in a 1986 season that included two runner-up finishes.

And in 1987, Azinger broke out and established himself as one of the PGA Tour's best. He won three times that year, posted nine Top 10s and was second on the money list. And Azinger probably should have won the 1987 British Open: He needed to finish par-par to get the victory. Instead, he finished bogey-bogey and lost to Nick Faldo. Still, Azinger won the PGA of America's Player of the Year Award.

Azinger won at least once in seven consecutive PGA Tour seasons, 1987 through 1993, bookended by three-win seasons. In 1993, he won three times, finished second or third seven more times, and was again second on the money list. One of those wins, at The Memorial, came via a final-hole hole-out from a bunker.

Azinger was runner-up in another major at the 1988 PGA Championship but finally got that major championship victory at the 1993 PGA Championship. Azinger beat Greg Norman in a playoff for that trophy.

But in December 1993, Azinger received shocking news: He had cancer, specifically, lymphoma in his right shoulder blade.

He played just four events in 1994 following chemotherapy and radiation treatments. And he was never the same golfer afterward. But he did recover and was able to resume a full-time tour schedule in 1995.

His 12th and final win happened at the 2000 Sony Open. Azinger went wire-to-wire and won by seven shots — his only victory after the 1993 PGA.

Azinger began a second career in television before his first career on the PGA Tour was over, broadcasting with the ABC network's golf team. In 2016 Azinger replaced Greg Norman as lead analyst on American golf broadcasts by Fox Sports. In 2018, Azinger moved over to NBC, taking over from the retired Johnny Miller as that network's lead analyst on golf broadcasts.

Paul Azinger Trivia

  • Until it happened again in 2017, Paul Azinger was the only golfer to birdie the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass all four rounds of a Players Championship. He did it in 1987.
  • At the 1991 Ryder Cup, Paul Azinger and Mark O'Meara beat Nick Faldo and David Gilford in a foursomes match by a score of 7-and-6. That ties the Ryder Cup record for largest margin of victory in an 18-hole foursomes.
  • Azinger was one of the early adapters of the belly putter. He began using one in 1999 and is often credited with popularizing the putter on tour.
  • One of Azinger's hobbies is poker, and he played in the World Series of Poker in 2006 and 2008.

Quote, Unquote

  • Paul Azinger: "Great champions learn from past experiences, whether those be good or bad. A lot of times a guy needs to be knocked down before he gets up and fights."
  • Paul Azinger: "Staying in the present is the key to any golfer's game. Once you start thinking about a shot you just messed up or what you have to do on the next nine to catch somebody, you're lost."

List of Pro Tour Wins by Azinger

PGA Tour: 12

  • 1987 Phoenix Open
  • 1987 Las Vegas Invitational
  • 1987 Sammy Davis Jr.- Greater Hartford Open
  • 1988 Bay Hill Classic
  • 1989 Greater Hartford Open
  • 1990 MONY Tournament of Championship
  • 1991 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
  • 1992 Tour Championship
  • 1993 Memorial Tournament
  • 1993 New England Classic
  • 1993 PGA Championship
  • 2000 Sony Open

European Tour: 2

  • 1990 BMW International Open
  • 1992 BMW International Open