By Tony Jimenez
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – If it was down to Tony Jacklin, Europe’s most decorated Ryder Cup captain, Danny Willett would not play in this week’s matches against the United States until Sunday’s final-day singles.
The 72-year-old Englishman, described by ESPN this week as the man who saved the Ryder Cup in the 1980s, said the Willett incident that blew up earlier this week was “a mess”.
The Masters champion’s debut appearance in the biennial team event came under the spotlight when his brother Pete made critical comments about the home galleries at Hazeltine National.
In an article published on a magazine website, he lampooned U.S. golf fans in a crude rant for which both Willet and Europe captain Darren Clarke later apologized.
“I think Darren was sensible keeping Willett out of it,” Jacklin told Reuters in an interview referring to the player lineup for Friday morning’s opening foursomes.
“Personally I wouldn’t play Willett until Sunday. After that whole thing I think he should have a couple of very restful days.
“It’s not his fault, it’s the fault of one of his siblings, but it’s a terrible blight on the whole scene. This was a terrible thing to do for the team, for Darren and for Danny.”
Interest in the Ryder Cup was waning 31 years ago but that changed from the moment Jacklin led Europe to victory at The Belfry in 1985.
It was the first time the United States had been beaten for 28 years and since then Europe have taken a grip to such an extent that they have won 10 of the last 15 editions.
The Ryder Cup is now recognized as the greatest rivalry in golf and millions around the world will be riveted by the Hazeltine thrills and spills on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
After the draw was made on Thursday for this week’s opening foursomes, Clarke said Willett would definitely make his first playing appearance in Friday’s afternoon fourballs.
“It’ll be interesting to see if Darren exposes him,” said Jacklin, “interesting to see Danny’s reaction.
“There will be plenty of evidence shown on television if there’s anything untoward going on but I think it’s made it harder for him. It’s a complete mess, it was totally out of order, and I hope it doesn’t end up being historic.
“I worry about stuff like that after being involved in the Ryder Cup as a captain and a player for the last 50 years or so, you wouldn’t want to put a blight on it,” said Jacklin, a global ambassador for Glenmorangie, official spirit of the British Open.
“But when idiots like that come out with statements like he did, there’s a chance he can spoil it for everybody … it’s just so harmful when it comes from a family member of one of the players.”
Twice major champion Jacklin, who led Europe to two wins and one half in four Ryder Cups in charge between 1983-89, said the incident would have a negative influence in the locker room.
“It’s not helped Europe’s cause, that’s for sure,” he added. “It was a dumb act.
“The media were hungry for something like that for the first two or three days this week, as they always are, and for a member of the team’s family to go for the bait, it’s unfortunate.
“I feel sorry for the members of the team and if it changes Darren’s strategy at all, or affects things in a negative way, I don’t like it,” said 1969 British Open winner and 1970 U.S. Open champion Jacklin.
“I don’t like to see things like that, it’s totally unnecessary. I hope it doesn’t have an affect on the spirit of the team.”
(Editing by Larry Fine)