Darren Clarke, like all captains, will be able to smile benignly and give two fingers to his critics if his team wins at Hazeltine and will suffer all sorts of criticism if they lose. He’ll be second-guessed left, right and centre and the what-ifs and if-onlys will be rolled out ad nauseam. He’ll have to take the Knox if Russell wins again but the Scotsman has only himself to blame for not making this Ryder Cup team, not Clarke. The only way to guarantee your place is to play your way in.
I gave up railing against captain’s picks years ago because they’re just that: the captain’s picks. Not mine, not yours, not the European Tour’s, not the PGA’s, not anyone’s but the captain’s. He or she can ignore everything but their gut instinct. Rankings, experience, personality, form all play a part but in the end the gut rules. In Clarke’s case it’s currently well under control on the outside however much it may be churning on the inside. But all captains, almost without exception, go with the tried and tested, players they feel they can trust, people they know well, usually with a proven record in the white heat of team matchplay.
Six rookies is a lot, so Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, who are both playing pretty well and have proved themselves supreme team men, gave Clarke no headaches. And if he’s rating Thomas Pieters in the same league as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, well, decision made and hard luck Russell. Of course, if Henrik Stenson’s meniscus messes him up, there’ll have to be a substitution….Dai, my late husband, poured scorn on Tony Jacklin’s choice of Christy O’Connor Jnr for the 1989 match at The Belfry but Christy came good, Dai ate his words and they were friends again – eventually. Catriona Matthew has probably never forgiven Dale Reid for not picking her for the Solheim Cup at Loch Lomond. A measured communicator as far removed from the Montgomerie mould as it is possible to be, Matthew had her own Krakatoa moment when she was left out and I, who had spent years failing to coax the intelligent, thoughtful Scot to say anything remotely interesting, wasn’t there. Polite words fail me! Matthew would always have been in my team but two stubborn Scots didn’t quite see eye to eye and Europe splashed their way to an amazing underwater win so the home captain was spared a post-match mauling. Pre-match had been a different story…Still, it’s only a game, isn’t it?
The bookies make the Americans the favourites and it’ll be a big ask for Europe to win an unprecedented four in a row but I can’t see it being anything but tight, tense, nail-biting and enthralling. Europe also start ahead by virtue of being the holders, an unfair advantage that should be abolished forthwith. If it’s a tie, the teams should share the trophy.If I were the Ryder Cup captain, all I’d ask is that my 12 players were playing well on Friday the 30th of September, Saturday the 1st of October and Sunday the 2nd – and putting out of their socks every day. I’d be a very gracious winner or a gracious and shellshocked loser! Ole, ole, ole.
Finally, just a mention for Crans-sur-Sierre, which is hosting what is now the Omega European Masters (the event has had several incarnations) for the 70th consecutive year. We used to stay at the Hotel Des Melezes by the 7th tee, as idyllic a setting as you could find anywhere. It’s now flats I believe (or luxury apartments) but the view’s still spectacular and the memories are magical. Vive Crans.