Ryder Cup

Know a good hypnotist? Here's why Luke Donald might be reaching out ahead of the 2025 Ryder Cup

January 10, 2024

Warren Little

DUBAI — It wasn’t the best birthday present he had ever received, but the news that Jon Rahm was joining LIV Golf didn’t come as a complete shock to European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald. Based on conversations he had shared with the burly Spaniard, the 46-year-old was mildly surprised.

“Jon obviously had his reasons,” said Donald, who this week at the DP World Tour’s Dubai Invitational is playing his first completive golf since the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last September. “We've swapped a few messages about the Ryder Cup, but I haven't talked to him personally about his reasons. I'm sure he has some very good ones. I'm not here to judge what decisions he's making. But from my standpoint, as long as he continues his membership on the DP World Tour, he's eligible. I don't think anything in terms of that is going to change.”

Ah, but it might. As things currently stand, as soon as Rahm tees-up in a tournament that directly conflicts with a DP World Tour event—seemingly his first LIV start in Mexico next month—he will likely incur both a fine and a suspension, although each case is judged separately by CEO Keith Pelley.

“The regulations are born in Europe and a member of the DP World Tour,” said Donald of the current eligibility criteria for the Old World squad. “I don't see that changing. I haven't talked specifically to Keith about whether the fine structures will change going forward. But again that’s up to the player and what he wants to do. What I do know for sure is that, talking to Jon, playing on the Ryder Cup in the future is very high in his priorities.”

Donald is right to be concerned. History makes it clear that, if the best three players on any Ryder Cup team all play well, then that team is almost certainly going to win. Last year in Italy, Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland added 10.5 points to Europe’s winning total, with none of the trio ever partnering with either of the others. That’s a winning formula, one confirmed by Europe’s convincing victory.

“You don't win Ryder Cups with your superstars not playing well,” Donald said. “Without those three guys playing at such a high level, we probably don't win. So you need your superstars to play great, and Jon is a superstar in the game. It would be a massive blow if he wasn't in the 2025 Ryder Cup team at Bethpage Black.”

Speaking of the venue for the next staging of the biennial encounter, Donald is well aware that repeating Europe’s trouncing of the Americans will be way more difficult on foreign soil. Playing in front of a baying New York crowd on a course set up by whoever assumes the U.S. captaincy is likely to be no picnic in the state park. That is not to say Donald has given such not-niceties too much thought yet. But you get the feeling he will do soon enough.

“I do have to figure out how we can somehow turn the crowd into some sort of positive whether it's mentally or using a hypnotist or cotton wool in the ears,” he mused. “I don't know. And the course thing? We’ll have to wait till the team starts to take shape and to see what their strengths are. Maybe that influences my picks. It’s all about trying to find little advantages where there might be disadvantages.

“Otherwise, there are some thoughts and things running around in my head, but I don't have too many pressing issues,” Donald continued. “I do have a call tomorrow about clothing, so there are things that still need my attention. But it’s a little early to be thinking about the qualification system or my vice captains. I'll see four of the five who were under me in Italy over the next couple of weeks. I’ll certainly be sitting down and having chats to them and seeing where their heads are and what their feelings might be. But there is no real rush.”

As for his own play, Donald reckons he will play more in Europe than the U.S. over the coming months. His need for invitations into PGA Tour events meaning he will likely take advantage of his past-champion status on his home tour.

“One of the nice things is I get to play with potential players,” he said with a smile. “It’s nice to watch them and see how they do when they are playing with me. At the same time, when it's my turn to hit I am fully immersed in my shot. Which is not so easy at my age. I don't have the expectation level I had, say, 10 years ago.”