Sunday 24 September 2017

Darren Clarke is the perfect fit to lead Europe on US soil

Taming of shrewd new captain to make Darren a formidable leader

Darren Clarke shows his delight at the news that he will captain Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Photo: Luke Walker/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Darren Clarke shows his delight at the news that he will captain Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Photo: Luke Walker/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

It used be difficult to separate the real Darren Clarke from the cliched image. The tousle-haired, beer-quaffing, broth of an Irish boy, clouded by smoke issuing either from one of his giant Cuban cigars.

Or from his ears as he became contorted in fury and frustration with the latest stroke of misfortune.

American golf fell head over heels in love with Darren the day he beat Tiger Woods 3&2 in the 36-hole final of the 2000 Accenture Match Play Championship.

As much for the way he sat casually on the steps, smoked that stogie and chatted on his cell phone during the break between rounds as, yards away on the range, Tiger feverishly tried to dig solutions out of the dirt with his coach Butch Harmon.

Galleries in the US have thrown beer, cigars and mostly garlands at him ever since, making his appointment yesterday as captain of the European Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine, Minnesota, in 2016 appear all the more inspired.

Back home in Sunningdale, Clarke used to have a collection of Ferraris, Aston Martins, jet skis or was it motor-trikes in his garage at Sunningdale … and, it always seemed, an irresistible stream of excuses to go for a few pints with the lads.

Behind the trinkets and far from the public view, Clarke concealed a powerful work ethic. Yet he was driven not just by the desire to fulfil his enormous potential as a player but also by the etiquette, the mores of a sport that, as he recently said, "I love and hate, though always more love than hate".

He's a man of substance. At the Irish Open in May 2006, for example, he returned to his ball at Carton's ninth hole on Monday morning after a weather delay to find he was in a much better lie than the night before.

Someone had stomped down the grass, making it possible for Clarke to reach the green in two. Instead, he declined to take advantage, hitting out sideways into the fairway, the shot he'd have been forced to take the previous evening. Thomas Bjorn won the title and the Ulsterman legions of admirers.

Four months later and just six weeks after the tragic death of his first wife Heather from cancer, Clarke performed one of the greatest feats of fortitude when he swallowed his grief long enough to win three out of three games at The K Club in his fifth successive Ryder Cup.

When he finally achieved his Holy Grail at Sandwich in 2011, winning The Open at age 42, the speech Clarke made afterwards was almost as impressive as his golf.

"In terms of what's going through my heart, there's obviously somebody who is watching from up above there, and I know she'd be very proud of me," he said. "But I think she'd be more proud of my two boys (Tyrone and Conor) and them at home watching more than anything else. It's been a long journey to get here."

Former captain Colin Montgomerie, a member of the five-man selection panel with Jose Maria Olazabal, Paul McGinley, David Howell and Tour CEO George O'Grady, said Clarke's ability to communicate individually and collectively with players would be his greatest asset in Hazeltine.

As he proved a Sandwich, Clarke's also blessed with eloquence, a powerful tool for any Ryder Cup captain, especially in America.

The world, it seems, has travelled every step with Clarke in recent years. Celebrating, for example, his marriage to Alison in April 2012 and the happiness they have found with his two sons in their new home in Portrush.

When Clarke turned up at the start of last year in Durban South Africa with a new super-svelte frame and some 42 pounds lighter, even his closest confidants, including Chubby Chandler, hardly could envisage his fitness kick lasting into spring.

Grinding

Thirteen months later, he's still grinding away in the gym. As wife Alison joked last Christmas, in their household the letters OCD mean Obsessive Compulsive Darren.

If McGinley astounded even his players with his hard graft and unyielding commitment to detail, they'll find Clarke equally driven in his pursuit of perfection at Hazeltine.

Meanwhile, Clarke's determination to do right by the Ryder Cup is revealed when he explains why he'd not sought out McGinley since Gleneagles.

Many would have considered it vital to settle his differences with the Dubliner after they'd fallen out during the fraught selection process for the 2014 captaincy but Clarke insisted: "I didn't want to appear as if I was affecting anything to do with the outcome. It was a total impartiality thing. I didn't speak to any of the guys on the committee."

Clarke will stick with many of the policies put in place by McGinley. The same selection process will apply; he'll have three picks and five vice-captains.

What we've seen with Darren Clarke is recent years is the taming of the shrewd. He'll be an inspiring captain; commit himself as passionately to the job as the Dubliner but still do it his way.

As ever at the Ryder Cup the rest comes down to luck.

Irish Independent

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