Interview: Darren Clarke on the Ryder Cup

Interview: Darren Clarke on the Ryder Cup

This week, fans will witness the return of one of golf's most prestigious tournaments, the Ryder Cup. The famous event pits teams of professional golfers from the United States and Europe against each other. It is one of the most highly anticipated events in the world of golf and is known for its intense competition and drama.

This year, the event will be held at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome. The event in Rome will take place from September 29 to October 1.

Both the current champions, the United States and Europe, have named their teams for the tournament in Italy.

Team United States Ryder Cup Captain Zach Johnson announced his team a few weeks ago. He included stellar names like Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler, Brooks Koepka, and Jordan Spieth in his team. Meanwhile, Team Europe has included the usual suspects of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, and many others.

For golf purists, there is nothing quite like the Ryder Cup. It holds the same significance for players from the past, present, and future.

One man who knows more than most about playing in the famous competition is former European captain Darren Clarke. Tyrone native Clarke played an instrumental role in Europe's 2006 win at the K Club in Ireland. He also captained Europe's side in 2016, despite the loss to America.

Clarke sat down with The Irish Post this week to discuss all things involving the Ryder Cup. 

Darren Clarke, speaking to BoyleSports who offer the latest Ryder Cup odds, said,"The Ryder Cup is the most pressurised opportunity that any golfer fortunate enough to play will ever experience. Never mind coming down the stretch when you are trying to win majors; the Ryder Cup is ten times that. It is a completely different level.

"A lot of it is because you aren't just playing for yourself; it's for your team. We don't get that too often, you know. I grew up playing football, rugby, and all that stuff. Your teammates help you through. You are in a position where once every two years, we all come together. The guys you were trying to beat are now your best buddies, and you don't want to let them down, your captain down, or Europe down. You just want to win, and that makes the pressure so much more intense."

There has been much debate about certain picks for both the US and European teams. On the European side, Ireland's Shane Lowry was picked as one of the five wildcards by European captain Luke Donald. Fans on social media questioned the decision to bring Lowry to Rome instead of other golfers in better form. Lowry responded and claimed that he deserved his place on the team. The Americans included Justin Thomas, and that decision has received similar feedback.

Clarke was asked about what he thought about the European selections and also defended his countryman Lowry's inclusion in the European side.

"Yeah, the team is very strong. There's experience and rookies in there; it's a nice mix. Picking Shane Lowry, a Major champion, is good," added Clarke.

"Sometimes in our sport, you might be playing very well but not scoring well, and momentum can go against you. It would appear that you aren't performing, and it's such fine lines in pro golf. If you look at Shane's golf stats, they have been very good for a very long time, but it's not quite happening for him. It's easy for me to say. I am a huge fan of his, but you know that experience and energy that he brings into the team room will help. If I were the team captain, I'd pick Shane Lowry as well, but I'm not the captain. I think he's a great pick for the European team."

"I think the European team, with Rory McIlroy in there, we know how good he is, and I think you have to look at him and Justin Rose as the leaders among the players in the team room. I think both those guys will be somewhat vocal, and all experienced players will do that. They will lead out all the rookies by hand. It's nothing like they have played before."

Clarke also explained that playing in your first Ryder Cup is like having a child, as described by 2002 European captain Sam Torrance. For Swede Ludvig Åber, a Ryder Cup rookie, it will be his first. Clarke admitted that he admired the 23-year-old.

"It was explained to me a long time ago by Sam Torrance that playing in your first tournament is like having a child. Until you do it, you will have no idea what it's about. Sam said to me that in 1997, and when you understand that, it's different. The team is very strong. Ludvig Åber is very exciting. I haven't played with him; I have only seen him on TV. But from what my colleagues have told me, who have played with him, they say he's the real deal," he added. 

"On the American team, they always have a strong team. It doesn't matter what's going on. JT is under a lot of pressure. He got a pick in front of a few guys, and like Lowry, he got selected as a wildcard."

The Tyrone native also went into detail about what it is like to be a pick and not someone who makes it onto the team automatically. He feels that golfers who become wildcards only have themselves to blame.

"It's one of those scenarios; like when I won the 1998 second last counting qualification round and I was counted 12th, and I wasn't picked for the team. While that was disappointing, my takeaway from that was you need to play better and make the team. You leave yourself at the mercy of the captain's picks, and that's what it's for. I was disappointed and understood what it was like. There's more pressure when you're a pick; you don't want to let the team down. I think the two teams are very closely matched, and it won't be a landslide like last time. The US is strong, and Europe hasn't lost at home in such a long time. They will be a hard team to beat."

America has not won on European soil in 30 years. Their last win came at The Belfry (Brabazon) in Warwickshire in 1993. Since then, Europe has won on their home turf. Clarke believes that the US team has all the players to end their European hoodoo this week.

"Oh yeah, without a doubt. I mean, speaking as a fan, I will be watching every shot of the Ryder Cup and will not miss a shot. I am a huge fan and obviously want Europe to win, but I think it's going to be edged slightly by Europe."

When asked whom he picks between his head and his heart, the former European captain went onto say,"It's going to be a really close match, and I just feel that the Americans coming over to win for the first time in 30 years, we have got a very astute captain who has surrounded himself with competent vice-captains and rookies. It's a perfect balance, and I think that will give us the edge, and I just hope it's a narrow win, at least for Europe."

For more information on the Ryder Cup, click here