Did Luke Donald get it right with his 2023 European Ryder Cup team? Our writers explore surprises, snubs and any lingering questions
The team lost its captain and a number of its (former) stalwarts. Yet anyone thinking the 2023 European Ryder Cup roster will be short on star-power is mistaken.
It was a little more than a year ago that the Old World club’s leader Henrik Stenson vacated his captaincy by departing to LIV Golf, and a number of LIV Golf players such as Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter vacated their DP World Tour memberships, making themselves ineligible for the biennial match. But the Europeans are welcoming in a new era, one highlighted by Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick and bolstered by automatic qualifiers Tyrrell Hatton and Robert MacIntyre. On Monday, those six qualifiers were joined by captain’s picks in Tommy Fleetwood, Sepp Straka, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Hojgaard.
Is this team good enough to retake the cup and continue the European home winning streak that dates back to 1993? Our editors offer their instant analysis at Stenson’s replacement, Luke Donald’s picks and how the Europeans stack up as they prepare to make the trip to Italy and Marco Simone at the end of September.
Biggest surprise among the captain’s picks?
Nicolai Hojgaard. He’s deserving, with three finishes of T-6 or better in his last six starts. And there was a real possibility Ludvig Aberg’s European Masters win would have cannibalized Hojgaard’s chances, in that there was theoretically room on the Euro roster for one upstart but not two. Give Donald credit; it’s a fun and “sexy” decision, but above all else it’s a decision that’s brazen. —Joel Beall
Just as we saw with Zach Johnson’s American selections, Donald was fairly predictable, for the most part, with his six. Aberg’s addition will raise eyebrows in some corners, but only among those not paying attention. The kid was on the express escalator to this day even before he won Sunday’s European Masters. —Dave Shedloski
I’m having a hard time being surprised by just about anything Donald did with his picks, even picking the palpably off-form Shane Lowry. Having six captain’s selections was always going to offer him a safety net, which is important for the Europeans. Much more than the Americans, they need to have a system in place that will absolutely identify what the captain sees as absolutely the best 12 available. The standard of player on the DP World Tour drops off pretty significantly once you get past the obvious names. Not as much as it used to, admittedly. Things are changing. But that fact remains a factor in every Ryder Cup calculation across the pond. —John Huggan
About half this European team could be considered surprising if you strip out the context around them. But when you take a step back, it’s truly incredible Aberg is on this team. Not because he isn’t a very good player (he is), or because he couldn’t become a generational one (as Donald says), but because his inclusion is basically unprecedented. Aberg is the first player in history to make a Ryder Cup team without playing in a major, and no player in the modern era has made the team so soon after turning pro. Not Rory McIlroy, or Jon Rahm, or Sergio Garcia, or Nick Faldo, or any other European Ryder Cup greats. —Luke Kerr-Dineen
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Adrian Meronk, obviously. What looked like a very complicated European picture clarified over the last couple weeks, to the point there were really only 13 players Luke Donald could have taken. Meronk was No. 13, and I don't think he deserved to be. For all the talk of an "old boys club" on the U.S. side, I can't think of a better way to describe the selection of Shane Lowry, who doesn't have either the recent form or the Ryder Cup pedigree (1-2 in his lone appearance) to make him an obvious pick over Meronk, who won three times this season—including at the host course!!!—and was better than Lowry in the second half of the summer. —Shane Ryan
Meronk is the player with the biggest, most legitimate gripe. He currently sits third on the Race to Dubai, and is the Australian Open, Irish Open and Italian Open champion. And the last of those titles was won on the Marco Simone course that will host the Ryder Cup later this month. Then there is Meronk’s style of play. The man makes birdies for fun. By way of recent example, he made 20, plus one eagle, in the European Masters that concluded just yesterday. And his overall form this year has been excellent. Other than his victories, he has four other top-10s and three more finishes between 10th and 20th. Based on Donald’s repeated public assertions that he would select “in-form” players, the Englishman has let down Meronk. —J.H.
Meronk is the obvious one. But a quick word of respect for Victor Perez. Perez is out of form, which ultimately cost him. But three career DP World Tour wins and fourth in the Race to Dubai is an impressive track record for a player who is still young. Hopefully we’ll see him on Team Europe in the future. —L.K.D.
