Golf: Rising stars the key to Ryder Cup says Europe's captain Clarke

Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke during a Pro-Am event, ahead of the SMBC Singapore Open at the Sentosa Golf Club which starts today. The 47-year-old hopes to feature in as many tournaments as his body permits before he prepares to captain the Europe
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke during a Pro-Am event, ahead of the SMBC Singapore Open at the Sentosa Golf Club which starts today. The 47-year-old hopes to feature in as many tournaments as his body permits before he prepares to captain the European team in the Ryder Cup in September.PHOTO: LAGARDERE SPORTS

Clarke, Team Europe's captain, plans to pick young faces to compete with Spieth-led US

Darren Clarke was quite literally in the hot seat yesterday discussing the prospects of the European team he will captain at the Ryder Cup in September.

A day earlier on the same armchair at the Sentosa Golf Club, world No. 1 Jordan Spieth had talked up the United States' chances, calling it a "huge goal" for him to help his country regain one of golf's most storied titles this year.

Out for revenge, the Americans formed a task force after three straight defeats at the biennial showpiece.

Talk has revolved around a new-look outfit led by 22-year-old Spieth and other rising stars like Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed.

The Europeans head to the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota as underdogs on enemy soil - even as they gun for a historic fourth straight victory.

They have had terms like "ageing" and "overconfident" thrown their way by golf experts and fans alike, perhaps not helped by English golfer Ian Poulter teasing his opponents on Twitter over the weekend.

YOUNG MAN'S GAME

We've got really good young kids and I've got a good impression of kids, so it's a good place. The US will always have a strong team. Both sides will have a few new faces.

DARREN CLARKE, Ryder Cup captain for Team Europe, on young players.

Yesterday, Clarke issued a reminder to the fraternity that it is not just the US who will unleash fresh, hungry faces in the 12-man line-up, three of which are captain's picks.

The 2011 British Open winner has been impressed by Belgian upstart Thomas Pieters, a hard hitter who finished second at the HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi last week.

"Thomas played good, solid golf among a strong field," said Clarke, 47, who will tee off at the SMBC Singapore Open starting today.

"We've got really good young kids and I've got a good impression of kids, so it's a good place.

"The US will always have a strong team. Both sides will have a few new faces."

Also on his radar is 21-year-old Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, who claimed his maiden European Tour title at last year's British Masters.

Going young is the way to go for Clarke, who admits golf is becoming a "young man's game".

The 14-time European Tour winner pointed to the sport's so-called "Fantastic Four" of Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, who are all aged under 30.

"These kids are hitting it so far," he said with a wry smile.

The European team have won eight of the past 10 editions of the Ryder Cup, including the latest 16½-11½ triumph at Gleneagles in 2014. They are warming up well for the upcoming classic.

Even without big names like McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, Clarke's side trumped Team Asia by 13 points at the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.

Europe showcased a mix of young guns like Fitzpatrick and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, as well as veterans Lee Westwood and Poulter, who have played in 14 Ryder Cups between them and are expected to feature once again.

"The Asians had a very strong team but we dominated," Clarke noted.

"We played really, really well. Hopefully, we play just as well at the Ryder Cup."

On his own game, he hopes to feature in as many tournaments as his body permits before "a chaotic summer", when Ryder Cup preparations start to hit fever pitch.

The Northern Ireland golfer, with 26 years of experience as a professional under his belt, said: "I know my game will be affected as we get closer to the Cup - I will use the weeks off to get away from golf and recharge the batteries.

"But I'm still a golfer at the moment, and I hope to be as competitive as I can in Singapore this week."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2016, with the headline 'RISING STARS THE KEY AT RYDER CUP'. Print Edition | Subscribe