Few men know more about Ryder Cup golf than Darren Clarke, a four times winner as a player and once as a non-competing vice-captain.
His captaincy at Hazeltine may have ended in defeat last year but he believes an up-and-coming crop of Europeans can trouble an elite American team in the summer.
In an exclusive interview with Sport360° on behalf of Swiss luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet, Clarke talks Ryder Cup 2018, the chances of old heroes Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter making the team, and why golf is taking its toll on the younger generation.
How good are Europe’s prospects in next year’s Ryder Cup?
I think Jon Rahm has been incredible this year – you see what he’s achieved from just turning pro to becoming No4 in the world. He’s been amazing. Tyrrell Hatton’s had a fantastic year as well, and Tommy Fleetwood’s had that breakthrough and he’s been battling with Justin Rose. Sergio Garcia – there’s so many of them.
So I think the Ryder Cup is going to be exciting again, but saying that the Americans are very, very strong right now. Our captain Thomas Bjorn has got his hands full but I’m sure the team that we’re going to have will be very strong as well.
How do you balance the younger generation with more experienced players in the Ryder Cup?
It depends how many rookies make it again. There were six of them at Hazeltine – I’m sure there will be three or four at least this time. The rookies nowadays aren’t like what they used to be though, they’re more worldly wise and more renowned players. They seem to come through very quickly and play very well very quickly. It will be interesting to see how those guys perform in France. But the good thing about playing the Ryder Cup in France is that we have played a tournament there for so long (Open de France), so we know the golf course really well.
Is it soon time to wave goodbye to Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter as Ryder Cup players?
That’s just the way professional golf is – but that’s not to say Poults or Lee won’t make the team again, they’ve got a really good chance of making it again. But competition for places is getting even more challenging. So yes, while you’d like them to walk out onto the tee, if they haven’t performed all year, you’ve got to maybe have another young guy who has played really well. It’ll be down to Thomas if they don’t qualify.
You’d want them to have a good start to the year and show a little bit of form later in the summer if they don’t make one of the automatic spots.
There’s personalities you want for making the team. Guys who will speak out, guys who will be respected and listened to, and both Lee and and Poults would be two of those sort of guys.
We’ve seen Rory McIlroy battle injury this year. How tough is the modern game on players?
The demands of what they do now and what they physically put their body through, hitting the ball so much faster, it’s much more than it was in my day. That’s why so many guys are getting injured now – because there’s so much torque and speed being generated to maximise distance. It’s like tennis, when the serve started becoming more important than a few years ago. But how much can bodies cope through? So we’ll see how many of the younger generation can keep on playing for a longer period of time.
How can golf tours help protect players?
They’re talking about making tournament golf balls softer to slow it down, maximum speeds you can hit, but they’re still hit the golf ball the same way. There are a lot of people saying we need to rein it in, especially with some of the older courses becoming a little defunct, but at the same time, you or I as a golf fan want to see guys hit it 350 yards. We are an entertainment business.
What’s in your sights in 2018?
I’m doing corporate stuff, commentary and still playing so I’m busy as I’ve ever been. I’ll be playing the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in January. I’m still playing a bit because I turn 50 next August which is when I can start the senior tour. I’ve had a pretty decent career and once you’re a professional golfer and a competitor that never leaves you. So I want to get out onto the Champions Tour and start winning again.
Justin Rose continued his march to the summit of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai rankings with his second victory in a row at the Turkish Airlines Open.
The Englishman, who came from eight shots behind to win the WGC-HSBC Champions in China last week, is now within touching distance of Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood after securing a thrilling one shot win in Antalya.
Rose birdied three of his closing four holes in a final round six-under par 65 for a one stroke win at 18-under par tally on the Regnum Carya course.
The Rio Olympic champion and world No.6 went into the final day trailing by two shots but after a third birdie of his round at the ninth, Rose found himself among three sharing the lead at 14-under par.
The win is Rose’s 10th European Tour success and comes just a week after he captured the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
“This is an incredibly sweet moment and it is like a bus as you wait ages for one and two turn-up at once,” he said smiling.
