I know just how difficult it has been for Darren Clarke to finally settle on Thomas Pieters, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood as his three captain’s picks for next month’s Ryder Cup, which he named on Tuesday.
It is hard to leave out players like Russell Knox, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell, while Darren also had to consider the experience in the group. It is unusual to have five rookies among the nine automatic qualifiers and, fantastic though they all are, a rookie is a rookie, and that makes it even trickier to hand a wild card to another Ryder Cup debutant.
Darren and his five European vice-captains, myself included, have known for some time that Kaymer and Westwood were certainties for two of the picks, which left just one more spot. And in the end Pieters made the decision a little easier by winning in Denmark on Sunday.
Knox, who has won two PGA Tour titles this season, totally deserved a place in the team, but Pieters has been exceptional lately. He was fourth at the Olympics, then second when attempting to defend his Czech Masters title, before going one better and winning at the weekend.
Under the severest of pressure, given that his Ryder Cup place was in the balance, the Belgian was magnificent down the stretch, hitting shot of the day contenders as he birdied 16, 17 and 18.
Darren played alongside him for the first two rounds and I know he was hugely impressed, telling us that Pieters was awesome and would go on to be world No1, no question. I gather that several players also called the captain to share their plaudits for the 24-year-old.
He drives beautifully, has prodigious distance and his iron play and short game are also very good, so he has all the attributes you could need for the Ryder Cup.
Darren set up a WhatsApp for him and the vice-captains to share our opinions – as well as some more light-hearted exchanges – two or three weeks ago and it has been active virtually 24/7 every since.
That was how we all got our views across to him before we met on Monday – Darren. Thomas Bjorn and myself in person and Paul Lawrie, Ian Poulter and Padraig Harrington on speakerphone – to finalise the team.
The Ryder Cup is such a collective effort that I don’t like to single out individuals too much, but Westwood and Kaymer have many qualities.
Lee was amazing for me when I captained the side in 2002. He is a great foursomes player, a wonderful guy to be around and his experience will be invaluable in what will be his 10th appearance.
Martin holed the winning putt in Medinah four years ago, is the epitome of cool, calm and collected and is in excellent form.
With less than four weeks until we fly out to Hazeltine, thoughts now turn to fitting the team together by way of pairings for foursomes and fourballs. That should ensure the WhatsApp messages keep flowing.