Captain's Blog: Clarke on strategic planning
It's almost time to get back on the course for my regular day job, but first I'll update you about what's been happening behind the scenes.
As you can imagine, it's mostly Ryder Cup related because although September seems a long way away at the moment, it's pretty soon in terms of how quickly time flies... and there's always plenty to check on.
Keeping in touch with all the potential players is a very important aspect of being Ryder Cup captain so that's why I was at The Players in Jacksonville last week. Although exempt, I thought it more important to mingle with my fellow Europeans rather than play.
Team bonding is important in any sport and to that end I had dinner with three sets of players in Jacksonville. One meal was with the more experienced group involved at The Players, those who have been on at least one previous team.
I was very grateful for the input received from Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald.
They were joined by Danny Willett, who earned his inclusion among this group courtesy of his magnificent Masters win, but he is also so focussed on doing what he can to help the cause that he also attended my Rookies Dinner for those, like him, who have yet to experience the unique flavour of the Ryder Cup.
Also at that dinner was another Major Champion, four-time winner Rory McIlroy, who although a Cup 'veteran' was happy to join the first-timers because he wasn't in town when I sat down with the experienced ones. Rory being there was a real bonus and I'm very grateful to him. His input was invaluable.
Rory and Danny were joined by Soren Kjeldsen, Bernd Weisberger, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, David Lingmerth, Russell Knox and Shane Lowry. I'll happily embrace and entertain all of them in Team Europe particularly if they qualify.
I've said before that before I name my Captain's Picks, I'll wait to see just how many rookies have qualified, because any team and particularly one in America, needs a good balance.
While it would be a very difficult decision to pick a rookie for an away match it is something I wouldn't hesitate to do if the vice captains and myself were in agreement about who to select.
It was another serious yet fun night and just another illustration of how well the European players get on well together. The team is coming together nicely and by the time we get to Hazeltine, we'll be ready and, as always, standing shoulder to shoulder, an often used phrase which I have borrowed from the Irish rugby team.
By the time we get to Hazeltine we'll be ready and, as always, standing shoulder to shoulder.
The third 'team' dinner was a very enjoyable evening with members of the British Media... although there was far more wine consumed than food at this dinner as you can imagine. When it comes to drinking, this team is certainly scratch handicap.
They also had useful input and I listened to their thoughts and ideas so it proved a very productive evening on all sides. I'd asked them at a similar dinner a year ago to write down who they thought would make the team and there were some embarrassed faces as they reflected on their original choices. Most were more than happy for the opportunity to have another go and the one closest to the actual team will win, quite suitably in this case, a rather nice bottle of wine.
One of the most important things I've used constantly since Cup qualification started late last summer is a stream of statistics. I know just about everything there is to know about potential team members thanks to the round by round data and intelligence supplied by 15th Club.
These boys leave nothing to chance so by the time Team Europe gets to Hazeltine I'll be in a very good place to determine who plays together and, especially in foursomes, which player plays odds or evens. I'll also know who the best players are in stress situations, for getting up and down from bunkers, hitting fairways and greens and all manner of other facts and figures.
Stats are massively important these days, but with the help of my five vice captains, we will also be using our gut feeling and knowledge of the players before making any decisions.
I can't promise success, but I do know that no European team will have travelled to America better prepared or more capable of completing the job and bringing the trophy home.
Next I head home for the Miss Northern Ireland contest at the Europa Hotel where I will be with my gorgeous wife Alison and after a charity event in Newcastle the following day with my good friend and hopefully Ryder Cup associate, Lee Westwood, I'll be heading to the K Club for the Irish Open.
After that, on the Sunday evening and Monday I'll be hosting a charity day for the Darren Clarke Foundation to aid junior golf development in Ireland and breast cancer awareness everywhere.
Then it's off to Wentworth for the BMW Championship and another hectic time. I'll try to keep you posted on everything that's happening as I'm sure you'll all be interested in seeing how our team develops. It's going to be a really exciting summer.