The mercurial nature of golf ensures a hefty turnover in personnel from one Ryder Cup match to the next.
In 2008, there were six changes in European personnel from the previous Ryder Cup match - in 2010, seven, in 2012, four and in 2014, five changes.
Gazing into my crystal ball, the startling possibility of as many as nine (!) new faces claiming places in Darren’s X11 arises. If the team to represent Europe were picked right now the almost unknown, Russell Knox, after his stunning WGC successes in China would be a certain new cap.
By September, Knox may be a forgotten man and an example of why predicting 9-months ahead is daft.
In previous years, the experienced quintet of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell would have incontrovertible claims but none of them is close to securing an automatic place currently.
That’s five potential ‘goners.’ A colossal win in Turkey by Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and a return to form in Thailand by Jamie Donaldson puts them on the fringes but not the team - yet.
Stephen Gallacher and Thomas Bjorn have shown no form for months, which puts seven of the current holders in jeopardy and leaves Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose as the only cast-iron certainties.
If there are as many as five or six new caps, Clarke will have to bolster his team with experience.
While it seems certain that Clarke will be in charge of a ‘new look’ team, predicting the eager beavers who will actually step up and claim their share of the glory is not so easy.
To name a few: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Shane Lowry, Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett, Tommy Fleetwood, Joost Luiten, Alexander Levy, Berndt Weisberger, Eddie Pepperell and Tyrrell Hatton.
Two heroes of past Ryder Cups, Frank Molinari and Luke Donald, cannot be overlooked either but by playing most of their golf on the PGA Tour it’s more difficult to qualify. Nor should we dismiss the unheralded Swede, David Lingmerth, winner of Jack
Nicklaus’s Memorial Invitational in 2015 - a similar, standout performance during 2016 could see him forcing his way in.
It all adds up to quite a battle between the new ‘kids on the block’ and those who have contributed so much to past European successes. Supposing, supposing I am ‘half right’ and say, five newcomers are named eventually, my money would be on Fitzpatrick, Lowry, Sullivan, Wood and Willett as the most likely ones.
For Clarke, being Ryder Cup Captain will soon begin to feel like going down Corkscrew Hill in his Ferrari without brakes and the scariest twists and turns are still a long way ahead.
A team of new faces will suit him nicely, though. They won’t need any motivation or galvanizing. All will be as keen as mustard to make their mark and will walk through fire to do it.
Older golfers are more likely to be less passionate and committed. When I asked my crystal ball who might win? It went as black as night.
Mid West Alliance 2016
The Midwest Alliance has announced it schedule for 2016 and the time sheet is filling up rapidly with golf-starved hopefuls. All four rounds will be played at Dromoland on February 7, 21, 28 and March 6 operating the gross stableford format in two categories, 0-3 and 4-9-handicap - i.e. gross scores only.
Trophies will also be awarded to the best overall scores for 54-holes. One of the first two rounds may be discarded but both scores in the 3rd and 4th rounds will count.
The entry fee is €30 per round. To enter: ring 061-368444. Dromoland’s infamous, Amen Corner (Holes-9, 10 & 11) and staying clear of the clingy wet, winter roughs separates the winners from losers.
The defending champion in the 0-3 category, Dave Foley, and the 4-9 champion, the former Clare hurler, Alan Neville, will be in action again and very keen to
repeat their 2015 successes.
The Dromoland Course Superintendent, Paul Coleman, is a magician. Every year he produces magnificent fairways and greens in spite of the temperamental Irish weather.
Words of the Wise
Listening to Paul McGinley talking (eloquently) about the Ryder Cup on SKY TV recently reminded me that this is his meal ticket and calling card forever now. He is the go-to expert. It’s one of the reasons why the position is so coveted.