Saturday 24 March 2018

Love reveals vice-captain role for Tiger if he fails to make Ryder Cup

Love: Ready to captain
Love: Ready to captain

James Corrigan

Darren Clarke and Davis Love, the respective Europe and US captains, appeared together yesterday at the Ryder Cup "year to go" festivities with the pledge that the "Gimme-gate" controversy which over-shadowed the Solheim Cup "would not happen on our watch".

The women's biennial match - held in St Leon-Rot, Germany this month - descended into rancour and recrimination after Suzann Pettersen claimed the 17th in a fourball encounter when American rookie Alison Lee mistakenly picked up her ball in the belief a 16-inch putt had been conceded. Carin Koch, the Europe captain, could have intervened and ordered Pettersen and England's Charley Hull to concede the 18th, but chose not to.

Juli Inkster, the US captain, labelled the decision as "BS" and accused the Europeans of wanting to win at all costs and of "disrespecting their peers". America used their sense of injustice as motivation to come back to win from 10-6 down, but even in the euphoria there was still a sour atmosphere.

Like most in the game, Clarke and Love watched on in dismay and promised each other that there would be no repeat at Hazeltine next September. "The Solheim Cup was an unfortunate thing," Clarke said. "What Suzann did was correct in the rules of golf but in the spirit of the game was wrong. She admitted that the next day, with hindsight. Hindsight always is a wonderful thing. I'm sure it won't happen on our watch."

Love concurred, all but saying that the captains would step in under similar circumstances. "Something will come up during the three days that is uncomfortable, but we'll handle it as gentlemen in a sportsmanlike way."

Of course, it is easy to say such things with 12 months to go when the clubhouse is full of sponsors, dignitaries and officials. Love and Clarke played at Brookline in 1999 when tensions between the teams notoriously boiled over. However, they were instrumental in improving transatlantic accord thereafter.

Famously in the 2003 WGC Matchplay in California, Love conceded consecutive putts of five feet to Clarke on the bumpy greens at La Costa because he did not wish to see the semi-final decided on an unlucky bobble. He eventually won on the extra hole. The next year, in the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, on the last hole of his singles against Clarke, Love refused to widen his stance just a fraction and take relief because his foot would then have been on a sprinkler.

Clarke has always admired Love and referenced him when being praised for his own act of sportsmanship when declining to go for the green and instead chipping out on to the fairway when his lie was improved by fans at the 2006 Irish Open. It cost Clarke the tournament.

"This Ryder Cup will be played in the manner that Davis and I respect each other," Clarke said in Hazeltine. "I hold Davis in the highest regard. He is a good friend and is probably the best gentleman in our sport."

Clarke is, of course, also very close to Tiger Woods and it seems that the 14-time Major champion will be in Minnesota even if he is not on the team. Woods has told Love that he would like to act as one of his assistant captains in the event of him not gaining one of the automatic eight qualifiers or one of the four captain's picks. Fellow veterans Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson have said the same to Love.

The quartet were on the "Task Force" convened after the US endured their sixth defeat in seven matches at Gleneagles.

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