Sport Golf

Sunday 18 February 2018

Marriage of convenience

Darren Clarke. Photo: PA
Darren Clarke. Photo: PA

Karl MacGinty

IT'S a little like Thierry Henry inviting Robbie Keane to be best man at his wedding. Fat chance!

Yet Colin Montgomerie really did ask Darren Clarke to be one of his three vice-captains at the Ryder Cup. And the Ulsterman actually accepted the opportunity to join Dane Thomas Bjorn and Dubliner Paul McGinley on Monty's managerial team at Celtic Manor.

While Clarke has given the Scot full backing since his appointment as Ryder Cup captain last year, he certainly would not be one of Montgomerie's bosom buddies on Tour.

At first glance, they make strange bedfellows . . . until one considers the wealth of experience, passion and influence the popular Northern Irishman brings to the table. Clarke's commitment to the European cause and his eagerness to wrest back the Ryder Cup from the US undoubtedly motivated him to accept Monty's invitation.


Yet it'll do no harm at all to Clarke's own prospects of becoming European skipper, maybe even in 2012. Indeed, Montgomerie must be congratulated for bringing three such able, committed and highly motivated individuals into his inner circle at Celtic Manor.

Clearly, he's no desire to surround himself with 'yes men' and in describing this lively group of individuals as his equal partners in Wales, Monty distanced his captaincy from Nick Faldo's ego trip to Valhalla.

McGinley (43) is a born leader and revels in the team environment, as he proved in the three Ryder Cups he played (and won) and then as captain of the winning Britain & Ireland team at last September's Vivendi Trophy.

Bjorn (38) also has played only on winning European teams (in 1997 and 2002), while the public tongue-lashing he gave 2006 captain Ian Woosnam for the manner of his omission from the 12 to play at The K Club illustrated how hot he can blow.

However, the Dane played a quiet but hugely influential role in Bernhard Langer's back-room team at Oakland Hills in 2004 and, as chairman of the European Tournament Committee, he's exuded a shrewd air of authority.

The choice of Clarke, however, raised most eyebrows, especially in the wake of a hugely controversial incident at the 2005 Indonesian Open.

Caught on camera replacing his golf ball in a blatantly advantageous position after an overnight rain delay, Montgomerie, plainly embarrassed, would donate the €37,408 prize money he won in Jakarta that week to charity.

Dubbed 'Jakartagate', the incident would be investigated by the European Tournament Committee, including Clarke, and insiders revealed he opened the session by asking Monty: "what the hell did you think you were playing at?"

The committee formally expressed its "disapproval" of Montgomerie's actions.

While Clarke kept his counsel in public, his opinion certainly was well known. If actions ever spoke louder than words, Clarke's altruistic decision to hit his ball sideways out of the rough and not take advantage of an improved lie after mystery fans had stamped down the long grass during an overnight weather delay at the 2006 Irish Open spoke volumes.

Yet Clarke jumped at the chance to join the European cause in October. "I get on great with everybody; it's part of the way I play and part of the way I behave . . . so if I'm in charge of a keg of Guinness that'll be great.

"Me and Colin have had our had ups and downs like anybody that's at the top of their game. Monty's a born winner. He wants as strong a back room as he can have. He wants guys who are still playing, still with potential for his team. I fitted that mould and I'm delighted to be on board.

"Monty took me to my hotel room at St Andrews last week and said: 'I want you there one way or another.' It took me three seconds to decide."

Clarke still is keen and just about able to make the team as a player. Should he not, his appointment as vice-captain eliminates any possibility of a backlash like that which followed Faldo's decision not to give him a wild card for Valhalla.

The skipper already has too many highly ranked individuals pressing for his three picks, while Clarke, as vice-captain, will relate far better than Monty ever could to players like Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy.

So this is a real Ryder Cup marriage of convenience for both of them.

Meanwhile, Clarke and McIlroy team up in Enniskillen this afternoon for an intriguing North versus South battle with Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry in the second Lough Erne Challenge.

Monty's lieutenants

Thomas Bjorn

The Dane can be as fiery as they come but Bjorn, the European Players Chairman, will bring a quiet air of authority to Monty's back-room team.

Darren Clarke

Passion, vast experience and an earthy sense of fun suggest the Ulsterman will reach and motivate players in a way Monty can't.

Paul McGinley

Innovative and inspirational, the quick-witted Dubliner is the quintessential team player, whether it's on or off the course.

Irish Independent

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