Europe's players leaving jerseys in better place than they found them: Darren Clarke
DARREN CLARKE believes he leaves the Ryder Cup team in good shape, despite Europe suffering their heaviest defeat for 35 years at Hazeltine.
Clarke's side needed to overturn a three-point deficit in last Sunday's 12 singles matches to claim an unprecedented fourth straight win in the biennial contest. But although they won three of the first five matches convincingly, Patrick Reed edged a highly-charged opening contest with Rory McIlroy to strike a major psychological blow from which the holders never looked likely to recover.
Wins for Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker and Ryan Moore took the home side over the winning line and the final score of 17-11 was the biggest winning margin for the United States since a team containing the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Raymond Floyd won by nine points at Walton Heath in 1981.
Clarke, who invited former Ireland rugby captain Paul O'Connell to address his team at Hazeltine, said: "Paul was talking about how you play for the jersey and your number and, when he stopped playing, his thing was, did he leave his number five jersey in a better state than he found it?
"My question is, did I leave numbers one to 12 in a better state than I found them? Did I maybe share something different, did I do different things? I can't answer that, you better ask them [his players]. But I know they've given their all, everything they could for the badge on the shirt.
"I think they are leaving the jersey in a better place and will be a stronger team for it when it comes to Paris [in 2018]. You do what you feel is your best and that is what I feel I have done. I have taken advice from great leaders in different fields of performance. I took everything and used it but, unfortunately, the Americans played a little bit better. That is the nature of our sport. You do what you do for your team. I am only there to guide them. Yes, I have put the pairings out, but they know how much it is down to them. As they are disappointed for me, I am more disappointed for them."
Europe left themselves with a mountain to climb after being whitewashed in the opening foursomes session, a setback which had a major effect on Clarke's decisions. The 48-year-old used four completely new foursomes teams last Saturday and gave rookies Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood and Matt Fitzpatrick just one game before they all lost in Sunday's singles, while McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Thomas Pieters played all five sessions.
McIlroy admitted he ran out of steam and Clarke added: "It is not really a scenario you want to have but, unfortunately after Friday morning, my hands were somewhat tied with my options.
"Consequently, I had to rely on guys I felt were going to play an awful lot. I would have loved to have rested them all once, but it just didn't quite happen."
As with all captains, Clarke also had to put in his pairings for last Saturday's second session while the first was ongoing, with Rafa Cabrera Bello therefore left out of the fourballs after he and Sergio Garcia had recovered from four down with six to play to halve their match with Reed and Jordan Spieth.
"There's timing issues involved but, that being said, it's the captain's job to try and get the right pairings," Clarke added.
"Having gone behind in such a fashion, then obviously I was looking towards experience to try and pull us out, as I'm sure anybody would do."
Clarke's selection of Pieters proved to be inspired as the 24-year-old Belgian claimed a record four points on his debut, but opting for experience in his other wild cards of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer did not pay off as they won just one point from seven matches.
Asked if Europe should copy the American system of having four wild cards in future, Clarke added: "Why would you have a knee-jerk reaction when the whole system has been doing so well? Absolutely leave it as is.
"They have been successful so far, we've come up against a very, very strong American team and they've played better than we have."