DARREN Clarke has been confirmed as Europe’s captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in Minnesota.
The 44-year-old Northern Irishman was selected ahead of Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez by a five-man panel at Wentworth this morning.
Paul McGinley, last year’s winning captain at Gleneagles, and his two predecessors Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie made their decision in less than two hours.
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The meeting was also attended by European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and former Ryder Cup player, who was representing the Tour’s tournament committee.
“I am naturally extremely proud to be selected as European Ryder Cup captain for 2016,” said Clarke, who played in the biennial event five times and was an assistant captain on two other occasions.
“The Ryder Cup has been a massive part of my life and my career, so to have the chance to lead Europe next year is a huge honour.
“I am lucky to have played and worked under some fantastic captains in my seven Ryder Cups to date, and I look forward to the challenge of trying to follow in their footsteps and help Europe to a fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory at Hazeltine next year.”
The 2011 Open champion becomes the first Northern Irishman to lead Europe against the United States.
The 14-time European Tour winner made his Ryder Cup debut in 1997 at Valderrama in Spain under Seve Ballesteros, partnering Montgomerie to defeat Fred Couples and Davis Love III in the fourballs before losing narrowly to Phil Mickelson in the singles.
He then contributed two points at each of the next two Ryder Cups, at Brookline in 1999 and The Belfry in 2002, and three-and-a-half points in Europe’s record 18½-9½ victory at Oakland Hills Country Club in 2004.
But his most memorable, and emotional, Ryder Cup performance came two years later when he inspired Europe to victory by the same record equalling margin in front of passionate Irish galleries at The K Club, just six weeks after his first wife Heather passed away.
Clarke won all three of his matches in Co. Kildare, joining forces with Lee Westwood to defeat Mickelson and Chris DiMarco then Tiger Woods and Jim Fuyrk in the fourballs, before beating Zach Johnson 3 and 2 in the singles. His two victories alongside Westwood mean the duo are joint second in the all-time list of most successful Ryder Cup partnerships, with six points from their eight matches together, while overall Clarke has contributed a total of 11½ points in the blue of Europe.
He returned to The Ryder Cup fold four years later as a vice captain under Montgomerie at The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, as Europe beat the United States by 14½-13½, and he gained further experience as part of the backroom team under Olazábal at Medinah in 2012.
That came a year after the finest individual achievement of his distinguished career, when he held off Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to win The 140th Open Championship at Royal St George’s, adding the Claret Jug to the two World Golf Championship titles he won in the early 2000s, when he became just the second player after Tiger Woods to win more than one WGC crown.
“We are delighted to announce that Darren has accepted the invitation from the panel to captain Europe at The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National,” said O’Grady.
“Darren has an impressive Ryder Cup pedigree having featured five times as a player and twice as a vice captain, so he has a strong understanding of the attributes required to be a successful captain. He is also a popular figure among the players and has both the passion and knowledge to lead Europe in the quest for a record fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory.”