The Ryder Cup captaincy has become a prize in itself. Like the competition, it has grown exponentially in recent years, making the captain’s position high profile and lucrative.
Though the skipper, like the players, does not take a penny out of the coffers, the hike in visibility and status brings with it commercial opportunities understood to be worth at least seven figures. This makes it more than worth the trouble.
Since 1995, no captain has done the job twice, which was a feature before the contest grew into the quasi-Olympic mix it is today, largely as a result of Great Britain and Ireland morphing into Europe and taking the fight successfully to the powerful American team. Once no more than a ceremonial role, the job is now imbued with serious strategic importance; witness the shellacking dear old Tom Watson received after the thrashing at Gleneagles.
Of the names in the frame, Darren Clarke’s will arguably resonate most with the domestic audience. His unique association with the competition, fostered via the tragic circumstances surrounding his appearance at the K Club eight years ago, where he played despite losing his wife, Heather, to cancer, gives him a huge emotional pull.
This sense of golfing romance that surrounds him was re-inforced three years ago with his victory at the Open Championship at the 20th attempt. But Clarke is not the only candidate with the right credentials and, as his estrangement from Paul McGinley demonstrated, he can be a complicated and divisive figure. It was the votes cast by the players, particularly Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Luke Donald, that helped McGinley across the line two years ago.
There is a view that Clarke’s greater profile and chutzpah will be better suited to leading the European team in the United States, but that idea perhaps carries less weight today after the failure of Watson to bring his aura to bear on the contest in Scotland. Clarke’s presence in the commentary box at Gleneagles proved a success, particularly his stints with the American broadcasters and have helped manoeuvre him into position.
Graeme McDowell, a son of Portrush where Clarke has resettled his family, is a powerful advocate to have in your corner and has already voiced his support. But there will be a lobby against the immediate appointment of a second golfer from the Emerald Isle.
There is a case for spreading the love to better reflect the wider constituency represented by the European Tour. A key mantra of the European Tour hierarchy is to grow the game through the auspices of the Ryder Cup. It is hard to see how an Anglo bias in the captain’s chamber achieves that.
Ryder Cup individual ratings: Who did best?
Ryder Cup individual ratings: Who did best?
1/18 Jamie Donaldson, Europe
Won the Czech Masters to secure his debut and carried that form to Gleneagles, winning two foursomes matches alongside Lee Westwood and securing the winning point with victory over Keegan Bradley on Sunday. 9
2/18 Victor Dubuisson, Europe
Given special attention by European captain Paul McGinley and took everything in his stride as he claimed two foursomes wins with Graeme McDowell before being sent out last in the singles, with the outcome decided well before his half with Zach Johnson. 8
3/18 Stephen Gallacher, Europe
Deserved his wild card selection after his strong form in qualifying but his partnership with Ian Poulter did not come off and Gallacher was left out after their 5&4 defeat on the opening morning. Lost to Phil Mickelson in the singles to finish without a point. 5
4/18 Ian Poulter, Europe
Few would have thought 'Mr Ryder Cup' would play just twice before the singles and claim only half a point, but his chip-in late in the Saturday fourballs helped stem a US fightback. Birdied the 18th to halve his match with Webb Simpson. 6
5/18 Justin Rose, Europe
6/18 Henrik Stenson, Europe
Was unduly modest about his part in the three wins with Rose, especially as he had a sore back which meant he sat out the Saturday afternoon session. Will be upset to miss a short putt on the 18th to lose his singles to a fired-up Patrick Reed. 8
7/18 Lee Westwood, Europe
Felt he needed to justify being selected as a wild card and did so by leading rookie Donaldson to two foursomes wins. Also chosen to speak to the team on Saturday evening to remind them of what went wrong at Brookline in 1999. 8
8/18 Keegan Bradley, USA
Extended his record alongside Phil Mickelson to 4-0 on the opening morning but lost in the afternoon foursomes and the pair were then left out all day Saturday. Was never ahead in what proved to be decisive singles match with Donaldson. 5
9/18 Rickie Fowler, USA
Halved his first three matches alongside Jimmy Walker but looked fatigued in a 5&4 foursomes loss on Saturday afternoon and was thrashed by McIlroy on Sunday. 7
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10/18 Jim Furyk, USA
Won one point from three games before renewing his singles rivalry with Sergio Garcia, Furyk having won at Brookline in 1999 and Garcia getting his revenge at Medinah in 2012. Garcia again came out on top in a hard-fought contest. 6
11/18 Kuchar Johnson, USA
Won twice in foursomes at Medinah but suffered two defeats in the same format at Gleneagles. Battled to the end of his dead rubber singles, making a birdie on the last to claim a half with Dubuisson. 6
12/18 Matt Kuchar, USA
One of four American players not to register a point before the singles, crucially duffing a pitch to the 18th in a Friday foursomes defeat to Donaldson and Westwood. At least got on the scoreboard with a 4&3 over Thomas Bjorn. 6
13/18 Hunter Mahan, USA
One of US captain Tom Watson's wild card's, Mahan won one point from three matches but played well in defeat to Garcia and McIlroy on Saturday and was five under after seven holes against Rose before an inspired fightback from the Englishman. 7
14/18 Phil Mickelson, USA
Left out for an entire day for the first time ever on Saturday, despite pleading with Watson to play at least once. Had something to prove in the singles against Gallacher and duly won, but a disappointing return. 6
15/18 Patrick Reed, USA
Won two fourballs alongside fellow rookie Jordan Spieth but missed a crucial par putt from two feet on the 16th as Kaymer and Rose escaped with a half in the Saturday foursomes. Was fired up for his singles with Henrik Stenson and won on the 18th. 8
16/18 Webb Simpson, USA
Was picked to renew his partnership with Bubba Watson but after losing 5&4 in the first match on Friday, did not play again until the singles, where he at least claimed a half with Poulter. 5
17/18 Jordan Spieth, USA
The 21-year-old played superbly with Reed and was then entrusted with the opening singles match against Graeme McDowell, racing three up after just five holes. Made a few crucial mistakes on the back nine as McDowell fought back to win, but tough to criticise the youngest player on either side. 8
18/18 Jimmy Walker, USA
Played all four sessions alongside Fowler and claimed three half points before fatigue set in and contributed to a heavy defeat in the second foursomes. Was an approximate eight under par in beating Westwood in the singles. 8
Should that sentiment prevail, it takes Padraig Harrington out of the equation, too. No golfer has given more to the European Tour than Miguel Angel Jimenez. The cigar-toting Spaniard has forged a special relationship with the galleries, not least for his eccentric warm-up routines and his love of Riojo.
Thomas Bjorn is another who has served the tour tirelessly as a player and as a member of the tournament committee. And, like Jimenez, he has a strong association with the Ryder Cup. The decision will go to the wire again.
CAPTAIN CALLING: runners and riders for Europe
A hugely popular character both on and off the course, Clarke won all three of his matches in 2006.
Ryder Cup appearances 5
Total points 111/2
Vice-captain 2010, 2012
Brought in to assist Paul McGinley at Gleneagles; said he would use it as a test to judge his suitability for role.
Ryder Cup appearances 6
Total points 101/2
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Should receive the support of Jose Maria Olazabal and has been an assistant three times.
Ryder Cup appearances 4
Total points 51/2
Vice-captain 1997, 2012, 2014
Chairman of the Players’ Committee and is another with great experience.
Ryder Cup appearances 3
Total points 4
Vice-captain 2004, 2010, 2012Reuse content