Monday 18 December 2017

Captain Clarke leads the way to European success in Asia

The European team with captain Darren Clarke celebrate with the trophy after winning the EurAsia Cup. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
The European team with captain Darren Clarke celebrate with the trophy after winning the EurAsia Cup. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Darren Clarke passed his first test as a European team captain with flying colours when his boys in blue defeated Asia comprehensively by 18.5 to 5.5 at Glenmarie GC in Kuala Lumpur.

The away team led 9-3 going into the final day and got into their stride early in the singles.

Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Andy Sullivan posted winning points and Danny Willett clinched the victory by defeating Byeong Hun An 3 & 1, with eight matches still out on the course.

Other winners were Matt Fitzpatrick, Kristoffer Broberg, Chris Wood, Soren Kjeldesn and Victor Dubuisson.

Former Irish Open champion Ross Fisher halved with Jeung Hun Wang.

Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger fell to Anirban Lahiri and KT Kim by 2&1 and 3&2 respectively but it was smiles all round as the EurAsia Cup trophy was presented to Clarke.

So far, so good. Clarke, a veteran of many team rooms during his own Ryder Cup career, could take much credit for the performance, particularly for the contribution of his two captain's picks, Ian Poulter and his old pal and ISM stablemate, Lee Westwood.

Poulter, Westwood, and fellow Englishman Andy Sullivan each ended the event with a 100 per cent record over the three days' play.


Every captain of every team will acknowledge that the quality of the players under his command can make or break a skipper's reputation.

It would, however, be unfair to suggest that the leadership role is basically just a matter of telling the guys to go out there and enjoy themselves.

Golf is an individual sport and that could work to the detriment of the collective on the rare occasions such as EurAsia Cup or Ryder Cup where a crew of highly talented, mostly multi-millionaires are brought together for a week once or twice every two years.

Each of the 12 players has his own routine by which he operates in the normal course of their Tour schedule.

The captain and his assistants must cater for all the players' needs and habits, and yet fit them into the requirements of the team effort.

A happy and focused group of players is essential to success. Clarke got the balance right between fun and camaraderie in the team room, and ruthless application out on the course.

Shane Lowry summed up the atmosphere among the Europeans on and off the course, and hopes for an opportunity to play under Clarke's captaincy at Hazeltine against the USA in nine months' time.

"Definitely one of the best weeks of my career so far. I really enjoyed every minute of it. The lads have been great. Darren has been great. The team room has been just the best craic ever.

"We went out and we did our job and we did it really well.

"If times get tough at The Ryder Cup in September, and a few of us guys are there, maybe we can kind of think back on this week, and it might give us a boost that week, as well," said Lowry.

Clarke paid due respect to the Asian team captained by Jeev Milkha Singh but they were no match for the Europe.

He will now assess the experience, and utilise the lessons learned for the Ryder Cup.

"This belongs to the players; the quality of the golf this week has been brilliant. I've enjoyed it immensely. It's been a wonderful learning experience for me. I've been around the game a long time and done most things in the game and been fortunate to do so.

"This is different. I really enjoyed it. The guys seemed to listen to what I had to say, and if my little part of it has helped them along, then well be it.

"We'll go back out the next couple weeks and sit down with The European Tour and figure out what I did well as a captain, or what I could have done better, and work on those areas and hopefully get the whole package even better for September," said Clarke.

On a number of fronts, Clarke showed his mettle. He had done his homework on the players and made great use of a 48-page statistical analysis of the 12 team members.

He found some likely Ryder Cup pairings, such as Shane Lowry and Andy Sullivan who won in fourballs and foursomes, and struck the right note with players to make them feel good about competing in Kuala Lumpur.

For example, Ross Fisher was going to give it a miss in favour of pre-season preparations, but Clarke told him he wanted him on the team for his Ryder Cup experience - he played in 2010 in Wales - and that approach ensured Fisher was on the plane.

Meanwhile, Paul Dunne took another step forward in his fledgling career as a Tour pro by finishing ninth in the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC, and earning €20,961.

Dunne was only two shots off the overnight lead but could not gain any traction on the final day. He shot a level par 72 for 13-under par overall, leaving him five shots behind winner Haydn Porteous of South Africa. Porteus, 21, thus claimed his maiden European Tour title and had two shots to spare over second-placed Zander Lombard.

Lombard and Anthony Wall of England, who was in a four-way tie for third place, joined Porteous as the three qualifiers from this tournament for this year's Open Championship at Troon.

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