Olly on course to captain Europe

THE formal ratification of Jose-Maria Olazabal as captain of the European Ryder Cup team at Medinah next year takes place shortly after lunch today.

And it means the appointment of a first Irishman to hold the coveted position is as far away as ever.

With Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke among a host of eminent players who have strongly endorsed Olazabal’s claims, neither can now be too sanguine about their prospects with new candidates coming on stream every year and likely to put their names in the hat for the match at Gleneagles in 2014.

Fact is the two Irishmen, and any others with eyes on the captaincy, have been given little option but to stand aside given Olly’s magnificent Ryder Cup record as a player and his contributions to the team that lost under Nick Faldo’s leadership in 2008 and regained the trophy at Celtic Manor last October. And, yet, he will breathe a huge sigh of relief when the announcement is made around 1.30 Irish time today.

The role would almost certainly have been his in 2010 had the name of Colin Montgomerie not been pulled like a rabbit from a magician’s hat exactly two years ago. The Tournament Players committee of the European Tour make the decision and they went into conclave expecting to debate the merits of two Spaniards, Olazabal and Miguel-Angel Jimenez, two-times major champion Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam, the successful leader at the K Club in 2006 and whom many felt merited a recall given the match was due to take place in Wales.

Lyle was eliminated early on because none of the 14 present felt the captaincy should be handed out on the basis it was Sandy’s turn. Woosnam quickly fell by the wayside and Jimenez’s difficulty with the English language and his reluctance to do anything about it, also ruled him out. That seemed to leave the way clear for Olazabal, until the Swede, Henrik Stenson intervened to declare in his opinion “the best man for the job is sitting in this room.”

With that he turned towards Colin Montgomerie. Monty’s silence in turn indicated he was interested and wouldn’t wait until 2014 in Scotland if that was the committee’s desire. This changed everything. Monty was asked by the chairman, Thomas Bjorn, to leave the room while the others debated the issue. He did so, returned a half hour or so later to be informed the decision had been deferred until a further meeting in Dubai a fortnight later. The cat was out of the bag and the rest, as they say, is history.

Is a similar dose of disappointment in store for Olazabal today? Almost certainly not. It would require an about face of unimaginable proportions by too many people. Olly is their man and he should be an excellent captain.

Back home in Ireland, though, we are left to wonder if the honour will ever come our way. Since Fred Daly became our first Ryder Cup player in Portland, Oregon, in 1947, we have had a whole host of people who looked ideally suited to the task. Daly himself won the Open Championship in 1947 and was again a member of the teams in 1949, ‘51 and ‘53.

In the last of those four appearances at Wentworth, Daly, a native of Portrush, won his foursome in partnership with Dubliner Harry Bradshaw against Walter Burkemo and Cary Middlecoff by one hole over 36 holes. In the singles, Daly walloped Ted Kroll 9 and 7 and Bradshaw defeated Fred Haas 3 and 2.

Daly was never invited to captain what was then a British and Irish team and neither were Bradshaw and Christy O’Connor Senior, handsome contributors to the first post-war B & I victory at Lindrick, Sheffield, in 1957. O’Connor went on to make 10 successive appearances in the match, a record until broken by Nick Faldo.

Accordingly, Daly, Bradshaw and O’Connor boasted outstanding Ryder Cup records, but the PGA, always came up with somebody with better credentials when it came to the Ryder Cup captaincy!

As the years went by, Ireland produced a string of players good enough to grace the match when it became the US v Europe and several played key roles in famous victories earned both at home and in the States.

It is not necessary to reel off here what the likes of Christy O’Connor Junior, Eamonn Darcy and Philip Walton did for the European cause and how splendidly Des Smyth disported himself on and off the course.

More recently still. people like Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley made their mark both in major tournament golf and in the Ryder Cup itself. As a two-time winner of the Open Championship and US PGA champion in 2008 and one of the brightest personalities in the game, Harrington will assuredly be a certainty for the captaincy once he ceases to be a serious tournament player.

Will McGinley or Clarke or both get there before him? Hopefully, but the longer the drought goes on, the less likely it is that Ireland will provide a Ryder Cup captain any time soon.

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