To listen to Darren Clarke describe the difficulty of picking between Russell Knox and Thomas Pieters as his last captain’s pick on this year’s European Ryder Cup team, you would think it was pretty tough. Just listen to his description of the choice he made.
“Certainly it was one of the most difficult periods I’ve ever had to deal with in my golfing career,” Clarke said in a press conference on Tuesday.
But then to hear him describe Pieters, who has won three times on the European Tour in the last 12 months, it seemed sort of … easy.
“I’ve been on tour for a long time and I’ve seen massive talent come along,” Clarke told The Guardian. “I played with Tiger Woods when he was an amateur in the Open. I’ve seen Rory McIlroy up close since he was a very young kid. Thomas Pieters impresses me in the same league as those guys. He has that amount of talent.”
Excuse me? Tiger and McIlroy are probably the two greatest talents of the last 25 years. Pieters is in that category? According to Clarke he is. Now, I’m also willing to believe that this might just be a case of a captain trying to rally his troops as well. But the pedigree is there for the young Belgian.
Pieters won the individual NCAA Championship in 2012 at Riviera over Jordan Spieth and others. Then, he took down Justin Thomas in a match play during the team finals when Illinois finished runner up to Alabama. He’s no joke.
Still, Pieters has only played in six PGA Tour events. His best finish at a major is T30 at The Open Championship this season. He only has those three European Tour wins to his name at the age of 24. When McIlroy was 24, he had won six times on the PGA Tour, including two majors. Tiger had far surpassed that.
Clarke had a close-up look at Pieters last week while playing alongside the Belgian en route to his win at the Made in Denmark event. So I trust Clarke’s assessment of Pieters’ game. He claimed he was “impossible” to leave off the Ryder Cup team, and I believe that. But in a league talent-wise with Tiger and Rory? I’m not buying it.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Darren Clarke puts Thomas Pieters in the Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods category