Is Europe’s next skipper being handed a poisoned chalice? Alex Perry tries to get his head round the Ryder Cup conundrum
Hello, welcome to this week’s edition of The Slam. There’s been a lot of chat about the next European Ryder Cup captain in recent months and that’s where we begin. Largely, suggested in the headline, does anyone actually want it?
The selection panel – made up of DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, the players’ Tournament Committee representative David Howell, and the past three captains – are still umming and aahing over who will be the right man to lead Europe into battle in Rome. Now, it seems, it’s going to be the end of February at the earliest before we know.
But if I was a betting man – I don’t know why I said that, because I am – I wouldn‘t be backing anyone other than Luke Donald. The Englishman has had some pretty significant weight thrown behind him in the past few days, notably last year’s skipper, Padraig Harrington, who said: “All I can say is that Luke would be great.”
That “all I can say” is doing a lot of heavy lifting, isn’t it?
Graeme McDowell, a front-runner for the job at Adare Manor in 2027, added that Donald “commands a lot of respect” and would be “a fantastic choice”, while Paul Casey threw the phrase “fabulous captain” into the mix.
I feel a bit sorry for Donald. (Purely in a Ryder Cup context, of course. The man has had a career and life of which the rest of us can only dream.) On the back of that record defeat in Wisconsin, the job will be something of a poisoned chalice. On the flipside, if Donald doesn’t get the job in ’23 then the likelihood is he never will.
But look what he and his backroom team will be up against.
The USA team in September was its strongest ever. So strong, in fact, that Steve Stricker could afford to leave out three players in the world’s top 25, as well as the two players who won the WGC-Match Play in the years between Le Golf National and Whistling Straits.
All 12 of that winning team, plus the likes of Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel, Sam Burns, Jason Kokrak, and Kevins Na and Kisner, will all be knocking on the door for a ticket to Italy.
What can we offer in return?
Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland are Europe’s current representatives in the top 10 and will be there or thereabouts in 18 months. Then where do we go? Next is Tyrrell Hatton – someone you would think is perfect for the Ryder Cup but two and a half points from six doesn’t really inspire confidence – at 22, then Matt Fitzpatrick – zero from five – at 25.
Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry have plummeted down the rankings, and then you’re into the realms of the veterans. Lee Westwood wants another crack at playing, but he only managed a point last time out. Paul Casey and Ian Poulter played seven matches between them and contributed precisely nothing. And Sergio Garcia continued to defy the odds, winning a third of Europe’s entire points tally for the week, so at least we can rely on him for one final encore.
So who’s coming through? Seamus Power is having a purple patch on the PGA Tour, but he’ll be 36 by the time the Ryder Cup rolls around, Bob MacIntyre hasn’t pushed on quite as we’d expected, and the Hojgaard twins – Rasmus and Nicolai – aren’t even the highest-ranked Danes at the moment. Remember how we all said they would be our saviours in Rome?
Maybe this is the reason Westwood – who was nailed on for the job until he withdrew his candidacy in November – decided he didn’t want it. He knew the job was too big and, unlike Donald, is guaranteed to captain the team one day should he decide he’s ready.
Do you blame him?
I, like every European Ryder Cup fan, will be right behind Donald or whoever does get the job. But I’ll be watching through my fingers.
And another thing…
The course at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club is a bit uninspiring, isn’t it?
The last three European stops – Le Golf National, Gleneagles, and Celtic Manor – were all perfect Ryder Cup venues that delivered not only the drama but home victories.
From what I’ve seen of Marco Simone, the Americans are going to tear it apart.
Actually, while you’re here…
This feels like a good place to push my podcast with Graeme McDowell where he talks extensively about the Ryder Cup and his dream of being captain one day.
So who won this week?
Viktor Hovland turned pro two and a half years ago. Since then he’s won the Puerto Rico Open, Mayakoba Classic, World Wide Technology Championship and Hero World Challenge on the PGA Tour, while on this side of the Atlantic he’s picked up the BMW International Open and, now, a Rolex Series title at the Dubai Desert Classic.
Oh, and he’s now ranked No 3 in the world.
A major next, surely?
How good was it to see Aaron Rai in the mix at the Farmers Insurance Open? The Englishman was in contention going into the final day but an even-par 72 for the last 18 meant he had to settle for T6 and two back of Luke List and Will Zalatoris, with the former triumphing in extra holes.
Meanwhile there was an epic tussle for the second LPGA title of the season, with England’s Charley Hull well in the mix, but in the end it was a familiar face atop the leaderboard…
It’s Lydia Ko’s 17th LPGA title – and she’s still only 24. Even more ludicrously, just three of those have been in her 20s. An absolute joy to watch.