25 September 2015
When Darren Clarke won the Open Championship in 2011, the individual highlight of an illustrious career, one of the first people to congratulate him as he walked off the 18th green was Davis Love. The American player had finished his round several hours before but had cancelled a scheduled flight to Canada that evening to wait around the Royal St Georges clubhouse. If Clarke was going to win his first Major championship, Love was going to make sure he was there to see it. “That sums up the character of the man,” said Clarke after he had heard his friend was to be America’s Ryder Cup captain in 2016. “You don't forget gestures like that."
The relationship goes back a long way. Love’s final appearance as a player in Team USA colours was in 2004 at Oakland Hills in Detroit. Love claimed a hard fought half point that day. His opponent? Darren Clarke.
Fast forward to Hazeltine in a year’s time and the two will go head to head again, this time as rival captains for golf’s greatest team event.
At the press event to launch his captaincy, Love recalled a conversation with Clarke at Celtic Manor in 2012: “When I was assistant captain for Corey Pavin in Wales, we were standing in the middle of one fairway and we were leaning up against the golf cart. Darren said, "If the PGA of America asks you to be captain," said Love, "don't take it until I'm captain because I want to go up against you."
“Friendships are put on hold on that first tee on the Friday morning of The Ryder Cup,”
The choice of Love for 2016 followed an extensive review of America’s relationship with the event, carried out by a task force led by PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua. The 11 man group was made up of players and officials with vast experience of the biennial tournament and the result was a huge vote of confidence in Love, who gets a second chance at winning the great trophy. The 51 year old led the team in one of the classic sporting moments in recent years, the Miracle of Medinah in 2012, when Team Europe came back from four points down to win on the final day. That match is etched in every golfer’s memory and is a byword for the tiny margins between victory and defeat that make top class sport so compelling. The PGA of America and some of the country’s great players such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson believe Love’s recent experience at the helm will benefit the team at Hazeltine next year. Very few captains get the chance to do the job twice and Love’s approach to leadership second time around is just one of the fascinating sub plots to the event.
Clarke’s team on the other hand will be trying to make it four wins in a row, something no team from that side of the Atlantic has achieved since the inception of this great event in 1927.
With that sort of pride at stake, and an audience of millions watching around the world, the competitive nature of both men will come to the fore. “Friendships are put on hold on that first tee on the Friday morning of The Ryder Cup,” said Darren Clarke. “The European Team will be there to win and that will be our only goal being there”.
No quarter asked or given. That’s how professional sport works.