Darren Clarke set up a WhatsApp messaging group with his Ryder Cup assistants to discuss which European players looked the best leading up to the deadline for his three captain’s picks.

The name Thomas Pieters popped up more than any other.

Hitting the best form of his career at just the right time, Pieters made it tough for Clarke to ignore him. He was selected Tuesday as one of Europe’s three wild cards for next month’s showdown with the United States at Hazeltine.

The 24-year-old Belgian will be one of six Ryder Cup rookies on a European team seeking an unprecedented fourth straight win in golf’s biggest team event.

“He brings a bit more of the X-factor. He is going to blossom,” Clarke said.

Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer were obvious choices as two of the captain’s picks, Clarke said after making the announcement.


He had sleepless nights over his final selection.

It boiled down to Pieters and Russell Knox, players who have won events on different sides of the Atlantic this month.

Pieters got the nod on the back of this hot run: Fourth place at the Olympics, second at the Czech Masters, and then a victory at the Made in Denmark tournament where he birdied the last three holes to win on Sunday. Clarke was in Denmark to see Pieters’ third win in the past year, and made sure he was grouped with him for the opening two rounds.

Then came Clarke’s hardest job – the phone call to Knox.

“It’s one of the most difficult periods in the whole of my golfing career,” Clarke said.

Half of the European team will be playing their first Ryder Cup next month in Hazeltine

Masters champions Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick qualified automatically, along with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, British Open champion Henrik Stenson, Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.

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