Darren Clarke made one key error as captain and it ended up giving him a worse record than Nick Faldo
It is galling for Darren Clarke to leave Hazeltine with a worse result than that achieved by Sir Nick Faldo, a figure broadly regarded as the most inept European captain in living memory. 17-11: this is a greater thrashing than at Valhalla, where Faldo could not even say his own players’ names correctly.
For a fiercely proud man, it is a scalding disappointment. This Ryder Cup has consumed Clarke’s every hour for 18 months, as he acquired a cache of data on his team that would have been the envy of engineers at Cape Canaveral. Unlike Faldo, he prepared assiduously, but at the moment of reckoning his instinct let him down.
Inadvertently, Clarke last night let slip one of the key reasons - if not the key reason - behind this thumping defeat. '“The only thing I might possibly have changed was yesterday morning,” he said. “The pairings had to be in by 11.40am, when there were still some matches out there.”
It was a moment that shaped the course of this contest. Sergio García and Rafael Cabrera-Bello were busy battling back in their foursomes match, recovering from four down to Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth to claim a half, and Clarke somehow saw fit to submit a fourball pairings sheet that included the names of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
Seriously? Westwood had been run so ragged on the first morning that he required a remedial putting class, while Kaymer was also painfully out-of-sorts. As an illustration, it had taken the German until the 10th hole on Friday afternoon to make a scoring contribution in his fourball match alongside Danny Willett.
Clarke committed a cardinal error in keeping faith with them. Kaymer succumbed yet again, while Westwood’s already addled mental state was compounded by the hideous sensation of a missed two-footer at the 18th as the advantage shifted inexorably the Americans’ way.
To give Clarke his due, he has kept an even temperament in a difficult week, making the right diplomatic noises even when he might have wanted to scream in frustration. But the composition of his team was always problematic for Europe’s prospects of a fourth consecutive win.
For a start, he had six rookies to look after here. Yes, Europe also managed to win with six neophytes at Celtic Manor in 2010, but on that occasion they carried a 9½-6½ lead into the final day. Here at Hazeltine, they trailed by the same margin, and the odds were arrayed against them. Among the debutants yesterday, only Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Belgian wunderkind Thomas Pieters emerged with wins.
Since the Ryder Cup at Oak Hill in 1995, rookies have only taken 10 points from 43 in singles. The inexperience of these European players was a critical factor. Not that you would have known it from Clarke last night, as he emphasised how valuable this exposure had been for his first-timers. “They have blended in with the whole thing and felt so comfortable,” he said. “They have taken over the mantle, and in Paris in two years’ time I am sure they will be even greater superstars than they are already.”
That is a moot point. Some fall by the wayside. Nicolas Colsaerts was a stand-out rookie at Medinah in 2012 and has had negligible impact since. Unfortunately, this was not the only aspect of decision-making where Clarke was found wanting. He was too loyal to his compadre to Lee Westwood, and too ready to give a wildcard to Martin Kaymer at the expense of more in-form players, such as Scot Russell Knox.
One wonders, in all honesty, where Clarke goes from here. This job was his crowning accomplishment, even after a career encompassing a Claret Jug and two World Golf Championship titles. He had put his own playing ambitions on hold while he tinkered with his line-up and assembled more lieutenants in his corner than some Army battalions.
His results have been wretched have been some time and it will take some time for him to reset his ambitions. Throughout his inexplicably long losing speech at last night’s closing ceremony, he kept his sunglasses on. Perhaps he did not want the world to have a glimpse of the torment behind the lenses.