The Ryder Cup is an emotional rollercoaster that few people have ridden as many times as Darren Clarke. This year he’s in the driver’s seat as captain of Team Europe, but his easy-going demeanour will be one of the visitors’ greatest assets.
His inclusive approach at Hazeltine National Golf Club began with a team dinner for all, which was a smart choice by the Ulsterman.
‘We just had a very relaxed evening,’ said Clarke. ‘We had everybody from Team Europe, and that being the physios, the backroom staff, the coaches, everybody was in our team room last night for maybe 30, 45 minutes and then we all had a little bit of a chat to everybody, a little bit of conversation and addressed everybody and welcomed them all here.’
The 2011 Open Champion called on former Irish and British Lions rugby player Paul O’Connell to give a pep talk to the players, who will be psyched up ahead of the Friday start.
‘Part of my whole thought process for this week is shoulder to shoulder, one team, one unit,’ said Clarke. ‘It resonated with me. It was something that I pursued through my captaincy.’
He played on five Ryder Cup teams (four of them victorious), including an emotional win at the K Club weeks after the passing of his wife Heather.
This week he dons the captain’s hat and leads a European Team that includes six rookies, the Open Champion, Tour Championship winner, and Masters champion.
‘It’s great to be in the position where I’m addressing maybe 80,90 people in the room last night, in our team room, and every one of them there part of Team Europe, was very special,’ he said.
‘The whole buildup just over a year and a half since I was given the honor of being captain, everything has been geared towards this week, and now we’re here to see all our artwork.’
It’s a huge week for the Team Europe, winners of the last four stagings of the Ryder Cup. The Americans want the trophy back, spurred on by local fans in Minnesota. If there’s a captain who can guide the Europeans past overwhelming odds, it’s got to be Clarke.
’It’s been much better than I thought it was going to be. I’m really enjoying it. I know that’s easy to say at this stage of the week, but certainly I’m very excited and looking forward to the rest,’ he concluded.