Clarke impressed by Poulter dash: "It showed how much he cared"

Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke giving a clinic at the Darren Clarke Foundation Champions of Champions Weekend at Portmarnock Golf Club. (25/10/2015). Picture by Pat Cashman

European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke is keeping his options open when it comes to his 2016 Ryder Cup team. But one thing is certain, Ian Poulter will need to suffer a serious loss of form not to make the Dungannon man's team for Hazeltine.

Poulter has been a talisman for Europe with his performance alongside Rory McIlroy on Saturday afternoon at Medinah in 2012 one of the great Ryder Cup performances.

And if he fails to qualify next year, it's clear that Clarke will be looking closely at Poulter, so impressed was he by the Englishman's last minute dash to the UBS Hong Kong Open to keep European Tour card for 2016 and his Ryder Cup eligibility.

"First and foremost, I thought it was absolutely brilliant that he did," Clarke said at the Darren Clarke Foundation weekend at Portmarnock before heading off to join Poulter in this week's Turkish Airlines Open. "Secondly, it showed how much he cared. He is a passionate man who loves the Ryder Cup. 

"Thirdly, I am amazed that he dropped down five places in a week (out of the world's Top 50 who make the WGC-HSBC field). A lot of things had to go against him and they all did, which probably never happened before because Poults studies and works the world rankings better than anybody else does. So he must have been totally amazed."

Clarke had no problem with the European Tour phoning Rich Beem and asking him to give up his Kong Kong Open invitation so that Poulter would be able to play instead and get to the 13-event minimum and remain eligible for the Ryder Cup next year. 

Clarke also thought the Tour was right to bend its rules for Rory McIlroy, who is being allowed to play the final event despite playing just 11 events in the run up to Dubai.

Whatever the PGA Tour might have done in a similar situation, Clarke doesn't care. The Ryder Cup comes first.

"I am European Ryder Cup captain," he said. "The Ryder Cup is part and parcel of the European Tour. It’s a wonderful thing to have and the guys have to play where they want to play and Rory would have made his numbers up easy if he hadn’t got injured. 

"They examined all the medical evidence and it was fine. It was one of those exceptional circumstances and if it happened again the Tour would look at their medical circumstances as well and if it is merited, take he same decision. If not, they will say no. 

"The tour didn’t take Rory’s decision lightly. They spoke to all the doctors and everybody and he just couldn’t physically do it."

Watching out for Ireland's up and coming amateurs is one thing, but Clarke also has his eye on the young guns showing form in Europe.

He named Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan, Thomas Pieters and Eddie Pepperell — |He’s a proper player" — as four to watch. 

"The are a lot of very talented youngers who will be pushing hard and I am on it and will be watching every week," he said. "I am getting their stats every week."

He believes that it's more likely that he will have three rookies than four under the current qualifying system and is also watching Shane Lowry's progress with interest. 

"Shane? Shane is kicking on. He is playing great. Shane will be right there. He has tuned into a very very solid player. He is going in the right direction and he's playing the Eurasia Cup, which is great. 

"I’ve chatted to him a little bit bit i am trying to keep in the background.  I am getting my reports and stats on everything that is going on. 

"Look, as Ryder Cup captain, I am going to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. But I am doing everything in my power to minimise them. 

"I am watching a lot of TV and getting a lot of stats. But there is a long way to go between now and the qualification really becoming important and there is no point in my jumping the gun and getting involved in stuff. There is plenty of time. 

"I am making sure all the stuff behind the scenes is done to make sure everything is as easy as possible for the players. That’s all that matters at the moment."

He has yet to speak to his predecessor Paul McGinley for a sit down chat.

"He wants to do it away from a tournament and right now, he is dong thing and I am doing mine."

As it turned out, McGinley was at Portmarnock earlier in the week, where he was bestowed with Honorary Life Membership,

Clarke was there all weekend, watching 17 of Ireland's top boys and girls.

And while the Foundation also carries out many important charitable functions by raising much needed funds for a host of causes related to cancer, its primary goal is to help Ireland produce more top players.

Clarke is at the top of the tree alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry, few young Irish players are making the breakthrough and Clarke is keen to make sure they have all the information they need so that the standards required come as no surprise when they eventually turn pro.

“Irish golf has been at a pretty high level for some time,” Clarke says reeling of the names from McIlroy to Lowry and recalling the five Walker Cup representatives who teed it up at Royal Lytham and St Annes. “The perception is that we are on a huge run but you are right, there are very few kids coming through getting their card these days. 

“They are all fantastic players but it is not a n easy job and combined with the standard on tour is going up and up. 

“Whenever the kids do ask me, I tell them first and foremost that it is hard. I am not all sweetness and light. Unless you have the dedication for it, I tell them you are going to struggle and you will be beating your head against a brick wall. 

“That’s what they don’t realise. What they don’t get is the dedication you need. And that’s what I will tell them tonight when we sit down for dinner. 

“When it is winter, I will be out in 40 mph winds and pissing down rain in Portrush hitting balls. Even at his stage, I am still doing it — I don’t know why, but I am.  

“Some of them can’t grasp how much work they need to do to get where they want to go to.”