Clarke in sparkling form after McIlroy boost to Ryder Cup hopes
Darren Clarke during the Ryder Cup trophy tour earlier this year. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty

Darren Clarke during the Ryder Cup trophy tour earlier this year. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty

After Rory McIlroy and his team, nobody was more pleased to see the former world No 1 win in Boston than Darren Clarke.

The European Ryder Cup captain took his first big step just over a week ago when he made his three picks and had the unenviable task of ringing the likes of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry to tell the bad news they knew was coming — sorry, but I'm not picking you.

“When they appointed me as captain, obviously G Mac and Shane would have been up at the top of my thoughts," Clarke told RTE Sport during a Putting Masterclass he gave as an  Aer Lingus ambassador at St Anne's Golf Club on Bull Island.

“In terms of Graeme, he has had a tough year, Kristin has just give birth to a baby boy so he has had other things on his mind as well as Ryder Cup.

“And there are things that are more important than Ryder Cup; having another child is much more important so you can’t blame G Mac for that But he knows himself that he has not been playing the way we know he can play.

[Check out Philip Reid's fun video of Clarke on his observations of amateur putting over the years.]

“I’ve been in touch with him a lot during the whole process; he was letting me know what his schedule was, what he was doing, where he was playing and by his own admission, he said that he wasn’t quite on it.

“So while he is disappointed, he is also very understanding of why I could not pick him. And the same thing goes for Shane.

“Both of them just said, ‘Darren, I understand, I know’. All the guys in that position, they know themselves if they haven’t quite done it. And both of them said, ‘anything we can do to help, just let us know’, and that the sign of how great the two guys are.”

McIlroy's return to form in the greens is a big bonus for Clarke, who sees the world No 3 as a key motivator in the team room.

“It was great to see him play the way we all know he can play, at the weekend in Boston, and finding his putting touch back on the greens again,” Clarke said.

“Rory is probably the most talented golfer in the world and if he putts well, he wins tournaments. He’s a confidence player and if can take that on forward for the rest of the FedEx Cup and then carry it on into the Ryder Cup, it’ll be massive for us at Hazeltine.

“Not just from a captain’s point of view, but from a whole team’s point of view, we all want to see him playing like that.

“He is an inspirational young man; he is so keen and excited to be part of the whole thing, as are all the other guys.

“But a Rory McIlroy playing well is every captain’s dream. I’ve known Rory since he was [so young], so to see him playing so well and being so excited for the Ryder Cup is wonderful for the whole team.

“To have Lee Westwood play great in Switzerland; Matt Fitzpatrick, Danny Willett, those guys are all playing well. The guys are in form or coming into form, so that augers well right now.”

As for leaving out Lowry, Clarke put into words what Lowry himself knows were the reasons for his non-selection.

“I would love to have had him on the team,” said Clarke. “Shane played fantastic when he won last year at Firestone. It was going to be difficult to see him not make the team.

“And he was brilliant at the EurAsia Cup earlier this year; he was a fantastic part of the team. But again, after he finished second at the US Open in June, he sort of lost his form a little bit.

"Shane has admitted that himself; he was maybe pushing too hard and didn’t quite play that well and of course it was disappointing to have to leave him off as well.