Luke Donald officially named 2023 European Ryder Cup captain
Europe's English vice-captain Luke Donald poses after a group photograph ahead of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in 2018.
There isn’t much suspense involved—none actually, given that the identity of Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain was widely publicized a few days ago—but now it’s official. Following the recent removal of LIV-bound Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald will lead the Old World when the century-old contest with the United States takes place at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome nearly 14 months from now.
And yes, he has signed a contract with Ryder Cup Europe. And yes, he intends to see the job through to completion.
“I’m giving everyone my word that I’ll be here for the next 14 months,” Donald said on Monday. “I’m excited about this opportunity. The Ryder Cup means so much to me. So I’m not going to take this lightly. I’ll see everyone in Rome.”
Four times a Ryder Cup player, Donald never tasted defeat in a team context, his winning record in all three formats (foursomes, four-balls and singles) adding up to a stellar 10-4-1 between 2004 and 2012. The 44-year-old Englishman also served as an assistant captain to Thomas Bjorn when Europe triumphed 17½-10½ at Le Golf National in 2018. So the former World No. 1 ticks a lot of biennial boxes, albeit those clearly impressive credentials were deemed inferior to the claims of Stenson when the Swede was named captain in March this year.
Still, Donald’s experience of all things Ryder will surely be put to good use almost immediately. With time relatively short, the new captain will be asked to think quickly on matters such as assistant captains, the team qualifying system that has yet to be announced and how many captain’s picks are to be added to the automatic qualifiers in order to complete the 12-man squad that will make the trip to Italy.
Then there is the question of Ryder Cup eligibility for those players who have made, or might make in the future, the jump to the LIV Golf circuit. Citing the fact that there is an on-going legal process that will inevitably end up in court sometime over the next few months, Donald had little to say on that subject. So whether or not the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and, yes, Henrik Stenson still have a chance to be part of the 2023 squad remains to be seen.
Perhaps not surprisingly, on Day 1 of his captaincy, Donald was unable to offer specifics on any of the above other than his decision to retain Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari, the two assistant captains already in place. So it remains unclear as to just how many close advisors the new skipper will require or want in an age where five seems to have become the most favored figure.
Other questions are also on Donald’s “to be determined” list. When exactly will qualifying begin? Will the previous “World” and “European” lists stay in place? If so, how many spots will be allocated to each? Or will another system be put in place? Could, for example, Donald decide to follow the lead of the International team skipper in the Presidents Cup and take the bulk of his side straight from the World Ranking list?
One thing that will be happening is that the DP World Tour will be seeing more of Donald than has been the norm over the course of his 20-year professional career. Since turning professional, the former GB&I Walker Cup player has played in fewer than 200 official events on his “home” circuit.
“I plan to be over in Europe more than I usually am,” Donald said. “I’ll be meeting the guys and getting to know them better. I obviously know a lot of the players who have been part of Ryder Cups, but it will be important for me to catch up with the younger guys. I’d like to get the thinking that this is going to be a great opportunity for a new generation to step up and make this team.”
Donald was never on a losing side in four Ryder Cup appearances as a player for Team Europe.
On his first day in office, Donald also generated some support from a past Ryder Cup player and a former captain.
“Luke is obviously a legitimate choice,” said Nicolas Colsaerts, who played for the victorious European team at the 2012 Ryder Cup. "There were only a few candidates, so his appointment is no surprise. He must have been close to getting the job earlier, when they gave it to Henrik. And yes, he’ll have to get moving fairly quickly with some of the decisions he has to make. In some ways there isn’t much urgency, but in others there is. From talking to some past captains, I know the job is going to take up a lot of his time.”
Colsaerts knows Donald has the experience but hopes that being the man out front will also bring out a quality in him that the public doesn't often get to see. “He’s been a great player for Europe. He’s been a vice captain. The challenge for him now is to show the wider world the personality only we players have so far seen behind closed doors," Colsaerts says. "He needs to show the human qualities I know he has, which is why it is a good thing to appoint him now. He will have the time to show us the captain he wants to be and decides to be. For him, the will mean exploring new skills from an inspirational point of view.”
Paul McGinley, the winning European captain at Gleneagles in 2014, was another making positive noises.
“Luke was very close to getting the job before Henrik,” said the Irishman to Sky Sports. “So he is the natural replacement now that Henrik has stepped away. Luke had a great record as a player. That will have an influence on his captaincy. He has seen a lot of success and, last time, a loss. He will have learned a lot from that vice captaincy last year. He will have observed what went on, what went right and what went wrong. Losing is a big part of creating a template for what happens going forward.”
Perhaps. But it can safely be assumed that leading Europe to a second loss in succession is very definitely not part of the still-to-fully-evolve Donald plan.