Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Better late than never as Darren Clarke backs Gleneagles

Darren Clakre has been critical of Gleneagles course

It will be a much more contrite Darren Clarke who tees off in the first round of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles today, the final qualifying event for next month’s Ryder Cup.

The Ulsterman was stinging in his criticism of the Scottish course when it was selected as the Ryder Cup venue for two years’ time back in 2007.

He did return for the Johnnie Walker Championship the following year when he finished in 44th place with four rounds in the 70s, but hasn’t been back since.

“It’s not even the best course at Gleneagles,” he said at the time.

“It is unbelievable that they chose to stage the 2014 Ryder Cup on this course.

“Gleneagles is an unbelievable resort and a sensational place, but the Ryder Cup is going to be played on the wrong course.

“Scotland is the home of golf and we should not be playing on an American-style course — it is beyond my comprehension.

“I may be ripped for saying it, but I can’t see it as a Ryder Cup venue and it’s a shame.”

One of Clarke’s main criticisms of the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout was the way the greens played, and the 18-time major winner has been back since to make improvements.

He has made some subtle changes to the course while the ninth and the 18th have been significantly altered.

The new drainage system which has been installed should significantly address Clarke’s criticisms of the putting surfaces.

Of course times change too, and since 2007 Clarke has acted as vice-captain to Colin Montgomerie at Celtic Manor in 2010 and been appointed to the same role by his successor Jose Maria Olazabal for the next contest with the Americans at Medinah in Chicago in a couple of weeks’ time.

He is, together with fellow vice-captain Paul McGinley, the leading contender to be in charge in two years’ time at the self-same Scottish resort.

So it was no real surprise, once he had altered his schedule to include this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship, to find him in a more conciliatory mood.

“I had heard about all the changes they have done,” he said.

“I haven’t played all of the green yet but the ones that I saw yesterday certainly were massive improvements.

“With this whole sub-air system that they have put in, it will suck the moisture out of the greens and they will be much better.”

Although he would never directly say it, Clarke’s U-turn on Gleneagles is aimed at appeasing the European Tour ahead of the appointment of the next European Ryder Cup captain.

“Is my hat in the ring now? I think it’s a case of if the Ryder Cup committee were to ask me to be captain, then I think it would be disrespectful to say ‘no’ wherever they asked me,” Clarke said. “My hat has never been out of it. I still hope to play a little bit more yet but if I was asked it would be very tough for me to say ‘no’.”

The decision on the next Ryder Cup captain will be taken in January and victorious 2010 captain Montgomerie has again said he would like the job again on Scottish soil. Clarke had desperately hoped to qualify as a player for the Medinah contest after winning the Open last summer at Sandwich.

But his form has been far too inconsistent since then and his days of being considered as a captain’s wild card selection are long gone.

Clarke plays with Olazabal and Johan Edfors in the first two rounds and tees off at 12.55. Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin is one of the early starters at 7.45am followed ten minutes later by Belfast’s Michael Hoey.

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