Former British Open champion and Europe's captain in 2016 offered his thoughts during a visit to Dubai to compete in the Mena Tour's Dubai Creek Open.
Darren Clarke: America look 'very strong' but 2018 Ryder Cup still 'a long way away'
Former European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke says America's dominance of golf’s majors this year will matter little by the time the biennial clash resumes in France next September.
Clarke, the 2011 British Open champion, led Europe against the United States at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota last year, where his team were defeated 17-11 to end their stranglehold on the trophy. It was the US’s first Ryder Cup victory in eight years and their most comprehensive win since 1981.
Since then, American golf has gone from strength to strength, with this year’s final three majors all going to players from that side of the Atlantic. Brooks Koepka prevailed at the US Open, Jordan Spieth won the British Open and Justin Thomas triumphed at last month’s US PGA Championship. Spaniard Sergio Garcia is the reigning Masters champion.
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Four of the top seven in the current world rankings are American - Dustin Johnson sits at the summit - while Jon Rahm is the only European to feature within that bracket, at No 5.
However, Clarke says there is no need for Europe's 2018 captain Thomas Bjorn to sound the alarm, since there remains plenty of opportunity for momentum to swing between now and the resumption of the rivalry near Paris in 12 months’ time.
“It’s a long way away,” said Clarke, in Dubai last week in his role as patron of the Mena Tour. “I don’t think Thomas would be particularly worried about who won any majors this year. It’s who’s in form next September, that’s going to be the real important bit.
“But yes, if you take a look at it from a European perspective, the Americans are very strong. That young bunch of kids that are winning those majors are very talented players. In saying that, Europe’s still going to have some great players as well, and some major champions as well. So I don’t think what’s going on at the moment has any real reflection on what will happen next September.”
Despite golf's current landscape, Clarke believes Europe will still possess enough talent to reclaim the trophy at Le Golf National. He highlighted the emergence of Spaniard Rahm, 22, whose breakout 2017 has included debut victories on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour.
Clarke also singled out Thomas Pieters, the big-hitting Belgian who shone on Ryder Cup debut last year. Pieters, 25, won four out of a possible five points at Hazeltine to finish as the event’s leading points scorer. It was the best performance by a European rookie in tournament history.
“Thomas is one of those,” said Clarke regarding potential stars in Paris. “He hasn’t quite had the best summer for a man of his talent and his abilities. You’ve got Jon Rahm also. There’s so many good young players coming through now at the moment as well, not just in America, but in Europe.
“And the standard on the European Tour is increasing all the time. It’ll be very interesting to see who makes the both teams next year, and whoever does, I’m sure it will be very tight on both sides.”
Asked how he felt now about the Hazeltine defeat 12 months ago, Clarke said: “Certainly the Ryder Cup last year was very disappointing to be a losing captain. That’s not why I went into it, that’s not what I wanted to do. And I was annoyed by it for quite some time after losing – I probably still am.
“But, at the end of the day, I’ll look back on it and did I do the best that I possibly could to help the guys to win? I think I did. But unfortunately, the American guys played a little bit better, and that’s professional sport.”