LONDON (Reuters) - Darren Clarke could be forgiven for thinking “How do I follow THAT?” after being appointed Europe’s 2016 Ryder Cup captain on Wednesday.
The 46-year-old Northern Irishman takes over as skipper from Paul McGinley and his former friend will be a tough act to follow.
McGinley, a member of the five-man panel that selected Clarke as leader, was hailed as a true inspiration by his players after plotting the downfall of Tom Watson’s United States side in Scotland in September.
Several members of the European team said the Irishman had paved the way for skippers of the future with a meticulous planning style of management during which he left no stone unturned.
“Paul was absolutely fantastic,” world number one Rory McIlroy said.
“The speeches he gave, the videos he showed us, the people he got in to talk us, the imagery in the team room, it all tied in together.”
McGinley singled out Alex Ferguson as a key member of his backroom team at Gleneagles, and there are shades of the Scot’s departure from Manchester United after a glittering 26-year spell as manager about Clarke’s appointment as captain.
Ferguson was an almost impossible act to follow at Old Trafford and so it proved for his successor David Moyes who lasted 10 months before he was shown the door.
Clarke may find it difficult to hit the captaincy heights the way McGinley did but he is no fool and will put aside their fractured relationship in order to try and pick up a tip or two from his former friend.
Asked recently by Golf World magazine to describe relations with the Irishman, Clarke replied: ”I don’t really want to talk about that.
”We say hello. It was one of those things I wish had never happened but I’ll tell you one thing, if they do give me the job he will be the first guy I go to for advice.
“I’d be foolish not to.”
The pair were close for years and McGinley pulled out of the 2006 U.S. PGA Championship to attend the funeral of Clarke’s wife Heather after she died of cancer.
“Our two families are very much intertwined,” said McGinley at the time. “It is a tough, tough time for us all.”
Neither man has publicly explained the reason for the fallout but media reports suggest it is down to Clarke performing a U-turn and deciding to challenge McGinley for the 2014 captaincy after originally saying he would stand aside.
That, however, has not stopped the Northern Irishman recognizing the excellence of his predecessor’s performance.
“I’ve played under some great captains and from what I’ve been told Paul did an unbelievable job with the team last year,” said Clarke.
“He has moved the job on. We all saw the response he got from the players. That is a great testament to the job he did.”
Europe have won eight of the last 10 Ryder Cups and Clarke acknowledges the pressure will build on the captains the longer that domination continues.
”That’s the nature of sport,“ he said. ”If you look at how Europe has performed they have found a way to win but golf is cyclical and there’s not much between the teams.
”Sooner or later Europe will lose, statistically that’s a certainty...having said that the majority of Paul’s team will, I think, be at Hazeltine next year.
“There will be a core of six, seven players, one that has been there for a while now. That experience is massive.”
Editing by Ed Osmond