Instead of an 11-person task force for Team America, it only took the Europeans a five-man panel to select Darren Clarke as the next Ryder Cup captain. The 46-year-old will become the first Northern Irishman to lead Europe’s team in the biennial matches pitted against the U.S. in 2016 at Hazeltine.
Clarke, who was the massive favorite for the position, was chosen in an unanimous vote by the three most recent European Ryder Cup Captains — Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie –- as well as the Chief Executive of The European Tour, George O’Grady, and European Tour Tournament Committee member David Howell. They all met at Wentworth Club on Wednesday morning.
The 2011 Open Champion has been featured in seven Ryder Cups, participating as a player five times (four of which he was on the winning side) and taking part as a vice captain twice under Montgomerie and Olazabal.
The biggest threats to Clarke’s candidacy were Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Thomas Bjorn. Of those two, Jiménez held the edge, but apart from pushing for a captain with roots in continental Europe, Clarke was always seen as the overwhelming frontrunner. The 51-year-old Spaniard may get his chance to lead Europe in 2018 when the Ryder Cup will be held in France, so a deviation from the traditional British or Irish captain would be logical.
Clarke will aim to guide Europe to a record fourth consecutive victory at the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota, from September 30-October 2, 2016.
Clarke, who is expected to be formally announced as captain by the European Tour in a ceremony next month, is expectedly delighted to earn the post.
“I am naturally extremely proud to be selected as European Ryder Cup captain for 2016. The Ryder Cup has been a massive part of my life and my career, so to have the chance to lead Europe next year is a huge honour,” he said.
“I am lucky to have played and worked under some fantastic captains in my seven Ryder Cups to date, and I look forward to the challenge of trying to follow in their footsteps and help Europe to a fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory at Hazeltine next year.”
Clarke also admitted he had “big shoes to fill,” particularly with the recent European successes, and would not stray far from the European blueprint, according to the Guardian.
“It would be very foolish for me not to follow the same formula,” Clarke said. “With everything that came out of Gleneagles and the unbelievable job that Paul [McGinley] did there, I would be foolish not to speak to Paul and all the other captains before that. The team bonding and spirit they had at Gleneagles is obviously something I would love to replicate.”
Clarke also is looking forward to coming up against his good friend Davis Love III, who will reportedly have a second chance at leading the U.S. team in 2016, as his opposing captain.
“If [it is Davis Love III] that would be wonderful,” he said. “We’ve played many practice rounds together and are very good friends. He is a gentleman and there isn’t a nicer man in our sport.”
According to Montgomerie, the vote to pick Clarke was unanimous.
“We had three very able candidates and a unanimous decision, which was a delight for the panel,” he said on Sky Sports. “We spoke to Darren and we wish him well to retain the trophy. It’s an unenviable task; America wants it back badly and he will have all our support. They do want revenge, they set up their task force and had their own internal wranglings about what they can do to win it back.
“We have selected a captain that I am convinced will retain the Ryder Cup and bring it home. I think he will be a very good communicator with the players individually, which is most important as a captain. He has the respect of the players.”
Clarke, a 14-time European Tour winner, made his Ryder Cup debut in 1997 at Valderrama in Spain under Seve Ballesteros, partnering Montgomerie to defeat Fred Couples and Davis Love III in the fourballs before losing narrowly to Phil Mickelson in the singles.
He then contributed two points at each of the next two Ryder Cups, at Brookline in 1999 and The Belfry in 2002, and three-and-a-half points in Europe’s record 18½-9½ victory at Oakland Hills Country Club in 2004.
But his most memorable, and emotional, Ryder Cup performance came two years later when he inspired Europe to victory by the same record equalling margin in front of passionate Irish galleries at The K Club, just six weeks after his first wife Heather passed away.
Clarke won all three of his matches in Co. Kildare, joining forces with Lee Westwood to defeat Mickelson and Chris DiMarco then Tiger Woods and Jim Fuyrk in the fourballs, before beating Zach Johnson 3 and 2 in the singles. His two victories alongside Westwood mean the duo are joint second in the all-time list of most successful Ryder Cup partnerships, with six points from their eight matches together, while overall Clarke has contributed a total of 11½ points in the blue of Europe.
He returned to The Ryder Cup fold four years later as a vice captain under Montgomerie at The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, as Europe beat the United States by 14½-13½, and he gained further experience as part of the backroom team under Olazábal at Medinah in 2012.
That came a year after the finest individual achievement of his distinguished career, when he held off Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to win The 140th Open Championship at Royal St George’s, adding the Claret Jug to the two World Golf Championship titles he won in the early 2000s, when he became just the second player after Tiger Woods to win more than one WGC crown.
(Photo via European Tour)