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Ireland's golden age of Ryder Cup stars has come to an end

By Peter Hutcheon

Published 01/09/2016

Prize guys: Paul McGinley, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke celebrate Ryder Cup success in 2010 but only the latter two will be involved for Team Europe against America at Hazeltine
Prize guys: Paul McGinley, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke celebrate Ryder Cup success in 2010 but only the latter two will be involved for Team Europe against America at Hazeltine
Rory McIlroy

When Samuel Ryder dreamed up his low-key trans-Atlantic competition back in 1927, a United States team took on a side comprised of players from Great Britain and Ireland.

The late, great Seve Ballesteros helped end an era of American dominance in the tournament when their opposition was expanded to encompass players from Europe.

However, the pendulum has swung so far the other way over the past decade that a team made up exclusively of players from the British Isles would more than likely have been enough once again to have beaten the US outright.

Nothing stays the same for long in golf these days and perhaps the most interesting aspect of European skipper Darren Clarke’s side is that while the British stars are still holding up their end (well, England’s at any rate) the Irish playing contingent is down to just one — our own Rory McIlroy.

It was back through the mists of time in 1997 under the Ballesteros captaincy that the Irish contribution was as slight (in numbers, if nothing else) in the shape of Clarke, who was making his debut.

But as the golden era of Irish golf unfolded, bringing with it Major victories for Padraig Harrington, Clarke, McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, the ranks of the European Ryder Cup team was swelled by Irishmen.

And that representation has been a force for good in terms of success with the three Irish golfers on the 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010 teams helping secure wins.

There were two Irishmen on the victorious sides of 2012 and 2014 — although the sides of 1999 and 2008 also contained an Irish pair and both were lost.

A lack of form at the crucial time is behind the failure of both McDowell and Shane Lowry to make it onto Clarke’s team for Hazeltine at the end of the month.

Neither has been in the winner’s circle this season. Lowry’s World Golf Championship success at Akron is a fading memory while McDowell found the season an overall struggle and has now slipped to 73rd in the world rankings.

The Portrush man is desperately disappointed not to have made it onto this year’s team — Clarke opted for Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters as his wild cards — and although he says that will make him redouble his efforts, at 37 he is far more likely to continue to slip down the rankings.

There is, though, just a lingering doubt that Clarke may have missed a trick in not giving his fellow Ulsterman one of the three wild cards, even though he’s not quite at the top of his game.

In the absence of Ian Poulter, surely another man who has played his final match, Team Europe lack a natural cheerleader and McDowell has more than proved himself in that regard in the last three consecutive wins.

Lowry is the most likely to follow in the footsteps of Paul McGinley and Harrington but needs to win much more consistently to make a future team.

Apart from Akron last year and his unlikely Irish Open win as an amateur, he has just one other title to his name, not a great return for seven years as a professional.

Although there are other talented Irishmen who have come through the amateur ranks, such as Greystones’ Paul Dunne who performed well at last year’s Open, they are all still a far cry from the heights of representing Europe.

Belfast Telegraph

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