McIlroy’s allegiance to Clarke has deep roots.
“Everyone in Europe has been very fortunate to play under some great captains, but especially the last two,” McIlroy said. “McGinley at Gleneagles was the best captain that I had ever played under. I had a very special relationship with Paul, and again, with Darren.”
Like Clarke, McIlroy grew up in Northern Ireland. McIlroy met Clarke on his 10th birthday on the practice range at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
“And we've known each other, obviously, ever since,” McIlroy said. “I was part of his foundation to try and nurture the talent in Ireland. My relationship goes back a long way with Darren, and it's very special for me this week. I think it's special for both of us, that he is now a Ryder Cup Captain and I'm a player under him.”
McIlroy said getting to play Royal Portrush’s Valley Links was a birthday present from his father. Meeting Clarke was a bonus gift.
“I was just in awe of him,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy still remembers what Clarke told him that day.
“Practice, practice, practice,” McIlroy said. “That's always been his motto. I think that's one of the things that has been underestimated about Darren, throughout the years, is how much of a practicer he was and how much hard work he did put into it.
“That day has always stuck with me. Even this week, all those memories come sort of rushing back, of the times that we've spent together, from Portrush down to Portmarnock . . . Here we are, on the biggest stage of the game, and I'm able to play under him as a Ryder Cup Captain, and I'm very much looking forward to that.”