Don’t expect Europe to make an out-of-left-field, Tom Watson-like announcement when it names the 2014 Ryder Cup captain in the new year.
Expect Europe to go along more conventional lines. Expect a player closer in age and generation to his team, not someone in his 60s. Indeed, don’t even expect a fiftysomething. The next captain will be 46 or 47, with the outside chance of a 43-year-old taking the post.
Put your money on Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley or Thomas Bjorn – the aforesaid outside chance – leading Europe at Gleneagles in two years. Realistically, those are the only names in the frame.
Miguel Angel Jimenez has been suggested, but his poor English probably counts him out. With such a high emphasis placed on media work these days, the colorful Spaniard probably won’t be a serious consideration.
While Europe might not have players of the same high stature as Watson, we come close. The 15-man European Tour tournament committee, the group that decides on the next captain, could opt for big names such as Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie or Jose Maria Olazabal. The committee could even consider Bernard Gallacher or Tony Jacklin if it wanted someone to match Watson’s age and experience. Of that group only Lyle hasn’t captained the European side, an omission many see as a glaring injustice.
They won’t select any of the above senior statesmen. Faldo made sure of that four years ago at Valhalla.
The Englishman’s disastrous 2008 campaign caused a serious rethink inside the tournament committee. Faldo seemed so out of touch and so unprepared that the committee decided future captains should be closer in age to the team. Although nothing is set in stone, the committee decided on a policy of selecting fortysomething captains who are still in touch with the players on a regular basis, as Montgomerie was in 2010 and Olazabal this year.
McGinley, Clarke and Bjorn still play regular European Tour schedules. More importantly, these senior statesmen are prominent members of the tournament committee. Bjorn chairs the committee. All three have served as vice captains in the past two matches. McGinley and Bjorn have even come up against each other as Seve Trophy captains.
Bjorn is the outside choice next time around. In fact, I think he’s the outside choice for the next two matches. His time might come in 2018 when the match is held in France. A continental European captaining a team in Continental Europe has a nice ring to it.
So that leaves McGinley and Clarke. I think it will come down to a straight choice between these two.
McGinley seemed a certainty until recently considering Clarke’s criticism of the PGA Centenary course at Gleneagles. Last year he had this to say about the 2014 venue:
“It’s unbelievable they chose to stage the 2014 Ryder Cup on this course,” he said. “There are unbelievable courses in Scotland, not least of which are the two others at Gleneagles, the King’s and Queen’s. It’s beyond my comprehension they’ve chosen to have the Ryder Cup on this course.
“Gleneagles is an unbelievable resort and a sensational place, but the Ryder Cup is going to be played on the wrong course. … I just can’t see it as a Ryder Cup venue, Ryder Cup golf course, and it’s a shame.”
Clarke skipped the Euro Tour’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles for three years before suddenly turning up this year and praising course alterations. Cynics believe he only played this year with one eye on the 2014 captaincy. McGinley has played in the tournament for five straight years.
Clarke may have a major title to his name, last year’s Open Championship, but McGinley is very astute. Clarke is higher in stature around the world, but McGinley is highly regarded amongst the European Tour’s rank and file players. Although he has softened in recent times, Clarke carries an ego and arrogance that McGinley doesn’t possess.
Clarke doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s a no-nonsense guy who will want things done his way. McGinley is much more diplomatic and conciliatory. Although decisions will ultimately be his, he seems more likely to listen to others than Clarke.
The decision will be made at a tournament committee meeting likely to take place before the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January. Clarke and McGinley will probably be asked to leave the room when the committee turns to the item concerning the 2014 captaincy.
For the record, the other 12 members of that committee are Felipe Aguilar, Paul Casey, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Joakim Haeggman, David Howell, Rafael Jacquelin, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Peter Lawrie, Robert Karlsson, Francesco Molinari, Montgomerie and Henrik Stenson.
It will come down to a straight vote by that dozen. However, don’t be surprised if the committee decides to name two captains at once, as it did in 2005 when it named Woosnam and Faldo for the 2006 and ’08 matches.
The smart move would be McGinley for 2014, Clarke two years later and Bjorn in 2018.
Rest assured, though, the next European captain will be at least 16 years younger than Watson.
Age 43 at time of 2014 match
13 European Tour wins
Played two Ryder Cups (1997 and 2002), vice captain in 2010 and ’12
3-2-1 won/lost/tied record
Age 46 at time of 2014 match
14 European Tour wins, including 2011 Open Championship
Played five Ryder Cups (1997, ’99, ’02, ’04, ’06), vice captain in 2010 and ’12
7-7-3 won/lost/tied record
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Age 50 at time of 2014 match
19 European Tour victories
Played four Ryder Cups (1999, ’04, ’08, ’10), vice captain in 1997
4-8-3 won/lost/tied record
Age 47 at time of 2014 match
Four European Tour wins
Played three Ryder Cups (2002, ’04, ’06), vice captain in 2010 and ’12
2-2-5 won/lost/tied record