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Clarke steering in new direction

By Steven Beacom

Published 16/01/2016

Driving forward: Darren Clarke is currently leading Europe in the battle against Asia in the EurAsia Cup
Driving forward: Darren Clarke is currently leading Europe in the battle against Asia in the EurAsia Cup

Darren Clarke has insisted that he will be his own man and do things his way this year as Europe's Ryder Cup captain.

The popular Northern Ireland golfer, like just about everyone else in sport, was impressed by the excellence of his predecessor Paul McGinley, who inspired the European team to a crushing victory over the Americans at Gleneagles two years ago.

From Rory McIlroy to Justin Rose, the European players were full of praise for McGinley, whose ideas included inviting former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson for a pre-event motivational chat with the home team.

Don't expect Clarke to copy everything the Dubliner did however. For starters there won't be fish in the team colours swimming around in a tank in Europe's meeting room in Hazeltine where the 2016 Ryder Cup takes place from September 30 to October 2.

The 47-year-old is relishing the challenge of retaining the trophy on American soil and while determined to approach the captain's job in his own style, he is clever enough to seek guidance and advice from anyone who he thinks can help.

Recently he spent a day with the Ulster Rugby team speaking to coach Les Kiss, skipper Rory Best and others.

Who knows, in the future the 2011 Open champion may call upon the expertise of Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, who guided the country to the Euro 2016 finals.

Currently leading a European team against Asia in Malaysia in the EurAsia Cup, in preparation for the Ryder Cup, Clarke has been speaking about his plans as captain for the coming year, stating that he intends to have a lengthy conversation with McGinley to compare notes.

"Paul was very intensive and made every decision about the Ryder Cup," Clarke said.

"My decisions will primarily be pertaining to the team. Yeah, I'll have an input on what goes on in the team room, but unlike Paul I won't decide on colours or have blue and gold fish or whatever, as that's beyond what I'll be any good at, I'd like to think.

"What Paul did obviously can't be faulted and although our OCD is probably the same, we're two totally different characters.

"And anyway, you can't have every captain doing it exactly the same way as there would be danger of the players getting bored.

"It would be foolish of me not to employ some of what Paul did, and we will have a long chat. It will be interesting to sit down and tell him about my idea of things compared to his idea of things.

"Just like Paul, I want to broaden my horizons and make myself the best captain I could possibly be for Europe.

"Last week, I spent a day at Ulster Rugby, went to the team meeting and then had a few hours with (coach) Les Kiss, (captain) Rory Best and all the backroom staff.

"Les is an impressive man, not as intense as (Ireland coach) Joe Schmidt but very clever and canny. One of the interesting things I heard was how you tell someone they're not playing."

Clarke experienced the rough end of that himself when Sir Nick Faldo surprisingly left him out of the European team in 2008. There was a feeling that the six-time Major champion could have handled the situation better.

On the prospect of leaving a big name player, potentially his best pal Lee Westwood, at home when making his wild card calls, Clarke, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, said: "I'm not shy about making the hard decisions.

"I don't profess to have one cheek on either side of the fence, it's black or white, whether I'm right or wrong is another thing. Yet I do recognise that it could be the toughest thing to phone friends and tell them they haven't made the team.

"It's a no-win situation for me with Lee. If I pick him they'll say I only picked him because he's such a close mate; and if I don't pick him they'll say I couldn't pick him because he's such a close mate.

"But hey, it's simple. If Lee is playing well enough and will be a good addition to the team then I'll pick him and if he's not then there's no chance. He knows I won't select him just because he's Lee Westwood."

Clarke, married to model agency boss Alison Campbell, is respected on both sides of the Atlantic.

You can bet he will leave no stone unturned in his quest for more Ryder Cup glory, having experienced the joy of winning golf's biggest team competition as a player and assistant captain.

On a Christmas family holiday in the Bahamas, he indulged in some heavy duty reading and research ahead of the EurAsia Cup.

"We were away there at Christmas and on a nightly basis I was looking at this 48-page report the stats guys had prepared for me on this team and on this match," said Clarke.

"It has everything you could imagine in it; looking into the golf course, pairings, performance under pressure, consistency, which order they should tee-off in, who drives the odds, the evens, the best fourballs, the best foursomes, everything conceivable.

"I've more than ensured that I'm fully prepared.

"I don't want to say it is a dry run, because the EurAsia Cup is growing in stature, we really want to win it for itself.

"But, with the Ryder Cup in mind, if I can't learn from this week then I must be an idiot."

Belfast Telegraph

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