Darren Clarke will lead Europe’s bid for a fourth successive Ryder Cup victory after being named captain today for the 2016 contest with the US at Hazeltine.
The 46-year-old Irishman, who played in five Ryder Cups and was a vice-captain in 2010 and 2012, was chosen ahead of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn by a five-man selection panel at Wentworth.
Clarke said: “I am naturally extremely proud to be selected as European Ryder Cup captain for 2016.
“The Ryder Cup has been a massive part of my life and my career, so to have the chance to lead Europe next year is a huge honour.
“I am lucky to have played and worked under some fantastic captains in my seven Ryder Cups to date and I look forward to the challenge of trying to follow in their footsteps and help Europe to a fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory at Hazeltine next year.”
The selection panel consisted of the three most recent captains – Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie – along with European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and players’ representative David Howell.
O'Grady, speaking on behalf of the panel, said: "We are delighted to announce that Darren has accepted the invitation from the panel to captain Europe at The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National.
"Darren has an impressive Ryder Cup pedigree, having featured five times as a player and twice as a vice-captain, so he has a strong understanding of the attributes required to be a successful captain. He is also a popular figure among the players and has both the passion and knowledge to lead Europe in the quest for a record fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory."
Montgomerie said the decision to appoint Clarke had been unanimous, adding on Sky Sports News: "We had three very able candidate and a unanimous decision, which was a delight for the panel.
"We spoke to Darren and we wish him well to retain the trophy. It's an unenviable task; America want it back badly and he will have all our support.
"They do want revenge, they set up their task force and had their own internal wranglings about what they can do to win it back.
"We have selected a captain that I am convinced will retain the Ryder Cup and bring it home.
"I think he will be a very good communicator with the players individually, which is most important as a captain. He has the respect of the players."
Clarke admitted he would have "big shoes to fill" after recent European successes under Paul McGinley and he would not be straying far from the winning blueprint.
Clarke has also stated he would be “foolish” not to immediately seek McGinley’s advice if given the daunting job of following in his footsteps.
McGinley and Clarke’s relationship has been severely strained since Clarke put himself forward for the 2014 captaincy, having previously sent McGinley a letter supporting the Dubliner’s candidacy.
When Tom Watson was named US captain in December 2012, Clarke suggested 2010 captain Montgomerie should also be considered as ”whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence”.
With the support of star players such as Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter it was McGinley who eventually won the day, and he insisted after leading Europe to victory at Gleneagles last year that he would not let personal feelings affect his view on his successor.
"It would be very foolish for me not to follow the same formula," Clarke said on Sky Sports News.
"With everything that came out of Gleneagles and the unbelievable job that Paul (McGinley) did there, I would be foolish not to speak to Paul and all the other captains before that.
"The team bonding and spirit they had at Gleneagles is obviously something I would love to replicate."
Clarke said he has a "few people in mind" for his vice-captains and indicated he was likely to copy McGinley and have five of them at Hazeltine.
McGinley reiterated that he would not act as vice-captain to Clarke, or anyone else, but added: "I will give him any support he needs.
"At the same time it's important I step away too. Darren's now at the front and let him go ahead.
"It's not necessarily about following me or following Jose or following Monty or anybody who has done it before and won. It's about doing what's best for him and how he sees it."
The last of Clarke’s five appearances as a player was an emotionally-charged occasion at the K Club in 2006, when he somehow won all three of his matches just weeks after the death of his first wife Heather from cancer.
Clarke and long-time friend Lee Westwood played the final fourball match of the first session against Phil Mickelson and Chris Di Marco, with Clarke hitting his opening drive more than 300 yards down the fairway and then holing from 12 feet for birdie.
After failing to qualify for the next two contests, Clarke was a surprise winner of the Open Championship at Royal St George’s in 2011, but has failed to record a single top-10 finish on the European Tour since.
In contrast, Jimenez and Bjorn have remained competitive, with Bjorn making his third appearance as a player at Gleneagles and 51-year-old Jimenez extending his record as the Tour’s oldest winner with victory in the Spanish Open last year.
The US captain is due to be officially named next week, although it has been widely reported that former captain Davis Love has been handed the chance for redemption after being on the wrong end of the ’Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012.
"If (it is Davis Love) that would be wonderful," said Clarke. "We've played many practice rounds together and are very good friends.
"He is a gentleman and there isn't a nicer man in our sport."