Sport Ryder Cup

Monday 11 December 2017

My heart says Europe but my head US - Smyth

Des Smyth. Photo credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Des Smyth. Photo credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Barry Lennon

Des Smyth warns that a hungry USA team, who haven't tasted Ryder Cup success in eight years, will pose a formidable challenge for Darren Clarke's European charges at Hazeltine.

The 2006 vice-captain believes American skipper Davis Love III can improve on his 2012 captaincy at Medinah, which saw him bring the US side to within a point of Europe's victory.

"Dustin Johnston is probably the best player right now, they have Tiger Woods as vice-captain and I know they're gunning to win this badly," Smyth says.

He conceded his "heart says Europe but head says USA" when assessing the teams' strength, speaking later on RTE Radio One.

In any case, captain Clarke will struggle to find this week's result as moving as Europe's K Club triumph ten years ago. The Liffey almost overflowed with Tyrone man's tears when Zach Johnston conceded victory to him at the 16th green, just six weeks after his wife Heather had tragically passed away.

"The week was highly emotionally charged with Darren. I will always remember seeing him embrace his caddie and Woosie on the 16th," Smyth says.

Smyth was following Paul McGinley and JJ Henry's singles match that day when he viewed the TV images on screen from his buggy, where former US president Bill Clinton joined him. "I could see Clinton on the sidelines looking tired so I invited him to take a seat," he recalls. "We were talking about the matches for a while. I did offer to give him a ride but he said, 'I don't think that would work Des, me being photographed in the European team's buggy'."

Within another 20 minutes Smyth had picked up another former president when he met George Bush Senior on the back of the 16th green. On reaching the 18th green, McGinley would decide to concede the hole forgoing the chance of claiming record haul of points for Europe.

A streaker had disturbed play running across the green and jumped in the lake, giving the Dubliner time to make his decision with Smyth's "aid".

As McGinley revealed on that day:"I'd been thinking about it before that clown, the streaker, came over. So I walked over to Des and asked him what to do. He wouldn't make a decision. Thanks for helping me out, Des."

Despite these complaints, Smyth says had use as an "enforcer" while Clarke and captain Ian Woosnam were on the downing celebratory pints on the clubhouse balcony, he was tapping them on the shoulders reminding to keep strict TV times.

This marshalling was remembered by McGinley who made him a vice-captain again when becoming the first Irish Ryder Cup captain at Gleneagles in 2014.

However, Smyth was once talked about as skipper having the credentials by playing in 1979 and 1981 tournaments.

He displays the necessary man-management skills when recalling his roll in the build-up to The K Club.

"In that week you to find out if there's anybody players don't want to play with because you know for most of the year these guys are eye-balling each other down the stretch and they mightn't be that friendly," Smyth says.

So would he return to Ryder Cup action?

"I'd never refuse if anyone asked me because it's a great privilege and honour but I'd hardly be asked at this stage."

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