PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Darren Clarke launched the Ryder Cup trophy tour from Royal Portrush Golf Club in his native Northern Ireland on Tuesday, and the European captain had a spring in his step.
No wonder, considering the performance of the continent's players at the Masters last week.
English player Danny Willett won at Augusta National for his first major championship title and there were six other Europeans in the top 10.
"Hope they are all in the same form in September in Hazeltine," Clarke said, looking ahead to the Ryder Cup against the United States from Sept. 30-Oct. 2. "Any time you see seven Europeans in the top 10 at a major, that's got to be a hugely positive step. Especially in the year of the Ryder Cup."
Wearing the green jacket, Willett arrived back in Britain on Tuesday following his Masters victory. Speaking at Manchester airport, he said his immediate plan was to "get home, put the kettle on, and change some nappies" after the birth of his first child last month.
Among the many benefits of winning his first major is that it virtually assures his place in Europe's Ryder Cup team for the first time. Willett, ranked No. 9, currently is top of the world points and European points list.
"He was almost guaranteed to be in the team before he won at Augusta but it was wonderful to see him come through and win in the fashion he did," Clarke said. "It's another step in the right direction. He's a confident, dedicated man.
"You take a look at the top of the world rankings at the moment, you have Rory (McIlroy), Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and there's Rickie Fowler pushing hard. But Danny has all the ability to go to the top."
The Europeans are looking to win the Ryder Cup for a fourth straight time after their victory at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2014.
The Ryder Cup trophy heads to Belfast next, before it goes to France and Italy — the next two European countries to host the contest in 2018 and 2022, respectively.