Ryder Cup week got off to a sombre start as the European team led by Darren Clarke arrived in Minneapolis to join an American golf community mourning the passing of the great Arnold Palmer.
Speaking on his arrival at Hazeltine National last night, Clarke said the passing of The King on Sunday night at the age of 87 had “cast a shadow” over the 41st Ryder Cup, which starts on Friday, while PGA of America chief Derek Sprague said tributes would be paid to the highest points scorer in the event’s history both at Thursday night’s opening ceremony and by the players on the first tee on the first morning.
“Mr Palmer did so much for golf, he transcended the game of golf and we have so much respect for him and are as shocked by the news as everyone else is,” Clarke said last night. “It has cast a shadow over the week but we will be ready for battle on Friday morning and giving everything we’ve got.”
USA captain Davis Love III welcomed Clarke and the travelling party which had left London yesterday morning to link up with US-based team members including world number four Rory McIlroy, winner of Sunday’s season-ending Tour Championship. They had arrived at the venue to see flags at half mast outside the clubhouse as a mark of respect to Palmer.
Love revealed during the captains’ opening press conference that he had added Bubba Watson to his group of vice captains, less than 24 hours after overlooking the world number seven for his fourth and final wild card pick, the American skipper instead opting for Tour Championship runner-up Ryan Moore to round out his 12-man team.
Clarke, though, has the hottest player in golf in his line-up in McIlroy, who joined the team with an $11.5m cheque in his back pocket having won the $10m FedEx Cup bonus in addition to the $1.5m winner’s prize for landing the Tour Championship at the fourth hole of a sudden-death play-off with Moore.
“Rory’s an exceptional young man and an inspirational figure for us,” Clark said. “I’m very grateful to have him on our European team.”
Clarke is under no illusions as to the size of the task facing his European team on foreign soil. As a player he contributed 3.5 points to the away win at Oakland Hills and he was a vice captain to Jose Maria Olazabal on the last visit here in 2012, part of the Miracle at Medinah. Yet three defeats in a row for the USA have bucked the home side into action and the all-red signage and grandstand dressing around Hazeltine indicates this is an American set-up designed to stop the rot.
“It’s going to be hard. I’m not getting away from that. It’s going to be very, very difficult. America are going to have a very strong team,” Clarke said. “But do I have full confidence in my team if they’re top of their game? Yes, I do. Do I think we can go there an get a result? Yes, I do.”
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