December 7, 2016 / 8:04 AM / 8 months ago

Jacklin backs Bjorn but worries about Paris venue

4 Min Read

Team USA vice-captain Tiger Woods talk at the 13th green during the practice round for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, September 28, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports/File photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Tony Jacklin has welcomed Thomas Bjorn's appointment as 2018 European Ryder Cup captain but the former skipper is concerned about the Paris venue and the qualification criteria for the 12-man team.

Jacklin, the most successful leader in Europe's Ryder Cup history with two wins and a tie from his four matches in charge from 1983-89, believes the 45-year-old Dane, three-times a player in the biennial contest, is the right man for the job.

"Thomas is very close to the players and he's got all the experience you need," the 72-year-old Englishman told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Florida home on Tuesday after learning of Bjorn's promotion from a four-times vice-captain.

"I can't imagine anybody thinking he's a bad choice. The only reservation I've got is that the matches are going to be in Paris and, relatively speaking, golf is a minority sport in France.

"You like to think your home ground is very much an advantage and I'm not entirely certain that will be the case."

Europe were beaten for the first time since 2008 when Darren Clarke's side lost 17-11 to Davis Love III's United States team at Hazeltine National in October.

The Americans were backed by a vociferous crowd in Minnesota and Jacklin is worried the support for Europe in Paris could fall short of expectations.

"When it's in the UK we get tremendous support," he said. "When it was in Valderrama in Spain in 1997 there were a lot of British holidaymakers there who supported it.

"But the French people are not what you would call staunch golf fans. It's a little bit less of a home advantage in my opinion.

Tony Jacklin of England tees off on the first hole during the first round of the Mission Hills World Celebrity Pro-Am golf tournament in Haikou, China's Hainan province October 20, 2012.Tyrone Siu/Files

Elitest Game

"The vast majority don't know what golf is because it's regarded as an elitest game... it's the same in Spain and Italy," added Jacklin, an ambassador for the 2017 farmfoods British Par 3 Championship from Aug. 8-11 (britishpar3.com).

"Despite what Victor Dubuisson has done for France, Seve Ballesteros for Spain or Bernhard Langer for Germany, golf still struggles to get to the masses in those countries."

Jacklin also underlined the need to change the qualifying system to avoid a repeat of the situation that occurred at Hazeltine.

Clarke had three wildcard picks but was unable to select then-world number 12 Paul Casey because the U.S.-based Englishman is not a member of the European Tour.

Scotland's Russell Knox, who also plays most of his golf in America, was overlooked by Clarke for a wildcard spot despite being 19th in the rankings.

"Hopefully Thomas will be able to tweak the rules so that he gets the best 12 players at his disposal," said Jacklin, the winner of the 1969 British Open and 1970 U.S. Open.

"The first thing a captain needs to know is that he's going into battle with the best players," added Jacklin, who was described by ESPN this year as the man who saved the Ryder Cup when interest was waning at the start of the 1980s.

"If you were born in Europe and have played in the Ryder Cup before, you should be an automatic choice if you are in the top 50 of the rankings whether you are a tour member or not.

"We are putting obstacles in the way otherwise. You can't be inventing reasons why guys can't get in the team."

Editing by Ken Ferris

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