Tried and trusted for Olazábal
PAUL McGINLEY and Darren Clarke – who have soldiered together for the best part of two decades on tour and on various winning Ryder Cup teams – have been hand-picked by European captain José María Olazábal to serve as vice-captains for next month’s Ryder Cup at Medinah, outside Chicago, but the two Irishmen are set for a head-on battle to succeed the Spaniard for the 2014 match at Gleneagles in Scotland.
Olazábal, in effect, has gone with the tried-and-trusted in sticking with the winning formula used by Colin Montgomerie at Celtic Manor two years ago in confirming McGinley and Clarke along with Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn as his trusty lieutenants for the defence of the trophy against the United States. Olazábal has left a vacancy for a fourth vice-captain, most likely to be Miguel Angel Jimenez should he fail to secure a playing spot on the team.
The selection of McGinley and Clarke will strengthen their respective hands for the captaincy for the match at Gleneagles in two years time: but only one of them can get the job. The European Tour’s tournament players’ committee will get around to nominating their choice as successor to Olazábal once the match in Medinah is over.
McGinley, a three-time Ryder Cup player, has captained the Britain and Ireland team for the past two Seve Trophy matches, while Clarke, who has been critical of the Gleneagles course in the past, has played on five Ryder Cups and, of course, reached a career highlight when winning last year’s British Open.
Clarke has added next week’s Johnnie Walker Championship – the final qualifying event for automatic places on Olazábal’s team – onto his schedule following recent re-design work conducted by Jack Nicklaus’s design team on the course.
“I wasn’t initially playing Gleneagles but they’ve made changes to it. I believe the changes are good, so that’s why I’m going,” said the Ulsterman.
It is believed that McGinley and Clarke – who serve on the 15-man tournament players’ committee, of which Bjorn is the current chairman – are the front-runners for the captaincy at Gleneagles.
Montgomerie, who was captain in 2010, has also thrown his hat into the ring although, in recent years, the tour has moved away from repeat captains given the number of high quality candidates.
The selection of the three vice-captains – maintaining the harmony of Celtic Manor, where Olazábal was drafted in to serve alongside the three men – was well-received by players.
“Nice”, tweeted Luke Donald of the news, while Ian Poulter tweeted: “The Ryder Cup is taking shape, so happy @DarrenClarke60, Paul McGinley Thomas Bjorn are going to be Vice Captains. 6 weeks #pumped.”
Of his three selections, Olazábal, who played in seven Ryder Cup matches between 1987 and 2010, remarked: “All three are world class golfers with tremendous experience of playing in The Ryder Cup which is absolutely invaluable.
“For me to have these guys, all such great friends, by my side is fantastic. I know like me they will now be counting down the days to to Medinah with one aim: to return home with the (Ryder) Cup.”
Clarke said: “Make no mistake this is a very strong backroom team because we have been there before and done it before.
“We’ll be seeking to use our experience to re-create that terrific team spirit and bonding that has made the European team room such a special place to be for so many years.”
McGinley said: “I am thrilled to be part of Team Europe again and I would like to keep that unbeaten run going. But we all know that Ryder Cups are always very difficult.
“The Americans always look to start fast especially on home soil, as they did at Valhalla in 2008, and we will need to be ready for that. What is important is that we win.”
The 10 automatic places on the European team will be finalised at the conclusion of the Johnnie Walker championship. Olazábal will name his two wild card picks on Monday, August 27th. As of now, two Irish players – Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – are qualified.
Pádraig Harrington, seeking to extend his Ryder Cup run to a seventh straight match, will require a captain’s pick if he is to make the team.