Monday 29 December 2014

Captain’s log – all the twists and turns in race to lead Europe

Published 16/01/2013 | 05:00

Q: How much stress has the most hotly contested captaincy race in Ryder Cup history placed on the friendship of Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley?

A: Clarke and McGinley used to be relatively close neighbours and even closer friends in Surrey. Photos of both in jubilant embrace with Padraig Harrington after the 2002 and 2004 Ryder Cups neatly summed up the relationship between Irish golf's three amigos, the Ulsterman joking he'd stand with them under the Tricolour provided he was at the orange end.

Yet relations between Clarke and McGinley have become so strained in recent months, it's difficult to imagine them embracing under any circumstances in the future.

Q: It had seemed like a dream ticket scenario for Irish golf – McGinley for Gleneagles in 2014 and Clarke at Hazeltine two years later. So, how did it come to this?

A: After playing on the GB&I team McGinley led to victory at the 2011 Seve Trophy, Clarke wrote to the Dubliner, lauding him for his performance as captain in Paris and saying he'd not challenge him for the captaincy at Gleneagles. So, McGinley was taken aback last summer when Clarke, deep in a form slump since his British Open win at Sandwich, announced that he intended to run.

As Clarke's management team engaged in some pretty robust campaigning in recent months, McGinley brought dignity to the process by declining to make any public comment, insisting all talk should be kept for the committee room.

Q: How did Colin Montgomerie suddenly become a runner for his second stint as Ryder Cup captain, despite a 20-year-old policy in Europe that it's a once-in-a-lifetime job?

A: Ironically, Clarke kick-started Monty's campaign last month, when he responded to the appointment of Tom Watson as US captain by saying someone with "a huge presence" to "stand on that stage opposite" the American legend in Gleneagles was needed, adding "we don't ask anyone to do it again, but we might have to look at that".

At first, the Scot insisted he'd do the job at Gleneagles "only if asked," before throwing his hat in the ring last week.

Q: Why did Clarke withdraw from

the race?

A: Clarke's remarks following Watson's appointment caused close observers to question his desire for the captaincy in 2014, especially after he re-tweeted, without any comment or even an exclamation mark, Rory McIlroy's suggestion that he relished a Gleneagles showdown between McGinley and Watson.

In Durban last week, Clarke insisted signs of a revival in his golf game before Christmas reignited his ambition to play in 2014. A change in the composition of Europe's Tournament Players Committee early last month did little for his election prospects.

Q: Ireland's world No 1 Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and many other of Europe's top-ranked players were firmly in McGinley's court. Why?

A: McGinley impressed with his man-management skills, tactical nous and, crucially, attention to detail when his GB&I team upset the odds and claimed victory at the Seve Trophy in 2009 and 2011.

"He's the best captain I've ever played for," said McIlroy, adding the Dubliner was also outstanding in the role as Ryder Cup vice-captain at Celtic Manor and Medinah. Inspired by and inspirational in the team environment, McGinley has a gift for captaincy which few of his peers in professional golf can rival.

Q How many of Europe's Ryder Cup squad publicly expressed support for Montgomerie prior to last night's meeting?

A: None!

Q: Now Paul McGinley has broken the ice for Ireland, can we expect several Irish Ryder Cup captains to follow, in the same way that Padraig Harrington's Open victory at Carnoustie sparked a spectacular run of success by golfers from this island at the Majors?

A: It's a crime that Irish golf has had to wait this long for its first captain, especially when one considers Christy O'Connor Senior's contribution to the Ryder Cup cause over his phenomenal run of 10 appearances in this arena.

O'Connor's nephew, Christy Junior, charged in his recent autobiography that "anti-Irish bias" had been at play. One suspects the feeling was more 'pro-British' than 'anti-Irish,' but this island's top-golfers certainly did not get their due.

Clarke's outgoing personality, popularity, experience and know-how makes him the outstanding choice, by far, for the captaincy in the US in 2016. With three Majors in his trophy cabinet, Padraig Harrington also has such powerful credentials that Graeme McDowell tweeted last night: "What price three Irish captains in a row – PMcG in 2014, DC in 2016 and PH in 2018."

Irish Independent

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