Clarke Omission a Shocker

By Brian HewittAugust 31, 2008, 4:00 pm
The omission of Darren Clarke from the European Ryder Cup team is nothing short of a shock. Not on the grand scale of world events. But inside the inside of the world of golf, it is a shock.
 
Whether or not the decision to leave Clarke off the side by captain Nick Faldo was, or was not, a mistake will ultimately be determined by who wins the matches next month in Kentucky.
 
And that outcome will be determined in large measure by Europes team chemistry without the veteran Clarkes playing leadership. It will also be determined in no small measure by the performance of the two captains picks ' Ian Poulter and Paul Casey.
 
Regardless, the omission of Northern Irelands Clarke and the selection two young Englishmen are shocking in many ways.
 
It was, Faldo said Sunday afternoon from Scotland after the public announcement of his two choices, a tough call.
 
You could sense that he was disappointed, Faldo added after confirming that he had broken the bad news to Clarke.
 
Ya think?
 
Clarkes larger-than-life presence on the European team for the last decade or so has been even more important than his strong 10-7-3 career record in Ryder Cup play. Moreover, he won twice on the European Tour this year including just two weeks ago in the Netherlands.
 
Clarke and Englands Lee Westwood have been a strong Ryder Cup pairing for the Euros. They are extremely close friends. And the fact of the matter right now is this: Anybody who has been playing close attention to the wonderful team chemistry the Euros have parlayed into smashing 9-point victories over the Americans in each of the last two Ryder Cups, has to be scratching his or her head at the failure of Faldo to name Clarke. Among other points that need to be made: Both Poulter and Casey missed the cut this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.
 
Faldo has always done things his way throughout his career as a player that included six major championship victories. And we shouldnt be surprised that he isnt about to change those ways now.
 
But it is interesting to note in his Sunday news conference from Gleneagles in Scotland, when asked if he had consulted senior leadership on the team about his captains picks, he said no.
 
American captain Paul Azinger, by way of contrast, has been constantly in touch with the eight players that have already qualified on points for his team. Azinger will announce his four captains choices Tuesday.
 
We are all guessing right now about who those four will be. And the guess in this space is: Steve Stricker, Scott Verplank, Bubba Watson and longshot Kevin Streelman.
 
Anyway, getting back to Faldo, he also took a pass on another decorated European Ryder Cup veteran, Colin Montgomerie. Montgomerie hasnt played well in 2008 and his missing out wasnt a shock.
 
But he does have a 20-9-7 career record in the event. And he probably deserved better from Faldo than what he got. Asked if he had contacted Montgomerie, Faldo said he had left him a phone message.
 
Faldo added that the reason he missed connections with Monty was because, apparently he was watching football this afternoon. Or shopping. One or the other.
 
Was that really necessary?
 
The 10 players who made Faldos team on points are: Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Soren Hansen and Oliver Wilson. The latter four are all rookies.
 
Nevertheless the Europeans are strong favorites to win their fourth Ryder Cup in a row at Valhalla in three weeks. The combined career Ryder Cup record of Faldos 12-man squad is a stellar 41-27-13.
 
The eight men already on Azingers team are: Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Boo Weekley, Kenny Perry, Stewart Cink and Ben Curtis. Their combined career Ryder Cup record is a miserable 18-34-15.
 
But the news of the moment is Clarke. The second-guessing will be enormous in the coming days and weeks. In certain influential European quarters Faldo is disliked almost as much as he is respected.
 
And there is one theory that Faldo wanted to be the clear leader of this squad in the team room. The presence of Montgomerie and Clarke, the theory goes, could have undermined that leadership.
 
If there is any truth to that theory, it will be overridden by the importance of the Ryder Cup Matches to the European players. In the end, it will not have mattered to many of them if the captain was a London cabbie, a Scottish barkeep or the Prince of Wales.
 
The Europeans will arrive as heavy favorites and they will play their best. Faldo himself was a Ryder Cup warrior, participating in 11 Matches and building a 23-19-4 record.
 
He is smart in the ways of strategies and pairings. And he can take the heat. Creative tension is often a good thing in sport. Vince Lombardis players didnt like him on a day-to-day basis but they loved what he meant to their careers.
 
Yet if America claws its way out of its horrible Ryder Cup slump this time around, Faldo may never live down the decision not to choose Darren Clarke.
 
Obviously, Faldo said at the outset of his Sunday news conference, this is a fabulous moment for me.
 
Then Faldo ticked off the names, in alphabetical order of his first 10. Next, after a stunningly brief pause, he added, and of course my two picks, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey.
 
Then he stared out at a roomful of reporters. And for just a second it was almost as if the gathering expected him to add, Just kidding.
 
But he was not.
 
So this is a not-so-fabulous-moment for Darren Clarke.

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