The Competition for European Ryder Cup Captaincy Seems to Have Torn Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke Apart

September 17, 2014

When Darren Clarke’s wife, Heather, died in August 2006, many top European players — Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood among them — considered pulling out of the PGA Championship at Medinah, outside of Chicago, to attend the funeral in Northern Ireland. Clarke balked, insisting that Heather would have wanted them to play on. But at least one qualifier withdrew anyway: Paul McGinley.

“Our two families are very much intertwined,” McGinley said at the time. “Heather and Ali [McGinley's wife] were the best of friends and our kids are in the same class at school. It is a tough, tough time for us all."

McGinley is from just south of Dublin, but growing up he summered in Northern Ireland, where he and Clarke hatched a friendship playing junior golf, sometimes carpooling to tournaments together. In 1990, they squared off in the final of the North of Ireland, a prestigious amateur event. Clarke won in a tight match, but it was obvious that both players had bright futures. Clarke went on to win 14 times on the European tour, McGinley won four times, and both players thrived at the Ryder Cup, Clarke playing on four winning sides, McGinley on three. In 2012, the old friends served as vice-captains on José María Olazábal’s victorious European team, setting up the Irishmen for their own Ryder Cup captainships.

But when?

Clarke, in a letter, had informed McGinley that he wasn’t interested in the job for ’14, which helped clear the way for a McGinley captainship. But shortly after the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, Clarke pulled an about-face, tossing his hat back in the ring to captain the ’14 team. In Clarke’s corner was Ryder Cup stalwart Westwood, who went to bat for the burly Northern Irishman at a tournament press conference in Turkey.

“And when that happens,” Paul Kimmage of the Irish Independent asked McGinley in a recent interview, “there has to be a part of you thinking, 'What the f— is going on here?’”

McGinley: Of course there is but I'd rather not talk about it. I've moved on from it and unfortunately friendships have . . . whatever has happened, has happened. I'm on the verge of the Ryder Cup and I don't want to be dragging up all this stuff.

Kimmage: You don't want to talk about it?

McGinley: No, it happened, it's over, we move on.

Only that’s not where the story ended. In late 2012, Clarke changed his mind again, proclaiming that he’d rather play on the ’14 team than captain it. He also said that, “Whoever it is standing on that stage opposite Tom Watson needs a huge presence. We seriously need the right man for the job.”

So McGinley, right? Nope. Clarke was backing Colin Montgomerie.

Kimmage: … the killer blow wasn't when Darren decided to stand against you, it was when he withdrew and rowed in behind Monty, someone he didn't actually like.

(McGinley smiles but does not reply.)

Much has been said and written about how the Ryder Cup bonds the Europeans, but in McGinley and Clarke’s case, the competition for the captaincy appears to have torn them apart. In the ensuing months after McGinley was named captain, he went on to appoint a record five vice-captains.

Clarke wasn’t one of them.

Padraig Harrington was, which means come next week at Gleneagles, with McDowell and Rory McIlroy competing and McGinley and Harrington captaining, Clarke will be the odd Irishman out.

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