Paul McGinley could be the big loser in Irish Ryder Cup contest, says Dermot Gilleece
Darren Clarke decided to challenge for the Ryder Cup captaincy at Gleneagles in 2014 through fear of missing out altogether. And while conscious of seriously damaging Paul McGinley's prospects, he insists this was never his intention.
Clarke was talking for the first time since the issue arose last month when it was suggested he had effectively been offered the job. "For a start, that is simply not the case," he said. "It is not how things are done. The decision remains with the Tournament Committee."
Originally favoured to lead Europe at Hazeltine National in 2016, Clarke seemed to be leaving the way clear for McGinley to become the first Irishman to fill the role at Gleneagles. The picture changed dramatically, however, in the wake of a sensational victory at Medinah, where both players were vice-captain roles to Jose Maria Olazabal.
"People on the European Tour approached me as to whether I would be available to captain Europe at Gleneagles, if asked," said last year's Open champion. "My response was, 'Of course I would be'. It is not the sort of thing you would turn down.
"Take the case of Colin Montgomerie, who did a wonderful job at Celtic Manor (where Clarke was also a vice-captain). It is common knowledge he would have preferred to have waited for Gleneagles but when the chance arose in 2010, he recognised that it would have been poor form to turn it down. And I've taken the same view."
But surely he knew he was inflicting a potentially devastating blow on McGinley? "Paul has been a long-time friend of mine," Clarke replied. "We lived for some years in back-to-back houses in Sunningdale where our children grew up together. So you know that to do anything malicious or untoward against Paul would be the last thing I'd want.
"Under no circumstances was it my intention to undermine his chances. I fully understand his position. After winning the Open, I felt I was set for further Ryder Cup appearances but unfortunately my game hasn't been up to it. So, what was I supposed to do? Anyway there is usually more than one candidate and the decision now rests with the Tournament Committee. If they give it to Paul in Abu Dhabi (next January), I'll be delighted for him."
By way of clarifying the European Tour's position on the matter, Ryder Cup director Richard Hills felt moved to emphasise: "No decision on the European captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup has been taken and none will be taken until, at the earliest, the Tournament Committee next meets, most probably during the Middle East swing in early 2013."
Though Clarke wouldn't be drawn on broader aspects of the captaincy, the scenario since Medinah has been dominated by considerations of age and nationality. In earlier decisions, time certainly militated against Sandy Lyle, who found himself an outcast when it came to honouring Europe's so-called 'Famous Five' of himself, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo.
Now, it appears that Pádraig Harrington is entering the picture, along with Thomas Bjorn, current chairman of the Tournament Committee. All of which is quite ironic, given that no Irishman has ever been honoured with the captaincy since Fred Daly was the island's first Ryder Cup representative in 1947. As Clarke put it: "I'm sure that at some stage in the future Pádraig will be asked if he'd be interested. He's a multiple Major winner and deserves to be Ryder Cup captain if he wants it."
My understanding is that by moving forward from the 2016 slot, Clarke could be making way for Harrington, who would be seen as a popular choice in the US. Then, as a leading Continental, it would become Bjorn's turn to captain Europe in Paris in 2018. Either way, it can be taken that the Committee won't be sanctioning the choice of three successive Irishmen as in McGinley, Clarke and Harrington, in the role. Two is the likely limit, which means McGinley seems destined to miss out.
Has Clarke discussed the matter with him? "No," he replied, "because it's one of those unfortunate things where you have two guys from Ireland going for the same job. Obviously, one of us is going to be disappointed but the Committee will pick the right man and if it's Paul, I'll support him any way I can."
As it happens, tournament professionals have shown themselves to be not especially adept at politics. Which may explain why we had Montgomerie last weekend expressing concern that Clarke may be helped by "several of the committee" being colleagues in Chubby Chandler's International Sports Management (ISM). In fact there are only three from 15 – Clarke, David Howell and Richard Finch. And Clarke will leave the room, along with McGinley, when the matter is being discussed.
Meanwhile, the Dungannon man was competing yesterday in the BEKO Pro-Am Classic in Antalya, Turkey, having been involved last weekend with the activities of the Darren Clarke Foundation. A total of 19 boys and girls were at Portmarnock GC on Saturday and Sunday for the Foundation's annual gathering of champions.
Among them was Irish Amateur Open champion Gavin Moynihan, who shot a sparkling 67 on Saturday. He was presented with a bursary of €5,000 to assist with his playing commitments and £10,000 has been given to British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar. Previous recipients of bursaries were Leona and Lisa Maguire, each of whom received two payments of €5,000.
With a view to handling significantly increased activities, the Foundation has appointed Dublin solicitor and former Irish amateur international Dougie Heather as CEO. In this context, Clarke made a donation of £80,000 to Queen's University Cancer Research, structured as a scholarship in honour of his late wife Heather, who died of the disease. And he has donated €62,500 to the Irish Cancer Society to fund 50 per cent of the Daffodil Centre in Letterkenny.
A mobile coaching initiative was also launched two months ago in Northern Ireland and 1,346 youngsters have already received tuition from PGA professional Graham Makay in a pilot project which could eventually encompass the whole island. Then there is the Junior Skills Challenge for players under 10 and over 10, run in conjunction with Junior Golf Ireland.
The Foundation also receives financial support from the Royal and Ancient which has a policy of assisting such ventures by Open champions, going back to Arnold Palmer and including Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Paul Lawrie, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen.
"Apart from playing one of the finest links courses in the world, these boys and girls have an opportunity I never had," said Clarke. "When I was their age, it wasn't the done thing to be asking a tournament professional questions, but I'm delighted to play a part in broadening their horizons. Tremendous standards have been set by this small country in recent years and we've got to be conscious of maintaining Ireland's position on the world stage."
A significant element of this will be the selection of the first Irish Ryder Cup captain. Even if his identity looks like being a rather vexed affair.