Backroom boys set sights on top job at Gleneagles

The champagne had not even dried on the European team room walls before thoughts turned to the next Ryder Cup trophy defence and, more pertinently, who will succeed Jose Maria Olazabal as captain at Gleneagles in 2014.

The greatest golf show on earth switches back across the Atlantic from sunny Chicago to a potentially soggy Scotland as Europe bids for another three-in-a-row in this century and there are plenty of veteran golfers who would fancy their chances of leading the defending champions into the 2014 matches in the birthplace of the game, not least the four vice-captains who assisted Olazabal at Medinah Country Club last week.

Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ireland’s Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley each have outstanding resumes to lead a team they have all served so admirably over the years and the winning captain paid tribute to his vice-captains on Sunday night in the aftermath of a momentous victory.

“They bring a lot of knowledge, experience but at the same time, a lot of diversity,” Olazabal said of his brains trust.

“All four guys are completely different. They have their own way of thinking. And I think that combination is very helpful or has been very helpful in this case for me, because I could have the view from a different perspective of how things were going. And that’s what they bring.

“Also, they have the respect of these 12 men here. They have done, they have played great golf for many years.

“They have won. Darren has won a Major event and Thomas has been fighting for it, and they have been great golfers for many, many years and these guys respect that.”

Olazabal summed up the necessary qualities of Ryder Cup captaincy extremely neatly. A good track record, a strong sense of direction and having the respect of the players. With a British Open on his CV, Clarke would tick all the boxes but his popularity in America may make him an obvious choice for the next Stateside Ryder Cup, at Hazeltine in Minnesota in 2016.

McGinley, the hero of The Belfry in 2002, has long been considered the front runner for Gleneagles, having proven a popular and winning Seve Trophy captain in the biennial Great Britain and Ireland versus Continental Europe contest, leading GB&I to success in 2009 (16½-11½ against Bjorn’s Continentals) and 2011 (15½-12½ against Jean Van de Velde’s team).

Yet a Scottish captain for Gleneagles is being whispered about and with 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie proving a valuable team member at Medinah, the 43-year-old Aberdonian may make a late bid for the captaincy if he feels he will not qualify for the team in two years’ time.

Rory McIlroy played for McGinley in the first of those and is a close friend of Clarke’s, so the world No 1 was understandably diplomatic in his praise of both men.

“I am just trying to make the team for a start,” McIlroy said on Sunday night. “I don’t know. Scotland. I’ve always said I think Clarkey would be a great captain over here [in America].

“I think the crowds really love him here and I think he would be great so maybe let’s see if Darren is up for 2016.

“And then for the captain next time around, there are a lot of guys who have a chance to do it. Whoever ends up doing it would be a great captain.

“McGinley was fantastic at the Seve Trophy. He is a fantastic vice-captain. They are all very... as Jose said, they are all different.”

Bjorn, incidentally, chairs the European Tour’s tournament committee, which is expected to make a decision on the captaincy in January.

As for the Americans, there are two live contenders to succeed the unfortunate Davis Love III, with David Toms considered a front-runner for Gleneagles alongside Freddie Couples, who may be held back until 2016 having been reappointed Presidents Cup captain for 2013 at Muirfield Village.

With the Ryder Cup captaincy now considered a two-year job, constraints on the 52-year-old’s time might preclude him from a promotion in 2014.

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