Kevin Garside: Links master Darren Clarke is ideal pick for Ryder Cup at Gleneagles
Ryder Cup vice-captain at Medinah has inspirational quality and emotional impact to succeed Olazabal
The case for Darren Clarke to assume the captaincy of the Ryder Cup in January is irresistible. It is not that the other candidates do not offer worthy credentials, only that they are not as compelling as his. His premature elevation to the role in one newspaper yesterday even provided him with an opportunity to display a little of the statesmanlike gravitas that the job increasingly demands.
In response to his 2014 coronation, Clarke tweeted: "To clarify I have not been offered the Ryder Cup captaincy. It's not decided by the committee until January. Would be a huge honour if asked." The Ryder Cup has grown massively in importance in the past 20 years, acquiring a commercial value that demands a star cast. Clarke's principal rivals for the honour at Gleneagles, Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn, his fellow vice-captains at Medinah, are European Tour men to the core.
McGinley memorably stroked the winning putt in 2002. Bjorn, Denmark's greatest golf export, is chairman of the tour's tournament committee. But Clarke has the momentum and the desire.
In the role of vice-captain, Clarke was closely associated with the twin miracles of Medinah and Celtic Manor. In his fifth and final appearance as a player, he was at the centre of a tragic narrative that in terms of emotion eclipsed even those epic tales. At the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club, Clarke's wife, Heather, had lost her fight with cancer only weeks before. Despite the shock and grief that enveloped him, Clarke accepted Ian Woosnam's wildcard pick.
No tee shot in the history of the game has carried as much human drama as the blow with which Clarke opened proceedings on that September morning in Dublin. He entered the arena to deafening cheers alongside Lee Westwood. The American captain Tom Lehman embraced him on the tee, whispering words of comfort and encouragement. His opponents, Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, applauded. In this heightened bubble, Clarke put the ball on the tee and smashed it straight down the pipe. A wedge and a putt later, the ball was in the hole, presaging a first point for Europe. We all know how that weekend unfolded.
Clarke's candidacy is not predicated on the sympathy vote. He has been one of Europe's finest golfers. Some would have him the greatest links player from these isles, a gifted ball-striker whose career deserved greater reward than the one major it yielded at Royal St George's last year. His résumé was not bad before the addition of an Open championship. It includes two World Golf Championship victories among 22 worldwide.
Like many charismatic figures Clarke is a complex character. That is often shorthand for awkward cuss, and even he would admit that life for those around him is not always made easy by the demands that he makes. But however tricky it is for others to balance their admiration for him with the frustration that intimacy invites, those difficulties pale when set against the battles he has with himself. Clarke knows what it takes to be great. But golf is a game of imperfections.
Managing the misses is the key to staying sane. Clarke's victory at the Open imposed its own tyranny and exposed his imperfections because he could not tolerate falling short of his own exacting standards.
Happily the Ryder Cup lifts us beyond individual concerns and Clarke is fluent in all its rituals. Picture it now; the mountain setting, cigar ablaze at the wheel of his buggy. Yes, Clarke is made for Gleneagles.
Runners and Ryder: Contenders to lead Europe in 2014
The Northern Irishman, who has been a vice-captain for the European team at the last two Ryder Cups, is the current favourite, with odds as short as 8-11. The 44-year-old also played in five Ryder Cups, winning four.
The Irishman has been a vice-captain for the last two Ryder Cups, and was also on the winning side in all three he played in, including holding his nerve to sink the winning putt at The Belfry in 2002.
On all three occasions the Dane has been a vice-captain at the event – 2004, 2010 and 2012 – Europe have won. The 41-year-old was also victorious as a player in the 1997 and 2002 Ryder Cups.
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