Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke has been advised to “be his own man” when leading Europe into battle in 2016, by the man who knows him best on a golf course.
Yorkshire caddie Billy Foster carried Clarke’s bag for all five of the Ulsterman’s Ryder Cup appearances as a player.
He was with him when he won his first point alongside Colin Montgomerie at Valderrama in 1997 and the first man Clarke turned to when the tears poured at the K Club nine years later, in the most emotional scenes the great event has witnessed.
And there was no-one more chuffed for his old employer than Foster, when Clarke was named as Europe’s captain for the 41st Ryder Cup matches at Hazeltine, near Minnesota, next September.
The 46-year-old former Open champion was the unanimous selection of the five-man panel to lead Europe in their bid for what would be a remarkable seventh win in eight matches.
Clarke has played as big a part as anyone in that continued success, winning the Ryder Cup four times as a player and twice as a vice-captain.
Along the way, he has played under leaders who will go down in European golfing lore, and Foster believes that while taking lessons from each, the key to the role for Clarke will be how much he makes the captaincy his own.
“Darren just has to be his own man, not be anybody else, and I’m sure he will do that,” said Bingley’s Foster, who himself has made 12 Ryder Cup appearances as a caddie since 1987.
“You cannot be Bernhard Langer. You cannot be Paul McGinley.
“You’ve got to be Darren Clarke and do it your own way.
“He’ll have learned a hell of a lot from all the captains he’s been under. He’ll have taken things off Jose Maria Olazabal and Monty, but he’ll have also have taken things off the great captains he’s played under.
“Everyone has an opinion but he has to be his own man and make those tough calls himself.”
Clarke’s Ryder Cup story is already one of the most emotional ever written, given he played his best golf in the tournament at the K Club in 2006 just six weeks after the death of his wife Heather.
Foster was on the bag in County Kildare and despite a career spanning three decades and employment with the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Lee Westwood, he has never known a week quite like it.
“The K Club, the emotion of that week, the ambience, the atmosphere, was just unbelievable,” said Foster, of a week when Clarke won three points of three.
“It was very emotionally-charged. Darren did exceptionally well, not only to tee it up in the first place but to play as well as he did.
“I remember against Zach Johnson when he drained a 90-foot putt on the 12th to go four up.
“If I’d have been a jockey I’d have been pulled up for excessive whipping down those last few holes because Darren had completely lost it, he was emotionally gone and it was a tough job keeping him focused.
“It’s a moment I’ll never forget. Out of them all, it’s arguably my most precious memory.”
Many of Europe’s recent captains had their own passionate ties to the Ryder Cup, making it almost behoven upon them to win the Cup; think Montgomerie in 2010 with his proud record to preserve, and Olazabal two years later in honour of the spirit of Seve.
The same will go for Clarke, for whom the memories of the K Club will never be far from the narrative in the next 18 months.
Add to that the expected announcement of Davis Love III – a long-time friend of Clarke’s who conceded a half to him in a 2004 singles match – as the 2016 US captain, and the past is set to play a big role in the build-up.
How he handles that in what will be a busy build-up, could be key.
“The emotion will come afterwards,” said Foster. “You just have to hope that you don’t let yourself become too emotional during the week.
“But Darren is strong enough to make those calls.
“He’s good friends with Davis and the whole build-up will be about good sportsmanship.
“The role of the captain has changed massively since I started doing this job. There’s a lot more to it than there was 30 years ago.
“It’s a full 18-month job now. And that will keep Darren focused.”
Foster will be hoping to earn a 13th cap at Hazeltine, to once again help Clarke keep the adrenalin in check.
He heads to Florida this week to link up again with Westwood as the 41-year-old from Worksop begins the countdown to the Masters with a run of events on the PGA Tour.
Like Clarke, Westwood is almost certain to one day captain Europe, and continue the long tradition of success the continent has enjoyed.
That was stretched further at Gleneagles last September under Paul McGinley, a man who made up for a lack of an individual record when compared to his predecessors, with his planning and decision-making.
Clarke has already said he will not deviate too much from a winning blueprint, and Foster added: “McGinley did some unbelievable work behind the scenes, his planning was meticulous. He’s the best captain I’ve worked under.
“If Darren can take a few of Paul’s traits into 2016 then all the better for European golf.
“Darren is the right choice, especially with it being in America.
“He’s got a good relationship with the American public. They’ve always had this image of a beer-swilling, fun-loving big teddy bear and he loves that.
“He speaks very well and always says the right things.
“He’s got the experience. He knows the players very well and he’s fortunate enough to have a fantastic team at his disposal.”