After three straight victories, Europe lost control of the Ryder Cup to a revamped United States side revitalised over the past two years since their eighth defeat in 10 matches at Gleneagles in 2014.
Davis Love’s side swept a 17-11 victory on Sunday night to hand Clarke’s rookie-filled team a crushing defeat but the captain resisted any suggestion of changing things as a result. Asked if Europe should follow suit and hand future captain’s four selections rather than three, Clarke replied: “Why would you have a knee jerk reaction when the whole system has been doing so well?
“Absolutely leave it as it is. They have been successful thus far. We’ve come up against a very strong American team and their captain and they’ve played better than we have. There’s no other answer to it all.”
Clarke received support from vice captain and European talisman Ian Poulter who said: “The template doesn’t need to change. We have a transitional team with a lot of young blood. If you look at where the young blood is going to be in two years’ time you would expect them to be stronger. The star this week from a European perspective was Thomas (Pieters) with four points — that’s impressive and in two years, you would expect him to be stronger. It’s a young side and we have been outplayed by a really strong American team this week.”
Clarke’s men also had to deal with an intensely partisan home crowd which turned out in massive numbers in Minnesota at the weekend and fired a talented and relaxed American side to convincing victory with Europe failing to hole putts and close out match wins to keep the contest alive.
And there was also the magazine article written by Danny Willett’s brother which lambasted US golf fans and disrupted the Masters champion’s debut.
Asked to describe his experience as a Ryder Cup rookie on Sunday night having failed to win a point, including a 5&4 hammering by fellow debutant Brooks Koepka, Willett’s reply was a succinct “shit”.
Pushed to elaborate, he said: “Absolute shit.”
Clarke said: “Whether that (article) affected his performance or not, I don’t know. If it had been my brother, I don’t have a brother, but if it had been my brother, it might have affected me. Did it affect my pairings? There was some extra thought into what was going on but did the article demean my trust in Danny? No. Not at all.”
Clarke was criticised in some quarters for his pairings, particularly the benching of Rafa Cabrera Bello and Sergio Garcia after their comeback from four down with six to play in foursomes against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed to snatch a half.
Yet Clarke had been forced to submit his pairings for the afternoon’s fourballs while the Spaniards were trailing and he sent out for Willett and Lee Westwood instead, although the captain admitted another hour’s grace might have changed his line-up.
“That might have changed, yes. But I didn’t. So we had to base our decisions and our choices on the information that’s available right there at the time,” Clarke said.
“Hindsight’s a wonderful thing — but would I have changed any of the decisions I made? No, I wouldn’t. Nor would the vice-captains. We talked everything through, and that was one of my things as well, rightly or wrongly. My whole concept for what we were doing here was one unit, one team, and that one unit,one team, included the vice-captains, the players, the caddies, the backroom staff. That’s what it was. That’s how we came here and that’s how we’ll leave here.
“Unfortunately, we’re not leaving with the Ryder Cup going back home.
“One of the things that was very impressive was Tuesday night when Paul O’Connell was in addressing the team. He was talking about, you play for your number, and then you play for your jersey… and his thing was when he stopped playing rugby, did he leave his number five jersey in a better state than he found it? That was his big question to himself.
“So my question to myself is: Did I leave number one to 12 in a better state than I found them? Did we share something differently? Did we do different things? I can’t answer that question. You’d better ask the players, but I know they’ve given their all, and I know they’ve given everything they could for the badge on the front of their shirt. I think they’re leaving the jersey in a better place. I think they’ll be a stronger team in Paris.”