Darren Clarke will captain Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, going up against Davis Love III.
A five-man panel selected the 46-year-old ahead of Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark.
Clarke has won the tournament four times as a player and was a non-playing vice-captain for wins in 2010 and 2012. He said: "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."
The 2011 Open champion has lost just once in the seven times he has been involved in the Ryder Cup, when the US won at Brookline in 1999. Love is wildly tipped to be his opposite captain, though the PGA of America has yet to make it official. Clarke added: "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."
Colin Montgomerie, who was part of the appointing panel, said the decision to appoint Clarke had been unanimous, adding on Sky Sports News: "We have selected a captain that I am convinced will retain the Ryder Cup and bring it home. It's an unenviable task; America want it back badly and he will have all our support." Before the decision, John Huggan caught up with Clarke to get his thoughts on the job and his game.
On paper, he ticks all the boxes. Major champion – check. Multiple winner on tour – check. Many times a Ryder Cup player – check. More than once an assistant captain in the biennial bunfight with the Americans – check. So there is no doubt Darren Clarke will make a great and well-qualified captain in succession to his fellow Irishman, Paul McGinley.
The 46-year-old Ulsterman has a lot going on in his life. There’s the not insignificant matter of his own form, which has been something of a concern since he famously lifted the Claret Jug skyward at Royal St George’s in 2011. Family time in Portrush with sons Tyrone and Conor and second wife Alison is busy and fulfilling. And there is the continuing matter of his remarkable weight loss. In the last two years, Clarke has reduced his waist measurement by nine inches.
Sitting in the Abu Dhabi sunshine, Clarke discussed all of the above with Golf World. And as he did so, he allowed himself a couple of cigarettes. Hey, no one is perfect.
It’s been a while since you have played like you can really play. What’s going on with that?
I wish I knew. I’ve been tinkering with my swing too much. Recently, I was getting too much “ahead” of the ball through impact, the club too much “underneath.” I was using too much hand action and hitting what I call “climbers,” shots with no penetration. I couldn’t have won the Open with that ball flight. Towards the end of last year I fixed that and I’ve hit the ball really well since. Now I just have to turn that into better scores.
So what’s keeping you going?
I just want to play. I love the game. Plus, what else am I going to do? As difficult and tough as it is, the game has been great to me and I want to keep playing.
What ambitions do you still have?
I want to win. Anywhere. Then take it from there.
What plans do you have regarding playing in the US? Is that high on your list of priorities?
I’m exempt through 2016. But it was a struggle there last year. I played average and my putting was poor. Actually, that’s not really true. I wasn’t hitting the ball close enough to the hole to give myself realistic chances of birdies. My “proximity to the hole” number was very poor. So, while it was easy for me to blame my putting, that wasn’t quite the full story. Plus, I spent a lot of time away from the family last year. I didn’t like that. So I resigned from the PGA Tour at the end of 2014. I’m going to play a full season in Europe this year. And I’m eligible to re-join the PGA Tour in 2016. I will probably do that. If I had stayed a member this year and not played the minimum number of events, I would have been banned for 2016 and not able to play at all. So I had to do what I have done.
How competitive are you these days? Are there places where you can’t win? Because of the distances the young lads hit the ball.
No. If you look at my driving stats, I’m still long enough. But yes, there are places where the so-called “bombers” do have too much of an edge. Look at the way guys like Rory (McIlroy) and Henrik (Stenson) play the Earth course during our season-ending event in Dubai. They fly bunkers at 310 yards and hot wedges into the greens. I’m back with everyone else hitting mid-irons because I can’t fly my drives over the sand. They have a talent I don’t have.
Do you worry that the distance advantage has become disproportionate because of club and ball technology?
There is that, yes. It is true that players should have no chance just because they can’t hit the ball 300 yards through the air. But not every course is like that. You make a good point though; there are a lot of them these days. And there are fewer courses where a little bit of guile is required to get round well. It’s all “hit it as far as you can then take it from there”. The rewards for course management and strategy and all the rest of it are not what they once were.
To read the full interview, see the April 2015 issue of Golf World!