Europe captain Darren Clarke was keen to stress that the Ryder Cup in September wasn’t in his thoughts heading into the second edition of the EurAsia Cup this week.
”There’s no Ryder Cup stuff going on in the back of my mind,” Clarke said on Tuesday.
It seems his players see it differently.
”One of the main reasons I wanted to play the EurAsia Cup so much was to get invaluable team experience in a Ryder Cup year,” said Irish player Shane Lowry, making it clear where his priorities lay going into the match against Asia starting in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
”A lot of the lads on our team next week are looking to qualify for the Ryder Cup this year and (this week) gives us a great chance to show Darren what we are capable of and hopefully impress him.”
Lowry is one of a number of Europe’s new breed looking to take their opportunity this week in the absence of the continent’s star names – Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, and Graeme McDowell.
Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson, and Stephen Gallacher all played in the first EurAsia Cup, which finished tied at 10-10 in 2014, and went on to make their Ryder Cup debuts later that year in Gleneagles.
For maybe half of the 2016 team, the same reward is there.
Three days of competition in the sweltering heat at Glenmarie Golf & Country Club – temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius (102 F) on Tuesday – will help Clarke discover if the likes of Andy Sullivan, Kristoffer Broberg, Danny Willett, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Bernd Wiesberger can be relied on when the stakes are raised at Hazeltine from Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
What helps Clarke and his European side is that Asia has put up an even stronger team this time round.
Anirban Lahiri and Byeong-Hun An, two rising stars in Asian golf, are in the team captained by Jeev Milkha Singh. Thongchai Jaidee is also there, backing up his appearance for Team International in last year’s Presidents Cup against the United States in Incheon, South Korea.
That contest counted as Ryder Cup practice for the Americans, who will be looking to prevent an unprecedented fourth straight victory for Europe in Hazeltine. Now it’s the Europeans’ turn.
It is also a shop window for Asia’s players.
”They know that they are playing on the big stage and the world stage, and from there, they can move on and follow their dream, whether it’s the European Tour or the U.S. (PGA) tour,” Singh said.
”Having an event like this, I think, it’s a big boost for golf worldwide.”
There will be six fourball matches on Friday, six foursomes on Saturday, and then 12 singles on Sunday.
In 2014, Asia came from 7-3 down to salvage an unlikely tie, and Clarke is predicting another close-run thing, which would be a good experience for the Europeans.
”Hopefully, it will be every bit as exciting,” Clarke said. ”I don’t know how our nerves will be at the end of the week.”
The Queen of Malaysia, Tuanku Hajah Haminah, is set to play in Thursday’s pro-am. She will strike a ceremonial opening tee shot before joining the players on the course.
Asia: Byeong-Hun An, Anirban Lahiri, Thongchai Jaidee, Wu Ashun, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, SSP Chawrasia, Danny Chia, Nicholas Fung, KT Kim, Shingo Katayama, Prayad Marksaeng, Jeunghun Wang.
Europe: Shane Lowry, Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood, Kristoffer Broberg, Danny Willett, Soren Kjeldsen, Matt Fitzpatrick, Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Dubuisson, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher.