The ideal "buddy" captain?
Ryder Cup: The case for captain Clarke
By Torleif Sorenson on 12/14/12
Yesterday, I stated the case for the return of Sir Nick Faldo as captain of the European Ryder Cup team in 2014. Today, I wish to state a case for Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open Champion from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

While Clarke knows well the pressure-cooker of the Ryder Cup matches, Clark has experienced far worse in his personal life - chiefly, the loss of his wife, Heather, to breast cancer in August of 2006. Just one month later and as a captain's selection, Clarke won all three of his matches at the K Club to help boost the European team to another Ryder Cup victory.

Interestingly, where the PGA of America selected Tom Watson as captain in part because he will not be a so-called "buddy captain," Clarke is a popular contender for the captaincy precisely because he is so close to many of the anticipated Euro Ryder Cup team members. But Lee Westwood also makes the case for Clarke over Paul McGinley based solely on his professional record:
"Paul is good in the team room, he makes a great vice-captain. Paul has played three Ryder Cups. [But] Darren has played five, won a major championship, and a lot of tournaments worldwide. He edges it for me."
On a humorous side note, Westwood's comments caused one British sportswriter, Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail, to prematurely explode like a bottle of champagne after two minutes in a hardware store paint can agitator. Lawrenson trumpeted to the world on October 9 that Clarke had already won the captaincy, an unfounded rumor than Clarke himself had to knock down the very next day.

Clarke's trips through the Ryder Cup wringer and his Claret Jug victory in 2011 are no fluke; he is a solid and proven player with 22 tournament wins worldwide, including three on the PGA Tour. And although it would be highly unnecessary, Clarke's fellow Northern Irishmen, Rory McIlroy (Holywood) and Graeme McDowell (Portrush) could use some provincial pride as motivation - first, for qualifying for the team, then to play out of their minds for their (obviously) beloved captain.

Yesterday, I opined that, as a golfer, I would feel intimidated facing a Ryder Cup team captained by Nick Faldo. But I might actually be more afraid of a squad captained by Darren Clarke for these reasons:
  • His players already adore and deeply appreciate him because he is such an obviously likeable man - sentiments shared by many tour players around the world.

  • The galleries at Gleneagles will likely cheer just as loudly for Captain Clarke as they will for the players.

  • Playing in front of an extremely intimidating and fired-up home crowd is a tough task for any professional athlete on the road team. And it is no secret that the American Ryder Cuppers have not played well on the road since 1993.

    (As an aside, this could explain why the Toronto Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967; their home crowds can be notoriously docile!)
Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail may have jumped the gun back in October; the announcement is not expected until January of 2013. But in the end, I suspect that he will ultimately be correct.

I predict that Darren Clarke will be chosen captain of the 2014 European Ryder Cup team.

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Image via Flickr, photojenni

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