There is now less than eight months until players from the USA and Europe tee it up at Hazeltine and do battle for the illustrious Samuel Ryder Trophy.
Davis Love III will return as Team USA captain for this year’s event in Chaska, Minnesota, and will be looking to finally lay to rest the ghost of Medinah after the dramatic events of 2012.
The European team are looking for their fourth consecutive win, with popular figure Darren Clarke leading the side this September.
Below, MyClubBetting golf expert Calum Chinchen analyses why the Northern Irishman will be successful in the role.
RELATIONSHIP WITH TEAM
Darren Clarke is one of the most popular figures on the golfing circuit, and is rarely caught without a smile on his face.
The last time Europe lost in America, the virtually-retired Nick Faldo looked to be hugely out of touch with his players and appeared laboured when communicating about, and with, his team. This led to an evident divide between captain and playing staff, which ultimately cost the European team victory at Valhalla.
Unlike Faldo, Clarke is still an active member of the tour, playing regular, competitive golf and communicating with players likely to be in the team on an almost daily basis.
With this in mind, nobody expects the popular Northern Irishman put himself on pedestal during his time as captain. Instead, he is expected to be as close to the team as possible. This will prevent a divide between the team and their leaders, allowing a greater level of communication and interaction – much like Paul McGinley did during his time as captain in 2014.
Rory McIlroy will be the key man for the European team come September, and his relationship with the team captain is going to be vital.
Clarke acted as a father figure to McIlroy when the youngster initially joined the professional ranks, and there is no doubt that the two men will work well as a team during this year’s Ryder Cup. It is hugely important for Clarke to listen to any advice from McIroy when it comes to pairings and singles order – and it is in his character to just that.
POPULARITY IN THE STATES
Nobody ever expects a Ryder Cup to be friendly, but with Darren Clarke leading the Europeans, it would be no shock if this year’s event was far more sedate than those held on American soil over previous years – just think back to the hostility involved at Brookline in 1999 and Valhalla in 2008.
Unlike former captains Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Olazabal, Clarke has a fantastic relationship with fans from across the pond.
The 47-year-old also has a great bond with the American players. After winning his Open Championship, Clarke stated that one of the first texts to reach his phone was from Tiger Woods, who, at the time, was on temporary leave from the tour after his well-publicised misdemeanours.
Coincidently, Clarke’s most notable friend from across the pond is his opposite number Davis Love III – and who could forget the two indulging in a cigar after halving their singles match at Oakland Hills in 2002?
Despite having a reputation for fast cars, flashy clothing and cigars, nobody should forget that Clarke is one heck of a golfer.
The Portrush man has notched up 22 professional wins to date, including one Major Championship and two World Golf Championships.
Clarke can never be accused of choking. Nobody gave him a chance going into his World Matchplay Final against then World No.1 Woods back in 2000.
At the time, Woods was in his prime and winning almost every tournament he entered.
Yet the man affectionately known as ‘Dazzler’ is not one to be intimidated by reputations. Clarke kept his cool and stuck to his usual style – eventually claiming the title after beating Tiger by a convincing 4&3 scoreline.
However, his biggest ‘clutch’ victory came at the Open Championship in 2011. Clarke arrived at Royal St George’s with just one tour win to his name in over three years. But by the time Sunday afternoon came around, he was the man to catch.
Going into the final round, Clarke was paired with the in-form young American Dustin Johnson, who had been among the pre-tournament favourites. A lesser competitor may have been intimidated by the ‘super-long’ American.
However, Clarke again stuck to a steady game-plan by sacrificing distance and opting for accuracy on the tricky links. To the surprise of many, this eventually forced Johnson into an error, and the American’s challenge was ended after going out of bounds with his risky approach to the par five 14th hole.
Much to the joy of his family, friends and the majority of the golfing world, Clarke won by three strokes and claimed his maiden Major title after a 20-year wait, holding off the some of the world’s best (Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler) along the way.
RYDER CUP EXPERIENCE
Clarke is no stranger to Ryder Cup action and has been involved in the competition in some form for the past 19 years.
In total, he has played a part in eight Ryder Cups, five as a player (1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006) and three as a vice-captain (2010, 2012, 2014).
As a player, Clarke was only on the losing side on two occasions and managed to win a very impressive 11.5 points from his 20 Ryder Cup matches.
The former Open Champion may not have the best singles record. However, his four-ball and foursomes records more than make up for it.
When playing in a Ryder Cup pair, Clarke was on the losing side on just five occasions. Much of this was down to the popular and successful partnership he formed with close friend Lee Westwood, which will go down in Ryder Cup history. With six points from eight matches, the Clarke/Westwood pair is the second-most successful European Ryder Cup partnership ever.
Clarke will also have learned a huge amount from his three spells as a vice captain, especially when you consider the contrast in styles adopted by captains Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul McGinley during that time.
ABILITY TO CONTROL EMOTIONS
There is no doubting that Clarke is a hugely emotional individual.
Clarke lost his first wife, Heather, to cancer just six weeks before the 2006 Ryder Cup and despite many advising him to miss the tournament, an emotional Clarke declared himself fit to play and took up Ian Woosnam’s offer of a captain’s pick.
He was selected to play in the opening day of the event, partnering good friend and familiar face Lee Westwood in the Friday morning four-balls. Upon entering the teeing ground, the Dungannon-born Clarke received an overwhelming applause from the record Irish crowd, and both he and Westwood were visibly moved.
However, Clarke managed to fight back the tears and compose himself, before splitting the fairway with a 300-yard bomb down the centre of the first fairway.
The European pair went on to win that match and, individually, Clarke used his emotions positively during the entire week – winning all three of the matches he was selected to play in.
Clarke was a vice captain to Jose Maria Olazabal in 2012 and while the breathtaking dramatics surrounding the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ were being played out, he appeared to be the calmest man in the entire European camp – other than Martin Kaymer of course!
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