Omitting Knox was literally tough call for Clarke

European captain Darren Clarke said telling Russell Knox he had missed out on a Ryder Cup wild card was one of the toughest moments of his career.
European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke poses with the Ryder Cup following a press conference at Wentworth (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire).European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke poses with the Ryder Cup following a press conference at Wentworth (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire).
European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke poses with the Ryder Cup following a press conference at Wentworth (Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire).

Clarke selected Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters to complete his team to defend the trophy at Hazeltine next month, with world No 20 Knox missing out despite being ranked higher than all three.

The 31-year-old Scot, who finished 10th in qualifying and would have made the team automatically if he had been a European Tour member when he won the WGC-HSBC Champions last November, looked to have done enough by winning the Travelers Championship earlier this month.

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But Pieters’s recent form proved irresistible after he finished fourth in the Olympics and second in the defence of his Czech Masters title the following week, before winning in Denmark on Sunday.

The 24-year-old had carded opening rounds of 62 and 71 while playing alongside Clarke.

“Lee and Martin were two pretty obvious choices, but the last one was very difficult,” Clarke said. “Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald, in terms of experience, could have been in the three, but those two haven’t quite been on top of their own games.

“So then it came down to the choice between Russell Knox and Thomas Pieters and it was an incredibly difficult decision; I haven’t slept a lot.

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“Having to phone Russell (on Monday) and give him the information was probably one of the toughest phone calls I’ve ever had to make. Russell has played unbelievably well over the qualification period.

“Some people would say he deserves a position on the team, but I took a look at it and put them side by side... I’ve always been a big Thomas Pieters fan from when I first witnessed how he hits the golf ball.

“To win that tournament in the manner that he did (with birdies on the last three holes) impressed me and I found it impossible to leave him off the team.

“He didn’t hole anything (for the 62). Usually somebody shoots a really low number, they hole a couple of 30-footers or they chip-in. But he made the game look ridiculously easy. He has the talent to go all the way to the top in the world in my belief.”

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With rookies filling five of the nine automatic qualifying places – albeit one of them being Masters champion Danny Willett – Clarke had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to “balance the team” with experienced players.

Westwood and Kaymer had long been favourites to be selected and finished 13th and 14th on the world points list respectively, with Westwood securing a 10th consecutive appearance in the event and Kaymer a fourth.

Clarke insisted Westwood had not been selected because of the pair’s longstanding friendship, adding: “I selected him because he brings something that no one else can bring to the Ryder Cup.

“This is his 10th one. There is nobody that has that amount of experience on the team.

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“He will be somewhat like the general amongst the team. Anything he says, everybody sits up and listens.

“That’s what makes Europe the team that we are, because there’s always guys that want to learn and want to get better, and you can’t have a better guy from a playing point of view than Lee Westwood in that team room.”

The selection of Pieters means the European team features six rookies for the first time since 2010 and the most in America since there were seven at Brookline in 1999.

“It’s going to be a monumental task, but I’ve got full confidence in the team we’re going to take, “ Clarke added.

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“It’s a team that’s going to go there and do everything we possibly can to bring that trophy back home again.”

Knox said: “It’s certainly motivated me for the next three weeks, that’s for sure.

“I have to use this as a springboard to try and win the FedEx Cup.

“I’ve never wanted to prove someone wrong so badly in my life I think.”

Europes’ Ryder Cup team


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RORY McILROY (Northern Ireland): Age 27; Caps 3 (2010, 2012, 2014); Record Won 6 Lost 4 Halved 4; Majors 4 (2011 US Open, 2012 US PGA, 2014 Open, 2014 US PGA).

DANNY WILLETT (England): Age 28; Caps 0; Majors 1 (2016 Masters).

HENRIK STENSON (Sweden): Age 40; Caps 3 (2006, 2008, 2014): Record W5 L4 H2; Majors 1 (2016 Open).

CHRIS WOOD (England): Age 28; Caps 0; Majors 0.

SERGIO GARCIA (Spain): Age 36; Caps 7 (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014): Record W18 L9 H5; Majors 0.

RAFAEL CABRERA-BELLO (Spain): Age 32; Caps 0; Majors 0.

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JUSTIN ROSE (England): Age 36; Caps 3 (2008, 2012, 2014): Record W9 L3 H2; Majors 1 (2013 US Open).

ANDY SULLIVAN (England): Age 30; Caps 0; Majors 0.

MATT FITZPATRICK (England): Age 21; Caps 0; Majors 0.


MARTIN KAYMER (Germany): Age 31; Caps 3 (2010, 2012, 2014): Record W4 L3 H3; Majors 2 (2010 US PGA, 2014 US Open).

LEE WESTWOOD (England): Age 43; Caps 9 (1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014): Record W20 L15 H6; Majors 0.

THOMAS PIETERS (Belgium): Age 24; Caps 0; Majors 0.

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