“Today was a different type of win but then they are all different in their own way, and to hole that birdie putt on 18 was special as a lot of tournaments I have won have been two putts on the 18th green.”
Rose, who won the Race to Dubai title in 2007, moved from No. 3 on the Race to Dubai to replace second-ranked Sergio Garcia and now only trails compatriot Tommy Fleetwood by 134,893 euros.
Fleetwood posted a last day 68 for a share of 23rd on eight-under par.
Rose also has moved to the top of the European Ryder Cup standings and closer to a fifth European Team cap.
The stage is set for a thrilling climax to the European Challenge Tour season as the Road to Oman reaches its final destination in Muscat with the eagerly anticipated NBO Golf Classic Grand Final at the stunning Al Mouj Golf.
The top 45 players on the rankings tee off for Wednesday’s opening round and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
As well as competing for the prestigious honour of being crowned NBO Golf Classic Grand Final champion, the players who finish this week’s €420,000 tournament in the top 15 spots on the Road to Oman Rankings will be promoted to play on next season’s European Tour.
Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen heads the rankings after a solid season that has seen him pick up his first win at the Kazahkstan Open as well as posting a further three runner-up finishes.
The 27-year-old’s consistent displays have seen him amass 177,724 points this season and with 71,600 up for grabs this week for the winner of the event, plus a further 30,000 for topping the rankings, victory would see Pulkkanen break the single season record of 251,592 set by Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia in 2015.
“It would be awesome to finish the season as number one,” said Pulkkanen. “I already know that I will be playing on the European Tour next season so it is not the end of the world if I don’t make it, but it would be a huge achievement for me.
“I need to play well here in Oman as I have not been at my best over the last two tournaments, but after playing so well for most of this season, I am still confident I can finish the job here.”
Looking to hunt the Finn down is Frenchman Julien Guerrier and the two-time winner is hoping to muster good memories of last year’s NBO Golf Classic Grand Final where he finished in a share of third place.
Guerrier is currently in second place on the rankings with 133,234 points and victory in Muscat this week could see him crowned Challenge Tour Number One if other results work in his favour.
“I’m delighted to be back in Muscat again for the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final after finishing third here last season,” said Guerrier. “I’ll try to go even better this year and finish the season in style.
“Al Mouj Golf is a great course that I always enjoy playing on. The greens are good, the condition of the course is excellent and you never expect any rain so that’s always a good thing. It’s the perfect place to host the Challenge Tour Grand Final and I’m sure every player will enjoy the course and hospitality.
One week to go
— Challenge Tour (@Challenge_Tour) October 29, 2017
Another strong contender for the Road to Oman top spot is the returning Aaron Rai. The Englishman gained automatic promotion to the European Tour after winning his third Challenge Tour title of the season at Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge who is looking to cap a dream season with a strong finish this week.
“It’s great to be back in Muscat for the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final,” said Rai. “We always planned on returning here for the final despite regardless of me achieving the three wins needed to advance onto the European Tour.
“It’s brilliant to be back playing on this course after competing here in the Challenge Tour season-ender last year because it’s always nice returning for a second time and seeing it in a slightly different way from your experiences. You get to recognise your own development from this stage last season which is cool in that aspect.
“This is a wonderful tournament to sign the Road to Oman off and catch up with a few familiar faces so I’m sure it will be a nice week.
“It would be an amazing achievement to win this weekend and top the Road to Oman as it but you just have to try and not get carried away and treat the week like you would any other tournament in a professional manner.”
Tuesday’s pro-am signalled the commencement of the week’s golfing action at Al Mouj Golf. Fittingly, the NBO team were the victors in the morning event led by professional Lorenzo Gagli and featuring Hamed Al Rumhy, Tareen Ruzani and Abdul Razak with a wonderful combined score of 28 under par.
In the afternoon session the Rolex team headed by Adrien Saddier alongside Charanjiv Taneja, Bharath Gopal and Tenzin Tsarong topped the pile with a score of 24 under par.
With 23 different countries represented by the 45 players in the field this week, there will be an international flavour to proceedings at Al Mouj Golf but only one will rise to the top in Oman.
The opening round of the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final gets underway at Al Mouj Golf at 8.00am on Wednesday.