European captain Darren Clarke will be hoping his Ryder Cup debutants can hit the ground running against the more experienced USA team, when golf’s celebrated transatlantic battle tees off at Hazeltine next week, writes Michael Stoneman
Few events in sport can match the passion and intensity on display at the Ryder Cup – golf’s biennial battle between the USA and Europe – and this year’s edition is shaping up to be one of the most highly anticipated ever.
The Americans have not had their hands on the famous gold trophy since 2008, with the Europeans triumphing in six of the last seven contests, and US captain Davis Love III has left no stone unturned in his bid to wrest the cup back from his European counterpart Darren Clarke ahead of next week’s matches at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota.
Following their 2014 defeat at Gleneagles, in Scotland, the USA formed a Ryder Cup ‘taskforce’ to identify why they have been unable to enjoy more success on golf’s most highly-charged stage, and they will head to Hazeltine with a far more experienced team than their rivals, with Brooks Koepka the only debutant among their 12-man line-up.
Europe, meanwhile, will have six rookies teeing it up in Minnesota, with Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick all qualifying automatically for the team, and Thomas Pieters earning a captain’s pick.
Despite their inexperience at the Ryder Cup, all of them have enjoyed great success in recent years – with Willett winning his first major title at April’s US Masters – and European captain Clarke has full belief in his team’s ability to defend the trophy on US soil.
“It’s going to be a monumental task, but one that I’m going to have full confidence in the team that we are going to take with us,” says Clarke, who was also a guest speaker at Dubai’s Host Cities event in 2015.
“With this team, those guys have earned their right to be on the team. They have embraced the challenge. They have got on there and they are world-class players in their own right. Obviously with adding Thomas [Pieters] to that list, there are six [rookies] there, but again, the talent that they all possess, I’ve got no worries at all about the strength of that team going to America.
“I’m proud of that team. It’s a team that’s going to go there and do everything we possibly can to bring that trophy back home again.”
Clarke will be able to rely on the experience of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson. These Ryder Cup stalwarts are well known among golf fans in Dubai, with Westwood, Kaymer, Stenson and reigning champion McIlroy all winning the Race to Dubai in recent years.
It’s a team that’s going to go there and do everything we possibly can to bring that trophy back home again.
At November’s DP World Tour Championship, Stenson and McIlroy will again be in the hunt for the overall title, along with current rankings leader Willett.
Despite his team boasting several of the world’s top players, Clarke believes that the USA will be favourites to win on home turf when the three-day contest gets underway on 30 September.
“You’d have to say America would be favourites,” he says, “but that’s always the case if you’re going to look at world rankings. When you get there, it’s 12 guys against 12 guys in match play, and anything can happen.”
And at the Ryder Cup, it invariably does.
Golf fans in Dubai will get their chance to watch Europe’s Ryder Cup stars in action at the DP World Tour Championship from 17-20 November.