And so it goes: 144 days after Paul McGinley led Europe to victory at Gleneagles, Europe got a new Ryder Cup captain in the slimmed-down form of Darren Clarke.
The Northern Irishman was the ‘unanimous choice’ of the five-man selection panel, comprising McGinley and his two immediate predecessors Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, as well as David Howell and European Tour chief George O’Grady. They met yesterday at Wentworth to pick the man to lead Europe into the 2016 match at Hazeltine.
In the end, their decision surprised nobody. Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez were also thought to have been in contention for the captain’s armband but neither had the one thing Clarke had: overwhelming public support from their fellow players.
Of the 12 players that helped inspire Europe’s most recent victory at Gleneagles last September, more than half endorsed the 2011 Open champion, including current world No.1 Rory McIlroy. That’s a pretty powerful commendation.
It’s also a potentially dangerous one. I’ll explain why.
Paul McGinley’s expected appointment as European captain in Abu Dhabi in January 2013 was complicated by behind-the-scenes politicking, jostling and manoeuvring. More than one man wanted the job and each of those had fellow players willing to endorse them, which made McGinley’s selection more of an election than the coronation it had been for previous captains.
With the European Tour eager to avoid a repeat of those unsavoury ‘backstage’ antics this time around, the power to appoint a new captain was taken out of the hands of its Players’ Committee and, instead, given to the new, aforementioned, five-man panel.
Great - only it didn’t stop the campaigning. It might have had a better chance had five months not been allowed to pass between McGinley hoisting the trophy aloft at Gleneagles and his successor being named, but there you go.
You have to wonder how Bjorn and Jimenez must have felt to see the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose rally behind Clarke and, in doing so, effectively make the panel’s decision for them.
Surprised? Possibly not.
And therein lies the problem. Ask anybody involved in any of Europe’s recent Ryder Cup victories to identify the secret of their success and they’ll likely give you the same answer: unity.
Egos have been left at the door and individual agendas set aside in pursuit of two common goals: beating America and lifting the famous gold trophy.
Unity is the foundation on which Ryder Cup glory is built and that’s fine so long as the players get the captain they want.
But what happens when there is less of a consensus? Because that’s inevitably going to happen and soon.
Europe’s spectacular winning has created plenty of worthy ‘future captains’ but, with the match taking place every two years, there’s no way of ensuring everybody ‘gets their shot’.
The decision for 2016 has been made. But what happens in 2018? Who succeeds Clarke?
Jimenez and Bjorn will surely still be in the frame but will likely be joined in the reckoning by Padraig Harrington or perhaps Paul Lawrie. I’ve even heard rumours that a route is already being paved for Westwood to succeed his big mate and ISM stablemate at the helm and lead Europe in Paris.
The 2020 match at Whistling Straits, meanwhile, could bring Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson into the equation.
Right there, clean off the top of my head, I’ve managed to identify seven different worthy Ryder Cup captains… for just two possible matches.
People are going to miss out. Loyalties are going to be tested. Unity is going to be strained.
So, the sooner the unseemly campaigning stops the better. That’s unless we don’t mind burning our most valuable trump card.