Meronk. The others all noted he won at the Ryder Cup site earlier this year and has been playing well since spring. Conversely, he’s in that purgatory where he’s too old to be young (Hojgaard, Aberg) and too young to be considered part of the old guard (Rose, Lowry). By not grabbing the final DP World Tour points spot, Meronk left himself vulnerable to politics. —J.B.
Pick that might haunt Donald?
Shane Lowry. As I said regarding Meronk’s non-selection, Donald asserted more than once that form would be a big factor in his thinking when it came to captain’s picks. On that basis, Lowry has no business making a second appearance in the Ryder Cup. His only solid performances this year are in the Masters (T-16), the PGA (T-12) and the U.S. Open (T-20). It's is possible to build a case, then, for his inclusion around some sort of “he’s the man for the big occasion” theory. For me though, and as much as I am an unashamed Lowry fan, his selection represents a huge risk. If he arrives in Italy playing the same as he has done for most of this year, he is going to be not much more than a passenger Europe can ill afford. —J.H.
Probably Hojgaard, though had Donald picked Meronk, then that pick would have been questioned just as much. It’s likely Hojgaard won’t see much action—one team match and singles. —Dave Shedloski
Sepp Straka doesn’t get the respect he deserves from European fans because of how much golf he’s played in the U.S. over his career. As a fellow transatlatic talent person, I've always had a soft spot for Straka, a player who is only getting better. He belongs on this team, and the ones he'll be on in the future. But unfairly or not, rookie/captain’s picks always come into the event with a sharper focus on them. If Straka doesn't grab a few points, I could see some wondering if Donald didn't scrutinize Straka enough. —L.K.D.
I'm one of those people who believes even if Justin Thomas goes 0-5 in Rome, it was the correct move to pick him based on his 16-5-3 record in team match play. But Donald's selection of Lowry doesn't hit the quite the same for me. Again, the man is 1-2 in his lone appearance, in iffy form—he didn't even play the last European event—and if he lays an egg in Rome, I think Donald should be in for some deserved second-guessing. —S.R.
Overall impression of the European team?
As a thought experiment this roster is alluring, almost a perfect alchemy of youth and experience, of firepower and fortitude. The Hojgaard and Aberg picks are as exciting as captain’s selections can be. Winning the press conference does not guarantee winning the match, and the Euro team still lacks the depth of their American counterparts. Still, Donald’s club will be a formidable unit, one more than capable of winning back the Ryder Cup. —J.B.
This team has a really nice balance between truly elite players (Rahm, McIlroy, Hovland), a core with experience (Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Lowry, Hatton, Rose) and young talent with potential to grow with the team (Straka, Aberg, Hojgaard, Macintyre). Yes, as one of Golf Digest’s resident Europeans, I’m biased. But if you’re a fan of Team Europe, you should be pleased with how this team came together. Forza! —L.K.D.
Beyond the very slight Lowry-over-Meronk controversy, Donald has to be feeling pretty great about his team. Hovland is the hottest player in the world, Rahm is a killer and the entire top half of the team seems to be in great form. The question marks were always going to be near the bottom, but the addition of recent winner Aberg feels massive, and smart, and when you combine all that with the fact that they're playing at home, this team looks really, really good. The panic that came with the LIV defections can safely be stowed; Europe is ready. —S.R.
Donald has done a commendable job in assembling a decent team given the challenges of this era. It’s top-heavy, reminiscent of some American squads led by Tiger and Phil and some very good players. That could be a problem. That said, Europe’s players have a way of congealing when they are defending home turf. A lot will be on the shoulders of Rahm, McIlroy and Hovland, three of the top four players in the world, but if they gut up and get assists from Fitzpatrick and captain’s picks Fleetwood, Lowry and Rose, another U.S. setback abroad is in the cards. Oh, and let's not discount the smackdown Europe received at Whistling Straits as a motivator. —D.S.
Whether it turns out to be a good or a bad thing remains to be seen, but this European team reminds me of the sides that turned the Ryder Cup tide back in the 1980s. Four decades ago captain Tony Jacklin built a winning formula around a group of truly world-class players like Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam backed up by guys like Howard Clark, Mark James, Sam Torrance and Ken Brown, all one notch below that level. I see what Donald has available in a similar light. in fact, he might be in even better shape. Where Jacklin originally had five superstars, then two more in Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, maybe half of Donald’s side are similarly transcendent talents. —J.H.