Thursday 21 September 2017

Karl MacGinty: Darren Clarke the only man for next Ryder Cup captain's job

Jimenez's golf is too strong and English too weak to lead Europe into the fray

Darren Clarke can point the way for Europe to secure another Ryder Cup victory
Darren Clarke can point the way for Europe to secure another Ryder Cup victory

Karl MacGinty

It's widely believed that when the five-man selection committee sits down in Wentworth tomorrow to pick the next European Ryder Cup captain, they face a straightforward choice between Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

In fact, there's no choice.

Miguel Angel Jimenez is one of my all-time favourites on Tour. At age 51, he's an inspiration, a phenomenon. Yet much as I respect his knowledge and salute his commitment to the European cause, 2016 is not the right time nor is Hazeltine the right place for Jimenez to be Ryder Cup captain.

First and foremost, his English is not good enough. One only has to see how the public responds to his pre-round exercise routines or identifies with his love of Cuban cigars and Rioja to know Jimenez is a naturally gifted communicator.

However, the Ryder Cup now has such mass appeal, with captains competing for the upper hand in the media as well as on the course, the man at the helm must be quick, sharp, savvy, subtle and fluent.

Confusion

Jimenez struggles with the latter, recent confusion over his desire to be captain being a case in point.

In a Spanish media interview last winter, he gave the impression his playing career was as important to him right now as the captaincy - perfectly reasonable, given his continuing on-course success.

A couple of weeks later, however, Jimenez told an English reporter in Abu Dhabi that he wanted "with a passion" to be captain, leaving those who conducted the original recording utterly perplexed.

There's no room for doubt or misunderstanding in the volatile Ryder Cup arena, where even a small slip can affect the atmosphere in the team room, the reaction of galleries or the public's mood.

Paul McGinley communicated so clearly and so well before and during the 2014 Ryder Cup that his players at all times felt secure in their own role in the team, while his public briefings were inspirational.

While it's vital for the home captain to get the crowd behind his team, polished communication skills also are required by European skippers in the US, especially if America's Ryder Cup 'Task Force' opts for Freddie Couples, a media darling if ever there was one.

Okay, English was not the first language of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer or Jose Maria Olazabal. Yet Seve was fluent in fire and brimstone; Langer's eloquence in English was matched by meticulous planning, while Olazabal channelled similar passions to Ballesteros - and all three, unlike Jimenez, vitally had left behind their best playing days.

Clarke's popularity in the US is important, even if partly founded on a 'carefree, broth of a boy, Guinness-guzzling, cigar-toting' image that has as much basis in reality as Jimenez's supposed thirst for Rioja.

Critically, he also enjoys support in the team room. Rory McIlroy, the kingmaker for McGinley, and Graeme McDowell already have spoken-up strongly on his behalf.

Unlike Tom Watson, who struck an authoritarian stance at Gleneagles after the perceived failure of "captaincy by consensus" in previous US campaigns, McGinley knew his players intimately and acknowledged the supreme importance of involving them in key decisions.

Though his decision not to name Clarke among his vice-captains at Gleneagles gave measure to his personal relationship with the Ulsterman, McGinley will put the wishes and interests of McIlroy & Co ahead of all other considerations when it comes to a vote tomorrow.

The five-man committee also includes Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, plus Tour CEO George O'Grady and Ryder Cup player David Howell.

All five, even Olazabal, must acknowledge Jimenez has too much to play for in Europe and on the Champions Tour to devote the time and attention to the captaincy that, post-McGinley, it now demands.

 

Has Rory's success broken Tiger's spirit?

Amid hours of video and acres of space devoted to analysis of Tiger Woods' shocking demise, perhaps Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee put his finger on a root cause of the great one's decision to take a break from the game ... Rory McIlroy!

"Look", Chamblee said, "Nick Faldo never won another golf tournament after playing the first couple of rounds at the 1997 Masters with Tiger. Greg Norman never won another PGA event after '97.

"I think it's reasonable they'd have seen in Tiger Woods a player so demonstrably better than they were or ever had been, it might have taken some of the fizzle out of them.

"They would probably differ but I think it's reasonable to make that argument, just as it is reasonable to assume Tiger Woods looks at what Rory McIlroy is and thinks 'my best might not be good enough'."

Describing McIlroy's driver as "the greatest weapon in the game right now", Chamlee explained that as Woods struggles off the tee, he must look at Rory's driving and thinks "I'm not that good, I can't compete with that.

"Tiger used always say he'd not play unless he could win. Now he says he'll come back when he can compete at the highest level. Well, that's Rory McIlroy and how far away is Tiger from Rory? I wouldn't expect Tiger back at Honda and it'd shock me if he was at Augusta."

Irish Independent

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