Ryder Cup 2014: Why Darren Clarke is not a shoo-in to be the next Europe captain

Irishman may be front-runner but Jimenez, Bjorn and Harrington are all strong options for holders

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The Independent Online

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.

Captain-of-Team-Europe-Paul-McGinley-of-Ireland-holds-the-trophy-after-Team-Europe-retained-the-Ryder-Cup.jpg
Captain of Team Europe Paul McGinley of Ireland holds the trophy after Team Europe retained the Ryder Cup

 

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.

 

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

Darren Clarke

A hugely popular character both on and off the course, Clarke won all three of his matches in 2006.

Ryder Cup appearances 5

Matches 20

Total points 111/2

Vice-captain 2010, 2012

 

Padraig Harrington

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

Matches 25

Total points 101/2

Vice-captain 2014

 

Miguel Angel Jimenez

Should receive the support of Jose Maria Olazabal and has been an assistant three times.

Ryder Cup appearances 4

Matches 15

Total points 51/2

Vice-captain 1997, 2012, 2014

ryder-4.jpg
Vice Captain of Team Europe Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain dances for the crowd on the first tee

 

Thomas Bjorn

Chairman of the Players’ Committee and is another with great experience.

Ryder Cup appearances 3

Matches 9

Total points 4

Vice-captain 2004, 2010, 2012

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