Thursday 14 December 2017

Clarke: I will seek McGinley advice

Darren Clarke will lead Europe at Hazeltine next year
Darren Clarke will lead Europe at Hazeltine next year

Darren Clarke admitted it would be remiss of him not to put his personal differences with Paul McGinley to one side and seek advice from his predecessor after being named Europe's Ryder Cup captain for 2016.

The 46-year-old, who played in the biennial contest five times and was a vice-captain in 2010 and 2012, was unanimously chosen ahead of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn by a five-man selection panel at Wentworth.

"To be captain of the European Team is a huge honour that ranks up there with anything I've achieved in the professional game. It's right up at the very top," former Open champion Clarke said.

The selection panel consisted of the three most recent captains - McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie - along with European Tour chief executive George O'Grady and players' representative David Howell.

McGinley and Clarke's relationship has been severely strained since Clarke put himself forward for the 2014 captaincy, having previously sent McGinley a letter supporting the Dubliner's candidacy.

And when Tom Watson was named US captain in December 2012, Clarke suggested Montgomerie should also be considered as ''whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence''.

McGinley admitted last year his conversations with Clarke were now ''short and sweet" but Clarke will consult McGinley after the Dubliner's leadership at Gleneagles received widespread acclaim.

"It would be very foolish for me not to follow the same formula," Clarke said. "With everything that came out of Gleneagles and the unbelievable job that Paul did there, I would be foolish not to speak to Paul and all the other captains before that.

"T he team bonding and spirit they had at Gleneagles is obviously something I would love to replicate.

" I will try to pick off as much information as I can from all the previous captains. I think it would be very remiss of me if I didn't do that to try and pick out the bits that they thought worked best for the teams.

"At the end of the day it's not about me, it's about the players and to try and make sure the team has an enjoyable week, which is quite difficult in a stressful atmosphere that the Ryder Cup is. But if the guys are relaxed and enjoy themselves that always helps a little bit more.

"Certainly with the teams that I have been involved in, both as a player and vice-captain, that has been a huge factor."

McGinley reiterated that he would not act as vice-captain to Clarke, or anyone else, but added: "I will give him any support he needs.

"At the same time it's important I step away too.

"Darren's now at the front and let him go ahead. It's not necessarily about following me or following Jose or following Monty or anybody who has done it before and won. It's about doing what's best for him and how he sees it."

Clarke s aid he has a "few people in mind" for his vice-captains and indicated he was likely to copy McGinley and have five of them at Hazeltine, where he is set to come up against good friend Davis Love.

Love is set to be confirmed as United States captain next week and Clarke added: " If so that would be wonderful. We've played many practice rounds together and are very good friends. He is a gentleman and there isn't a nicer man in our sport."

Love was captain in 2012 when Europe produced the 'Miracle at Medinah' to recover from 10-4 down on Saturday afternoon and win by a single point.

Last year's win at Gleneagles made it three in succession and six of the last seven, something that Montgomerie believes will make Clarke's job all the harder.

Montgomerie told Sky Sports News: "It's an unenviable task; America want it back badly and he will have all our support. They do want revenge, they set up their task force and had their own internal wranglings about what they can do to win it back.

"We have selected a captain that I am convinced will retain the Ryder Cup and bring it home. I think he will be a very good communicator with the players individually, which is most important as a captain. He has the respect of the players."

The last of Clarke's five appearances as a player was an emotionally-charged affair at the K Club in 2006, when he somehow won all three of his matches just weeks after the death of his first wife Heather from cancer.

Clarke and long-time friend Lee Westwood played the final fourball match of the first session against Phil Mickelson and Chris Di Marco, with Clarke hitting his opening drive more than 300 yards down the fairway, pitching to 12 feet and then holing for birdie.

After failing to qualify for the next two contests, Clarke was a surprise winner of the Open Championship at Royal St George's in 2011, but has failed to record a single top-10 finish on the European Tour since.

In contrast, Jimenez and Bjorn have remained competitive, with Bjorn making his third appearance as a player at Gleneagles and 51-year-old Jimenez extending his record as the Tour's oldest winner with victory in the Spanish Open last year.

In an interview recorded before Wednesday's announcement, world number one Rory McIlroy and former US Open champion Graeme McDowell voiced their approval of fellow Northern Irishman Clarke.

McIlroy told BBC Sport: " I think it's great. Darren is a stalwart of the European Tour, played in a lot of Ryder Cups, Open champion, has been part of the team for so many years - he's a great choice to be captain.

"I think everyone in America loves him as well. He's got a great rapport over there with the fan base. I couldn't think of a better guy to play under in 2016."

McDowell added: "I think it's a phenomenal choice. He's got the type of character to carry himself well enough in the media, but more importantly to execute a good leadership role within the team room.

"If he's anything like Paul McGinley in the team room I think he will do a phenomenal job. Paul took the European template and sharpened it and made it better and better and I think Darren has the ability to take on that role.

"I think it's going to be a very exciting Ryder Cup in 2016, a lot of pressure on the American team, a great one to win."

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