COMMENT: European Tour makes the right decision on players’ favourite Darren Clarke

It did not need George O’Grady to tell us it is Darren Clarke’s time to captain Europe at the Ryder Cup, writes Simon Lewis.

COMMENT: European Tour makes the right decision on players’ favourite Darren Clarke

However, the European Tour chief executive deserves the credit for being in a position to make that happen.

O’Grady chaired the five-man panel tasked with finding the man to pick up the mantle from three successive and successful European campaigns and continue the gold-medal-winning blend into a fourth victory in a row at Hazeltine in 19 months’ time.

That three of those five men were indeed Clarke’s three most recent predecessors, Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, means the decision to send the Irishman over the Atlantic to Minnesota has been endorsed by the brightest of minds and most proven of decision makers in recent Ryder Cup history. They, along with O’Grady and former Ryder Cup player David Howell, pondered the merits of alternatives such as Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez and found Clarke to be head and shoulders above the competition.

Wisely, they had listened to the views of the players who had delivered victory for each of them. The men who had implemented McGinley’s near scientifically-crafted game plan at Gleneagles last September, many of whom had also performed miracles for Olazabal at Medinah in 2012 and shown guts for Monty at Celtic Manor in 2010. Almost to a man, they had backed a man who served as a vice captain in both Wales and Chicago, who has won the Ryder Cup as a player four times and experienced individual success in the Majors.

And so, like the proverbial London bus, Irish golf waited ages for an Irish captain and now, all of a sudden, two have come along in short succession. On a continent where golf is expanding into previously disinterested territories, the chances of that happening appeared to be diminishing with every success on the world stage by a German, a Spaniard or a Swede, yet Clarke’s pedigree as a Ryder Cupper has won through in timely fashion. Another two years and who knows what chance the 46-year-old Tyrone man might have had?

So we have a new captain, with big shoes to fill and a fine tradition to uphold. For all his sometime prickly interactions with journalists down the years, Clarke’s demeanour with his fellow pros appears to suggest he will be an immensely popular skipper, still a tour regular, contemporary and adversary of those he will have to lead at Hazeltine. If the examples of the aloof Nick Faldo in 2008 at Valhalla and out of touch US captain Tom Watson last year in Scotland are anything to go by, that closeness to his peers means Clarke has half the battle won already, although if the PGA of America has learned anything from recent experience, they will not select anyone so removed from the fray as their last choice was.

The Americans indeed, appear set to ask Davis Love III to resume the role he handled admirably in defeat to Olazabal’s Europe at Medinah when they show their hand next week, thus wiping out Clarke’s team-room popularity as an edge for Europe.

Which means Clarke, who has not captained a team before, will have to find an edge elsewhere over a side with pride hurt and a new breed of competitor typified by Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth at Gleneagles. Will he tear up the template forged by the first modern-minded European captain Tony Jacklin, and handed down with modifications by every captain since until McGinley added a decisive dollop of tactical nous, team-building and inspired leadership with such success last time out?

“I don’t think so,” Clarke said yesterday. “I think if you look at it, as you guys all know how good a job that Paul did at Gleneagles and how successful the event was, I think it’d be very silly to move away from that.

“It was so successful: 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.”

A hard act to follow, then, and a tough opponent to face on foreign soil but if 2016 at Hazeltine is to be Clarke’s time, he must take heed of the old adage: adapt or die. To succeed, he cannot rely on merely repeating what has gone before, however successful. He should be encouraged to hit upon his own brand of captaincy and add it to that magic recipe concocted by his predecessors.

It could end up a dog’s dinner but it might just turn out to be a European piece de resistance. For now, though, he deserves our congratulations.

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