Friday 17 November 2017

Not even hindsight can blame Clarke for Europe's defeat

Europe team captain Darren Clarke. Photo: David Davies/PA
Europe team captain Darren Clarke. Photo: David Davies/PA
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The inquests have begun into the first Ryder Cup defeat for Europe since 2008.

Watch out, captain Darren Clarke.

Defeat changes perceptions for the captain on the losing side, as Corey Pavin (2010), Davis Love III (2012) and Tom Watson (2014) know only too well.

Clarke said as much weeks before the match, and again on Sunday night following the 17-11 loss at Hazeltine National.

He knew the deal - win and you're the greatest captain ever; lose and every decision made over a tumultuous weekend of intense match-play golf is open to question.

It starts with the choice of Lee Westwood, Clarke's great friend and management company stablemate, as one of the three wildcards. Westwood was brought in to offer experience and help ease the passage of the six rookies.

Westwood may have contributed off the course, but he lost every time he played.

Hindsight 1; Captain Clarke 0.

The break-up of the swashbuckling Spaniards, Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello. That goes into the mix.

The pair had staged an outrageously courageous comeback from being four down after 11 holes to gouge out a half against USA top guns Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth in the Saturday foursomes.

As they came off the 18th green feeling inspired, they discovered that Clarke chose to split them up for the fourballs that afternoon, pairing Garcia with the struggling Martin Kaymer and standing down Cabrera-Bello.

Exact science

Timing was an issue there. The pairings for the afternoon had to be registered before the morning play finished. In hindsight - the only exact science - Clarke might have changed that one.

Hindsight 2; Captain Clarke 0

Justin Rose had also hit it off with Chris Wood on Saturday morning, winning a point at the expense of Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson, but Wood was then rested.

Rose went out for the fourballs with Henrik Stenson. Not a bad choice, but they lost against Spieth and Reid.

Hindsight 3; Captain Clarke 0.

And then there was the Willett family situation.

This most unwelcome intrusion into the European camp came from Danny Willett's brother.

You don't hurl abuse at American golf fans in the week your brother is playing against them without expecting a backlash. That one came from so far out of left field, and it had nothing to do with the Masters champion or Clarke, but they were left to deal with the fallout.

Hindsight 20; Danny Willett's brother 0.

Nul points for Danny in three outings. The Masters champion's verdict on his Ryder Cup experience? "S**t." When asked to elaborate, he replied: "Really s**t."

Hindsight 20; Danny Willett's brother 0.

So was it the defeat really down to Clarke's captaincy? No way.

America showed up in every way. Their Task Force changed the approach. The players were hugely motivated, and they played phenomenal golf, particularly 'Captain America' Patrick Reed.

Their fans responded too, creating a turbulent atmosphere for the Europeans, but the big problem was the strength in depth of the home side, resulting in every player taking at least one point.

The last time an American team achieved that feat was at Laurel Valley in 1975, when Arnold Palmer captained the USA against the then GB and Ireland opposition.

Spooky, eh? Arnold dies on a Sunday ahead of Ryder Cup week and we end up with a 41-year connection with The King in the 41st staging of the event.

But no captain, however inspired, could hope to succeed when he has four players, including a Major winner, who failed to garner even a half point each, and has a two-time Major champion, Kaymer, who contributed just a single point.

Rory McIlroy did his heroic best but admitted he ran out of steam on the back nine of his great match against Reed on Sunday. The Tour Championship win, and the nervous energy expended in Ryder Cup week caught up with him.

Irish Independent

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