Clarke's vice squad won't pull punches; "He hasn't gone easy on himself" says Harrington

Clarke's vice squad won't pull punches; "He hasn't gone easy on himself" says Harrington

Darren Clarke does want “yes” men as his assistants but it took a little acceptance of “reality” for Pádraig Harrington to take the job this week.

The Dubliner agreed to be one of Clarke’s five assistant captains many months ago but while he was initially not expected to be at Wentworth for this week’s announcement, he came down from the R&A Sponsor’s day at Royal Troon to take his place alongside Thomas Bjorn and Paul Lawrie.

“Again, Darren mentioned it to me quite a while ago, would I be interested,” Harrington said.” I'm very honoured to be part of this team. He waited a decent amount of time, and very polite amount of time, to confirm that I would be in the (backroom) team, which was very nice of him.”

"Yes, look, all of us dream of playing gait golf every week we play, and we think that tomorrow we're going to win and make things. But the reality is a little clearer than that, and there comes a time, and now is the time that is pretty clear that we’re set for vice captains rather than anything else (smiling)."

Speaking later to Meridian Media’s Denis Kirwan, Harrington said: “I am delighted. Darren asked me, politely, a good while ago, if I would be interested a good while ago and I said I would. He has politely again announced that I am going to be vice captain. 

"He has been patient and waited and given me enough time that the reality is that the only way I am getting to Hazeltine is as a vice captain so I am very happy with that. 

“It’s the next best thing to playing. You are involved. You experience the highs and the lows of the tournament, maybe without the same amount of pressure because ultimately, the buck stops with Darren. 

"We will give him honest opinions. We will tell him how we see it as it is going. But he has to take those opinions and make a decision.

“He has chosen people who are honest and truthful and frank. But I have to say that Darren often comes across as an emotional person in the media but he has put a lot of work in behind the scenes. 

“When you become captain, it really does take over your life and for him  he has put the work in behind the scenes and he’s leaving no stone unturned so the likelihood is that when we get there, we will have very little work to do.”

Harrington has seen the statistics that Clarke gets in his email every week and believes that it’s so close that the performance of the captains could be the deciding factor. 

“Years ago Europe had to get the most out of their team and the captain’s job was so important. But now it is so tight that it comes down to, can the captain do a good enough job to squeeze an extra point or two out of a rookie, balance it up right, play the right eight guys but not overplay everybody. 

“There is a lot of work to be done by the captain and to be honest, I think at this stage the players are so good that it may be the captain that makes the difference.”

Harrington described Paul McGinley’s captaincy as “reinventing the wheel” given that Europe had been winning consistently. 

“He obviously set a new standard,” Harrington said. “I played six Ryder Cups under a number of different styles. Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam put their arm around you and tell you that you’re great. They tell you what you needed to hear. Then Bernhard Langer gave out to me during a Ryder Cup (Oakland Hills 2004) and told me not to lay up into a hazard. That’s his style, very frank, matter of fact. He’d be on the tee boxes telling players what clubs to hit. 
"So there are different captains and they all can work. Clearly Darren has led very well in the team room in the emotional state; he wears his heart on his sleeve. But as I said, from watching behind the scenes, he is also doing that detail like Paul McGinley. 
"He is getting the best of both worlds. And clearly, if he needs to, he will bring in people to give players a boost emotionally. He has brought in people statistically. So basically, he is looking at his own weaknesses and trying to strengthen them up.”

Clarke spoke in his press conference and on television about what he wants from his vice-captains. 

It all comes down to giving honest, unbiased opinions so that he can make the decisions.

Given the personalities of the three assistants, who were announced in alphabetical order, Harrington believes Clarke has gone out of his way to get the best advice and hasn't "gone easy on himself."

“It’s not about anybody but getting those 12 players to perform as good as they can and that’s all we’re there for,” said Bjorn, who is one of Clarke's best friends. 

“We’ve got a lot of experience doing it ourselves, and try and pass some of that on and try and get them to do the best thing that they can do and hopefully win the trophy again.”

Harrington said: "I'm particularly looking forward to this. Obviously when Darren asked me first, I was kind of looking at it and say, obviously Darren is an emotional person, and I'm thinking, oh, I'll bring a little bit of structure behind the scenes.

But talking to Darren, the amount of work he's done, the detail he's gone in behind the scenes, as usual with Darren, there's a little bit more work being done than he let's on. He’s really put the effort in behind the scenes.”

Lawrie said he was “mega looking forward to it.”

“Obviously I wouldn’t have asked the guys to be part of the whole team unless I trusted their judgment,” Clarke said. “These are three fantastic players with seriously, seriously good golfing careers. 

"They know what they are looking at whenever they see guys performing in The Ryder Cup. They have all played before they have all played under that extreme of pressure. They know what they are looking for. They know whether they are looking at guys who are maybe a little bit off form, guys that are a little bit nervous.

"And because I can't be everywhere at one time, that's what I've been told from the Tour and all the previous captains I've spoken to, it's a pretty hectic week for the captain. So they are my eyes and ears.

“With the level of trust that I do have in these three sitting up here beside me, I’ve got no worries whatsoever that I'm going to have some fantastic information and, indeed, advice and support coming back my direction."

Clarke plans to add two more vice-captains later in the year — Lee Westwood stands out as a possible assistant should he fail to make the team. 

Harrington and Bjorn know the score when it comes to being vice captains having done the job a few times before.

“Clearly Darren is looking for honest opinions and he’s probably picked some of the right guys to get honest opinions,” Harrington said. "He's going to have to make the decisions. The buck stops with Darren. We're really there to give him an honest opinion and support him in what he's doing, because as he said, can't cover everything, and we will be busy.

"In practise rounds, guys can maybe not play their best, but you have to know whether they are not playing well or they are just a little bit nervous getting ready for the gun to go, and once it goes, they will be great again.

“It's a lot of work behind the scenes, but ultimately it's about giving Darren an honest opinion, and he has to work with that, which, you know, that's all we can do is support him."

Bjorn and Clarke played together in the 1997 team at Valderrama, when Seve Ballesteros led Europe to victory.

“We’ve been great friends, and you know, I don’t think it came as a huge surprise to me that he was going to ask me,” Bjorn said.

"But it just shows where our friendship had been over the years. We always trusted each other. We've gone through some really great times together and some really tough times together, and we've always been there for each other.

"I kind of expected that it would only be right in this situation that we would be there for each other for this, as well. That conversation happened very early in Darren’s captaincy."

Should any of the three win a major or two between now and September, plans will change, which is why Clarke will not name his remaining assistants until  “around The Open Championship.”

“That would be my plan because there’s a few guys who are playing very well still, and plus I have another couple of guys that I have in mind, as well,” he said.

“As I mentioned there earlier, you don't want to ask somebody if they are still playing very well for fear of insulting them, and that's not the way I'd like to do things. 

“We’re going to see how things progress with the individuals I have in mind, and I will be hopefully in a position to announce the other two come The Open Championship."

Clarke's predecessor, Paul McGinley, can be credited with introducing the fifth vice captain and he believes Clarke and Bjorn will look back on Medinah and draw on that experience.