The Ryder Cup wildcard: five of the best
The role of a wildcard in a Ryder Cup team can prove crucial over the three days of biennial match play action. The three players selected by European Captain Darren Clarke for his 12-man European Ryder Cup team have a vital part to play at Hazeltine National when Europe take on the United States in between September 30-October 2. Since the introduction of wildcards in 1979 there have been many successful European wildcard stories, so here are some of the best. Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood will be hoping to follow suit this time out.
Ian Poulter - 2008 and 2012
Where better to start than with Poulter, who is widely regarded as one of the finest exponents of Ryder Cup match play golf? ‘Poults’ has been selected as a wildcard by three different Ryder Cup captains; Paul McGinley (2014), José Maria Olazábal (2012) and Sir Nick Faldo (2008). The Englishman, who has previously spoken about the intense pressure of receiving a wildcard pick, has thrived under that pressure, collecting four points for the European cause in both 2008 at Valhalla and at the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ in 2012. The 40 year old’s passion and performance at Medinah Country Club where he finished with a 100 per cent record from his four matches, with the highlight being his famous five birdie finish alongside Rory McIlroy in the Saturday afternoon four-balls, saw Poulter etch his name in European Ryder Cup folklore. He was also the shining light in 2008 at Valhalla, where the 12-time European Tour winner accumulated four points to finish as the leading points scorer. Selected again as a wildcard for Gleneagles two years ago, Poulter was on the winning side once more. A serious foot injury means Clarke won’t be able to call upon Poults this year, but the Ryder Cup legend will make his presence felt as a vice captain
Darren Clarke - 2006
It was an emotional affair at The K Club in 2006 when Clarke was selected by Ian Woosnam as a wildcard to play in The 36th Ryder Cup in Ireland. Clarke’s wife Heather had sadly passed away just six weeks prior to the event, however the Northern Irishman was determined to represent Europe to honour his late wife, sons and his European teammates. What followed was one of golf’s most memorable performances as the 48 year old produced a heroic display, winning all three of his matches as Europe won the Ryder Cup for a third successive time.
Lee Westwood – 2006
Ian Woosnam nailed his picks in 2006, with Westwood joining Clarke in the list. Clarke was the star of the show, but Lee Westwood was a fine supporting act, going unbeaten having been backed by Woosnam to play in his fifth Ryder Cup. The Englishman formed a strong partnership with his good friend Clarke, as the pair won both of the four-ball matches they played together. ‘Westy’ halved his two foursomes matches playing alongside Colin Montgomerie, before winning his singles match against Chris Di Marco. Ten years ago Westwood was in the spotlight when selected, something which did not faze the experienced 23 time European Tour winner. “It doesn’t matter if I think I deserved it or not. Ian Woosnam was the captain, and he picked the team”. Westwood will be looking to emulate that performance this time having been picked by captain Clarke.
Jesper Parnevik – 1999
The charismatic Swede formed a fantastic partnership with the then 19 year old rookie Sergio Garcia for all four of the pair’s matches at Brookline in 1999, when they won three of their contests and halved the other. Parnevik was the beneficiary of three Ryder Cup picks, so is someone familiar with the pressure that comes with the Captain’s trust, and seemingly comfortable with it too, securing six points over the years as a wildcard. When he was picked for the 2002 Match, Sam Torrance said, “He (Jesper) is a very happy man and will be a big asset to the team.” Torrance was right.
José Maria Olazábal – 1991
Bernard Gallacher handed Olazábal his third Ryder Cup appearance in 1991 at Kiawah Island, a decision the Scot would not regret. The then world number two had to rely on a Captain’s pick as he was ranked number 11 on the European Points list. Gallacher knew he had something special in ‘Ollie’ who had previously formed a great partnership with the legendary Seve Ballesteros in the previous two Ryder Cups,. The pair would go on to become the most successful Ryder Cup partnership of all time winning a total of 12 points together, with three and a half of those coming in 1991. The Ryder Cup was won by Team USA, despite Olazábal’s fine efforts as a wildcard pick.