European Captain Darren Clarke has named Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood as his three captain’s picks for The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National.
Former World Number Ones Kaymer and Westwood, who have 12 previous Ryder Cup appearances between them, will add a wealth of experience to the nine already-confirmed automatic qualifiers, while Pieters’ stunning recent form, which culminated in his impressive victory at last week’s Made in Denmark, is rewarded with a rookie appearance in Minnesota next month.
The trio join Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Chris Wood in Clarke’s 12-man line up to face Davis Love III’s United States team, as Europe seeks to earn a record fourth consecutive victory from September 30-October 2.
Englishman Westwood will make his tenth appearance in the biennial contest, joining Christy O’Connor Snr and Bernhard Langer on that mark, just one behind Sir Nick Faldo’s European appearance record. Germany’s Kaymer will also be aiming to extend his unblemished record in Minnesota after featuring in each of the last three European victories.
Clarke said: “In Lee and Martin, I've got two former World Number Ones and guys who bring a wealth of experience to the team. It's just not about playing, it's about the dynamic of the team room and that's involved in it.
“And then I've always been a huge Thomas Pieters fan from when I first witnessed how he hits the golf ball and how he plays. The manner which he's played golf these past few tournaments - fourth in the Olympics, to go to Czech and get beaten with a birdie on last green; and then last week to do what he did, to birdie the last three holes to win the tournament in the fashion that he did – that just impressed me so much that I found it impossible to leave him off the team.”
Since making his debut in the 1997 contest at Valderrama, Westwood has been an ever-present in The Ryder Cup, having played a part in seven winning European teams during that period. The 43 year old has contributed 23 points to Europe’s cause, winning 20 of his 41 matches, and requires just two points at Hazeltine National to equal Faldo’s Ryder Cup record haul of 25 points.
Westwood said “I’m incredibly proud. When I look back over my career, The Ryder Cup has provided most of the very special moments and it is something that I love looking back on. Darren knows first- hand what I can do in The Ryder Cup and what I can bring. It was great to get the call yesterday and get a pick. Darren and I are very close and I didn't want to have to put him in a position to pick me - I would have liked to have played my way on – but obviously I was very relieved and thrilled at the same time to get the pick.”
Like Westwood, Kaymer has an impressive Ryder Cup pedigree, and he played a hugely significant role at Medinah in 2012 when the biennial contest was last played on American soil, famously securing the point which ensured Europe retained The Ryder Cup.
The 31 year old, who had contributed 2½ points from four matches in his debut in Wales in 2010, holed a nerve-testing eight foot putt to win his singles match against Steve Stricker and complete one of the most famous comebacks in Ryder Cup history. He then contributed two points from four matches at Gleneagles two years ago, including an impressive 4 and 2 singles victory over Bubba Watson, as Europe retained the trophy.
Kaymer said: “I had two goals this year, the Olympic Games and making The Ryder Cup team. Fortunately Darren helped me with one, and the other one I did on my own.
“It is a relief, but now the time starts again to prepare for the biggest event in our sport. I'm really excited because it gives you a little bit of motivation again, even though it's almost the end of the year, because it's still a massive highlight coming up, especially playing in America.
“It was a short phone call with Darren but I was just very glad for the words he chose, which were very nice. I can promise that I will play with everything that I have because it means a lot to me.”
The experienced pair will be joined by Pieters, who becomes just the second Belgian after Nicolas Colsaerts to represent Europe in The Ryder Cup. Colsaerts was also a captain’s pick on American soil at Medinah four years ago, making a stunning debut alongside Westwood in the fourballs, firing eight birdies and an eagle to defeat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, and Pieters, who finished 11th on the World Points List, will be looking to make a similar impact as one of six rookies in Clarke’s team.
After winning twice in 2015, at the D+D REAL Czech Masters and KLM Open, the latter at the start of the Ryder Cup qualification campaign, Pieters ended the points race in impressive fashion, finishing fourth in the Olympic Games before coming runner-up in his defence in the Czech Republic and then going one better for this third European Tour title last week in Denmark.
Pieters said: “The last couple of days have been a little bit crazy, especially closing out the tournament like I did on Sunday, I was just really proud of myself winning another tournament - you try to win tournaments every week and to do it at that point, with a little bit of pressure on me, was very satisfying.
“Getting into The Ryder Cup was a huge motivating factor but I wasn't telling anybody and I was just keeping it to myself because that's the kind of guy I am. I just like to let the golf do the talking. I've been playing well for a while, but the results just weren't there, so I just had to step it up a little bit at the end.
“I can't wait to actually tee it up and give it a 110 per cent and earn points. It feels pretty cool to be in the team. It has sunk in and I just can't wait to get on that plane and be with the team the whole week.”