DARREN Clarke, the new Ryder Cup captain, has admitted he’d be “foolish” to change a winning formula when Europe bid to beat the Americans for the fourth match running in Minnesota next September.
The former Open champion was picked for the post at Hazeltine ahead of both Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn by a five-man selection panel that included the past three European captains.
One of them, Paul McGinley, immediately ruled himself out of being considered as an assistant, either under Clarke or any other future captain.
However, the template used so successfully by McGinley as the Europeans won 16½-11½ at Gleneagles last September, will be retained by his successor as he sees no reason whatsoever for any drastic changes to a formula that is tried and tested.
“We all know how good a job that Paul did at Gleneagles and how successful that whole event was, so I think it would be very silly and foolish to move away from that,” said Clarke after becoming the first Northern Irishman to be appointed as a Ryder Cup captain.
“The team bonding was unbelievable and Paul’s role would figure in all that; it would be stupid of me to move away from that. I will obviously consult with other past captains, as well, and try and get as much information as I can to what was successful. But I think the way Paul did things the last time at Gleneagles, it will be tough to get it any better than that.”
The five-man panel, which comprised of former captains McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie as well as European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and players’ representative David Howell, took less than two hours to make their decision at Wentworth.
Montgomerie said their choice of Clarke had been “unanimous” and described the 46-year-old as a “very able candidate”. The 2010 captain added: “We have an abundance of good potential captains now and in the future but, on this occasion, Darren Clarke was the right man for the job. He’ll have the respect of the players and I think he will be a very good communicator with the players individually as well as a team.”
McGinley said the discussion had been “extensive” and revealed his backing for Clarke had been “crystallised” after hearing he had the support of players like world No 1 Rory McIlroy and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Unlike McGinley, who was groomed for the job through two stints as a Seve Trophy captain, Clarke will be thrown in at the deep end, though the Ulsterman did serve as an assistant to both Montgomerie and Olazabal. “It will be a big learning curve for him but I think he’ll do a very good job because he brings a big personality to the job,” added McGinley. “I’m sure the Americans will be pretty formidable opponents, especially on home soil, but, like me, he is going to be blessed with another strong team. My best advice to him would be: ‘Do what you think is right’.”
For McGinley, the right thing for him is for a line to be drawn under his own Ryder Cup career. “I won’t be a vice-captain, not for Darren or anybody,” insisted the Dubliner. “I don’t think I’d have the personality like Jose Maria or Sam Torrance did to do that. Any help I can give I will, but it’s important that I step away now and let Darren go ahead.”
According to three-times captain Bernard Gallacher, Clarke’s first port of call when it comes to appointing members of his backroom team should be the two men he was selected ahead of. “I’d imagine the first person Darren would speak to about being a vice-captain is Miguel Angel Jimenez and also Thomas Bjorn, who is very friendly with him. He’ll also want personal friends,” said Gallacher.
He felt Clarke was a “shoe-in” and is confident the right decision has been made. “I think he’ll be a hands-on captain. He’ll be a captain very much in the Paul McGinley style,” added Gallacher. “The Americans have been hit hard after losing at Medinah then losing badly at Gleneagles so it’s a tough assignment for Darren Clarke and he’ll be under no illusions. He’s passionate about the Ryder Cup and knows what it takes to put pairings together.”
McDowell hailed the appointment as a “phenomenal choice” while it was also warmly welcomed by the game’s top-ranked player. “I think it’s great,” said McIlroy. “Darren is a stalwart of the European Tour, a major winner, and has played in a lot of Ryder Cups.
“He’s a great choice. He’s got a great rapport over there [in America] and will be well received. I couldn’t think of a better guy to play under in 2016.”