Who is next?

Ryder Cup 2023: Should Luke Donald captain again at Bethpage?

October 01, 2023

Ross Kinnaird

ROME — Looming against the backdrop of Marco Simone is the specter of what comes next.

Bethpage Black will the host the next Ryder Cup, in 2025. Bethpage Black; the public course that New Yorkers line up for every day, and pay hard-earned money to play. The course whose fans have a hard edge at the softest of times. Like at the 2002 U.S. Open, when fans heckled Sergio Garcia as his nervous re-grip at times froze him over the ball. Or at the 2019 PGA Championship, where fans booed simply because they'd prefer Dustin Johnson lift the trophy.

Simply put, there is no turf more home for American golfers than Bethpage Black. In the five professional tournaments Bethpage has hosted, it has boasted five straight American winners. In 2025, Europe will plunge itself into that caldron.

"Winning an away Ryder Cup is one of the most difficult things to do in golf," Rory McIlroy said. "That’s what we’re going to do at Bethpage."

Confidence alone won't be enough, though. The emotion at every Ryder Cup boils over—just as this one did. But Bethpage will charge this emotionally charged event unlike ever before. For Europe to stand a chance in this event, in an era where home blowouts have become a norm, they need to be operating at their absolute peak level of organizational efficiency. The team will celebrate this win, and then get working on retaining the trophy.

It’s led to a growing movement among European fans: Enlisting Luke Donald to return as captain.

“I haven’t been asked,” Donald said. He paused, looked at the trophy and grinned. In the glow of victory, you could feel his mind floating.

“I think everyone sitting here would be very happy to have him again,” Rory McIlroy said.


Brendan Moran

There are good reasons for Donald not to do it.

Well, two good reasons.

The first is that it’s simply a lot of work. Meetings and logistics and press duties. Plus, the general planning and pressure that goes along with it. Nobody would begrudge Donald enjoying this victory, and moving on to whatever he wants to do next.

The second is that Donald’s team record is quite literally, spotless. He has never played—or now captained—in a losing team competition, which includes two Walker Cups and now five Ryder Cups. That’s an incredible and impressive record to dine out on. Would you want to risk a blemish on that resume?

But just as an old general is forever tempted by the honor of serving, Europe may need to call upon Donald for the task of Bethpage Black.

If nothing else, he is a proven, and a steady hand. A composed, affable communicator with the media, which is a hugely important job for any Ryder Cup captain. He possesses a brilliance in taking the sting out of every loaded question, as he did time-and-time again this Ryder Cup amid various controversies. You’re not going to get an annoying soundbite out of Luke Donald.

Donald also showed at Marco Simone an impressive ability to get his players to buy into ideas beyond their own self-interest. The examples are rife through the team, but the best embodiment of Donald’s approach can be seen through Justin Rose’s Ryder Cup.

Rose, one of the best European players of his generation, was tapped by Donald weeks in advance for a specific task: Taking rookie Robert MacIntyre under his wing. To sit both foursomes sessions, and play alongside him twice in fourballs.

A major champion, Olympic gold medalist and Ryder Cup legend, you’d forgive him for not being thrilled with the task. But Rose bought in. It brought the best out of his game and helped usher MacIntyre—who struggled with confidence at the start of the week—to a 2-0-1 undefeated record.

“My job as one of the more to do whatever is best for the team,” Rose said.

Donald showed his ability of executing a proven system of Ryder Cup success laid by past captains and players. Then, crucially, he built a backroom staff to that effect. Together, Donald has helped fuse the new school analytics-focused strategies representing by the likes of vice captain Eduardo Molinari with the old school strategies based on personalities and legacies, represented by Jose Maria Olazabal.

That, in theory, could be rebooted from Day 1, rather than coaching-up a new name with the end goal of replicating that task. And, of course, it solves for the other elephant in the room: What to do with Ryder Cup legends currently plying their trade on the LIV Golf tour. Maybe they’ll be brought back into the fold one day. Maybe they won’t. But tapping the successful Donald again for another captaincy kicks the can down the road for another two years, allowing that Ryder Cup powers-that-be time to assess how the dynamics of the golf world shake out.

Will it happen? Who knows. As Donald says, he hasn’t been asked. But the hammer of Bethpage is looming nevertheless, and time is of the essence.