Why Europe’s top players will soon be scrambling for Ryder Cup captaincy
Last weekend at Wentworth, Darren Clarke had a choice. In naming three of what will eventually become a quintet of European vice-captains for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Clarke had the option to stress the solitary importance of this event. Instead, and to his credit, the Northern Irishman insisted Paul Lawrie, Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn were all on board with one eye towards the future. What precisely vice-captains do and bring in the midst of battle is up for debate but Europe has a successful history of succession which cannot be overlooked. Right on cue, Clarke underlined it.
The captain’s assistant choices were no great shock. Clarke and Bjorn are long-time and close friends. Harrington is not only steeped in both the Ryder Cup and top-level golf in general but has an extroverted streak which can help the team dynamic. Lawrie, when clearly irked at not being part of Paul McGinley’s backroom team in 2014, was wrong to use a newspaper interview before the last Ryder Cup to speak of the intense pressure . Still, like Bjorn, the Scot is a close confidant of Clarke who has seen and done more than enough in his sport to offer a valuable contribution from inside the ropes.
Future Ryder Cups are not yet a key Clarke domain. They will be soon, when he forms part of a selection process to determine his successor. That process will be made complex by the simple fact that multiple names into a maximum of two do not go. The Ryder Cup captaincy was highly coveted even before the commercial explosion of the event which meant pound signs appeared just as much as status.
When Lee Westwood , it is safe to assume the comment was not offered without careful consideration. Likewise Westwood is one of a highly select group each of whom can essentially dictate when he will take on the role owing to his record in, and connection to, the Ryder Cup. Barring a change of heart from the man himself, 2020 for Westwood it is.
What happens before and after that is cause for deep fascination and Clarke placed the topic back into the golfing consciousness on Friday.
The biennial meeting of Europe and the United States in 2018 in France arguably offers ideal scope to deviate from home captain’s picks with nationality of Great Britain and Ireland. Continental Europe has been represented by only , Seve Ballesteros and since the Ryder Cup took on its current format, which is an unhelpful scenario for a sport looking to broaden its boundaries.
If this bigger picture is acknowledged, Bjorn would be the favourite over Miguel Ángel Jiménez. Bjorn’s commitment to and respect within the European Tour should not be underestimated just as the inability – or unwillingness – of Jiménez to communicate expertly in English will once again cause the Spaniard a problem.
And yet, should Harrington decide back-to-back vice-captaincy appearances are sufficient to make a bid for the pole position, it would be tough to argue against the Irishman. Harrington is, after all, a three-time major winner and a six-time Ryder Cup participant as a player. That is double the number of times Bjorn has appeared. The only logical case against Harrington would be a nationality one, which some may regard as dubious.
The same goes for Lawrie, who might be viewed as an outsider to lead Europe but deserves to be part of the narrative. Like his compatriot Sandy Lyle, Lawrie may discover that winning a major is not enough for this particular post.
If we fast forward to 2022 in Italy, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson will be 46, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose 42. Without offering premature ending to their careers and those of others like them, these numbers provide an example of how the captaincy era will have moved on. Should Poulter fail to qualify or be picked for Clarke’s team, it is difficult to foresee a scenario where he would not instead begin a quest – like Westwood – for inevitable captaincy by standing alongside Bjorn, Lawrie and Harrington.
Golfers always swat aside any notion of jostling for position or political moves where the Ryder Cup captaincy arises but these background games inevitably take place. Clarke has enough to deal with over the next four months to place thoughts of what transpires post-Hazeltine to the back of his mind. There is an almighty scramble coming, though; it may even be under way.