This is why Clarke was given the nod over Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Thomas Bjorn. He has a better individual record than both in the individual and Ryder Cup arena and, on his day, is more than adept at handling the media and sponsors. But there is something more about his story that intertwines him with the biennial skirmish.
And that connection and continuity, along with the patronage of Rory McIlroy and eight more of the Gleneagles dozen, made his candidature irresistible to Paul McGinley, Olazábal and Paul McGinley, as well as players’ committee representative David Howell and the Tour’s chief executive, George O’Grady. The quintet took under two hours to decide at Wentworth, with McGinley commendably putting aside the sense of betrayal he felt as a result of his former friend going against him in the last captaincy race, to grant the players their wish.
“It was a unanimous decision, which was a delight for the panel,” Montgomerie said. “In many was Darren has an unenviable task; America want revenge and have set up their task force to do it. But we have selected a captain I am convinced will retain the Ryder Cup. He will be a very good communicator and has the respect of the players. They know what he has done in the Ryder Cup and what he has meant to the Europe team.”
Clarke is playing in South Africa this week and was by the hotel swimming pool with his wife Alison and his eldest son Tyrone, when he finally got the call. He confirmed that it had been an anxious morning, but his voice hinted not too anxious. If there had been shock with the news that Davis Love III will be reappointed as US captain next week, then Clarke’s elevation was golf’s worst-kept secret. The players wanted him and in this narrative of the Good Ship Europe having sailed to six victories in the past seven matches, that was essentially that.
“I think it’s great,” McIlroy said. “Darren is a stalwart of the European Tour, played in a lot of Ryder Cups, is a past Open champion, has been part of the team for so many years – he’s a great choice. And everyone in America loves him as well. He’s got a great rapport over there with the fan base. I couldn’t think of a better guy to play under in 2016.”
Clarke revealed that his first port of call for advice will be McGinley, but he will not be changing much, if anything. That means three wild cards, five assistants and as many inspirational tales from the Europe of yore as they can handle.
“I don’t see any reason, and can’t foresee any reason, to make any changes can you?” Clarke said. “We all know how good a job Paul did at Gleneagles and it would be stupid of me to move away from that. It was so successful.”
But there will still be challenges; one of which will be to cope with the endless questions about whether he expects to see his good friend Tiger Woods at Hazeltine. As long as he keeps saying “we all hope so”, he will be fine. And then there is his long friendship with Love, which goes back to the 2004 match at Oakland Hills, when the American’s sportsmanship grabbed Clarke’s heart.
How will he feel to have his favourite American as an adversary? “Listen, there isn’t more of a gentleman in our sport than Davis Love and if it’s him again, I’ll be absolutely delighted. But, be sure, friendships are put on hold on that first tee on the Friday morning. The Europe team that will be there, will be there to win and that will be our only goal.” For Clarke that mission starts now.
Darren Clarke’s in-box
The pair have not been on good terms for years, but Clarke will sit down with the brilliant 2014 captain who helped elect him and take notes from his blueprint. Will also meet other past captains.
Will confirm the status quo
Is adopting the “if it aint broke..” technique and will keep qualification (three wildcards) and the number of assistants (five) as it was in Gleneagles. Just needs to make this official.
Think about assistants
Will obviously have to wait on the likes of Bjorn and Jiménez and perhaps even Westwood to see if they qualify as players first. But will already be modelling his back-room staff.