BRIAN KEOGH: Clarke may be forced to eat words
The age old adage that you should be careful what you wish for is certainly holding true for Darren Clarke, just eight months after what was described as an “unseemly” politicking for the Ryder Cup captaincy.
By Brian Keogh
While he will always claim that he was merely looking after the interests of the tour in publicly questioning moves to appoint Paul McGinley and recommending that Colin Montgomerie be given serious consideration, Clarke’s opposition to his former team mate has had a knock-on effect. It’s cost him the Seve Trophy captaincy of the Great Britain and Ireland team later this year.
Bereft of support in the committee room when the jostling for the 2014 captaincy began in earnest, Clarke withdrew his name from consideration and claimed he wanted to concentrate on making the playing team.
The Seve Trophy captaincy has always been considered an apprenticeship for the Ryder Cup job but in naming veteran Sam Torrance and 2012 skipper Jose Maria Olazabal last week, McGinley is clearly not going out of his way to smooth the path to the Ryder Cup captaincy for the 2011 British Open champion, or indeed his own backroom team next year.
With future Ryder Cup captaincy candidates and potential 2014 Ryder Cup team members such as Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez certain to qualify for what will be a depleted Continent of Europe side for the Seve Trophy and with Paul Lawrie also a contender for the Great Britain and Ireland side, it appears clear McGinley had little choice but to kill two birds with one stone and opt for experienced old hands to take the reins at St-Nom-La Bretèche Golf Club in France from October 3-6.
When he turns up at Gleneagles this week for the Johnnie Walker Championship, the press will go for the juiciest angle and ask McGinley why his once bosom buddy Clarke was not handed a Seve Trophy captaincy.
It would be a surprise if McGinley does anything but point to Clarke’s words in January, when he made it clear that he still has playing ambitions. And given the flickers of form he showed in The British Open at Muirfield and the opening rounds of the US PGA — where he played alongside Dubliner — he may yet feel he has a chance of winning a wildcard.
McGinley has three captain’s picks for a very good reason — he might need to bolster the side with a course specialist or a bad weather player and Clarke certainly fits into the latter category given the way he played in the worst of the weather at Oak Hill in the second round.
Whatever happens, it appears crystal clear that the Dungannon man, who turned 45 last week, will not form part of McGinley’s backroom team with Torrance, Olazábal and Ireland’s Des Smyth already looking like ideal candidates 13 months before the big day.
McGinley is certainly astute enough not to rule Clarke out of the reckoning completely for a wildcard if he shows some serious form at the end of the qualifying campaign.
As for the choice of Torrance and Olazábal for the Seve Trophy, it is the clearest indication yet that they will form the backbone of McGinley’s posse of assistants.
It will give them the chance to get to know the potential Ryder Cup rookies who could make the Seve Trophy sides — the likes of Chris Wood, Shane Lowry or Jonas Blixt — in the likely absence of many of the heroes of Medinah 2012.
As for the selection process that put McGinley in the job in the first place, it is encouraging to see the European Tour has made some effort to change it and reduce the politicking that led Chief Executive George O’Grady to describe January’s Machiavellian goings-on as “unseemly.”
As a result, the European Ryder Cup captain, from the 2016 contest onwards, will be decided by a select five-man panel rather than a vote of the 15-strong Tournament Committee. The five-man panel will comprise the three previous Ryder Cup captains – which means McGinley himself, Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie will decide on Clarke’s chances of the 2016 captaincy alongside the Chief Executive of the European Tour (O’Grady), and one representative from the Tournament Committee, to be nominated beforehand by the committee itself.
With McGinley unlikely to ever present himself as a repeat candidate, the new system goes some way towards eliminating the sordid vested interests in the committee room that marred the 2014 campaign though one still has doubts.
At a time when the European Tour is being asked to deny stories about a PGA Tour takeover we believe are well wide of the mark, it’s important Europe chooses the right man for the job at Hazeltine.
In the meantime, the two-speed European Tour will plough on through the current economic crisis and leave its elite members, who are part of the world’s Top-50, to cherry pick the best events.
Unable to compete financially, the tour’s best option is to flex its muscle by negotiating clever TV deals such as the arrangement that saw the Golf Channel televise the Scottish Open live last month.
That caused as much unease at PGA Tour HQ as those attention-grabbing headlines in the British press about an American takeover caused at Wentworth. Euro heroics can provide inspiration for Ireland’s next generation
The next Solheim Cup will be played at the St Leon-Rot near Frankfurt in Germany in 2015 but what are the odds on Ireland having a player in the side for the first time? A youthful European side romped to a record-breaking 18-10 victory in Colorado in the early hours of Monday with six rookies playing.
The included Beatriz Recari and Carlota Ciganda who joined Azahara Munoz in making Spain the most represented nationality in the side ahead of England and Sweden, who had two players each.
The performances of the likes of 17-year-old Charley Hull will certainly give Irish players such as Leona and Lisa Maguire the belief that they too can step up to Solheim Cup level some day while Royal Portrush’s Stephanie Meadow is also likely to come into the reckoning when she eventually turns professional at the end of next year.
The mental game is crucial at Solheim Cup level but 21-year-old Meadow is already ahead of the curve. She models herself on Swedish legend Annika Sorenstam and lives by the mental game philosophies extolled by Vision54 coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, who helped Sorenstam on the road to greatness.
“A lot of what they do is about getting away from technique and controlling your emotions, taking one shot at a time,” Meadow explains. “It’s all the stuff that gets really redundant after a while and some people never really learn to do it. But they have really helped me because it is harder than it seems.”Lahinch ladies looking to wrest back team challenge on fabled Old Course
Lahinch Golf Club began their bid to win back the Women’s International Team Challenge on the world famous Old Course yesterday.
The fourth staging of the prestigious event features sees teams from San Francisco’s Olympic Club, The Country Club at Brookline, Southern Hills in Tulsa, Fisher’s Island in New York and Philadelphia’s Merion joined by guests from Nairn and Royal Liverpool.
The action ends on Thursday and Lahinch are represented by captain Aedín McCarthy, president Valerie Hassett, vice-captain Jenny Cagney, Mary Sadlier, Maria Nolan and Jacqueline Joyce. The Clare club won the tournament at Fisher’s Island in 2011 and will be looking to regain the title from the holders Southern Hills.
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