Clarke to follow McGinley as Ryder captain?

Paul McGinley to captain Europe at Gleneagles in 2014 followed by Darren Clarke at Hazeltine in 2016.

That’s what the European Tour rumour mill is telling us, with speculation rife that a deal for the European Ryder Cup team captaincy covering those years is nearing completion and that this country, having never previously had the honour, is now about to savour it in two successive matches.

While that says a lot about the high profile enjoyed by both McGinley and Clarke, perhaps even more relevant is Rory McIlroy’s part in bringing this situation about. McIlroy really enjoyed playing the Seve Trophy a couple of years ago under McGinley’s leadership and, as a result, publicly supported him for the Ryder Cup job in 2014.

However, when Clarke, with whom McIlroy has had a very close relationship from his mid-teens onwards, expressed a desire to lead the European defence in 2014, many believed McIlroy might well have a change of heart, all the more so because they are both from the North and proud of the fact. However, McIlroy stuck to his guns and his tweet the other day advocating McGinley and Clarke for ’14 and ’16 was always going to be a hugely telling factor in choosing the best way forward.

There is precedent for appointing two captains at the same time. In March, 2005, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo were simultaneously chosen to lead Europe at The K Club in 2006 and at Valhalla two years later and there is a large body of opinion supporting a similar strategy with regard to McGinley and Clarke. The Tournament Committee meets to decide the issue in Abu Dhabi on January 15.

Thomas Bjorn, himself an outside candidate, is the committee chairman and its members include both McGinley and Clarke, along with well-known supporters of both candidates. Lee Westwood and David Howell have come out in favour of their International Sports Management (ISM) colleague Clarke while the recently appointed Peter Lawrie and Francesco Molonari are expected to favour McGinley.

The appointment of McGinley in ’14 and Clarke in ’16 may be seen in some quarters as a compromise and demonstrate an unwillingness among the ‘selectors’ to upset either candidate. In actual fact, it should be regarded as the ideal way of utilising the qualities of two outstanding candidates.

McGinley, 46 on Sunday, proved himself an outstanding captain in his two terms at the helm of successful British & Irish Seve Trophy teams! His virtues of shrewdness, coolness and practicality were commented upon by everyone, including Clarke and Westwood, while there are few more articulate and better focused people in the game.

As a golfer without a Major championship to his name, there are those who fear McGinley would be outshone and dominated by US captain Tom Watson, a man with five British Opens, two Masters and one US Open to his credit. As against that, McGinley can look to his own outstanding Ryder Cup record.

He was a member of the successful side in each of his three appearances, memorably holed the winning putt at The Belfry in 2002 and assembled a massive wealth of knowledge as vice-captain in the sides that won at Celtic Manor in ’06 and Medinah this year.

By the time Gleneagles comes around, he will be 47 to Watson’s 65 and as a regular competitor on Tour, far better acquainted with his players than Watson could possibly be. Instead of the captaincy being an advantage to the Americans, I believe it will be the other way around.

In Clarke’s favour is, above all, his victory in the 2011 British Open, along with his own fine record in Ryder Cup combat and the experience achieved when also being one of the vice-captains in each of the last two matches. Another salient point is Darren’s undoubted popularity in the United States, where they enjoy watching him puff on a giant cigar and shooting the breeze with team-mates and opponents alike.

Just as Watson will be received regally in Scotland, so, too, will Clarke at Hazeltine.

All of which suggests that the appointment of the two Irishmen is an absolute no brainer.

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Saturday, February 27, 2021

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