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Ryder Cup Captains 2023
Europe are looking to bounce back from a record defeat at Whistling Straits in 2021, when Steve Stricker’s USA thrashed Padraig Harrington’s Europe 19-9, extending the USA’s lead in the biennial clash to 27-14. So who are leading the teams this time out?
Team Europe’s preparations were thrown into turmoil when Henrik Stenson was removed as captain ahead of his defection to LIV Golf, a move that started with a $4.375million payday and Stenson aiming a jibe at that decision to remove him after his debut victory at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
Stenson was quickly replaced by former World No.1 Luke Donald for Rome, with the Englishman set to face a US side led by two-time Major winner Zach Johnson.
European Ryder Cup Captain - Luke Donald
Luke Donald was named as Stenson’s successor ahead of the likes of Paul Lawrie, Robert Karlsson and Thomas Bjorn. The former World No.1 won all four Ryder Cups he played in, and has acted as vice captain at the last two matches in 2018 under Bjorn and in 2021 under Harrington.
Donald has already promised that he won’t be doing “a Henrik” and leaving for LIV Golf, but with question marks still hanging over the availability of the LIV players, Donald takes up the position not knowing whether he will be able to call on the likes of record points scorer Sergio Garcia, joint record appearance maker Lee Westwood, as well as the likes of Ian Poulter, Paul Casey among others.
As long as no more players leave though, he will have younger stars like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick as the backbone of his team.
European Ryder Cup Vice Captains
Donald’s first move as Europe’s new Ryder Cup captain was to confirm Thomas Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari remain as vice captains. Bjorn was thought to be favourite to take over once Stenson had been removed as captain, given it was a job he’d done so successfully before. However, with Donald as skipper, Bjorn’s wealth of experience will be put to use as a vice captain.
The Dane has been part of eight European Ryder Cup teams, three times as a player, four as a vice captain, and as a successful captain in Paris in 2018. Having played in 1997, 2002 and 2014, Bjorn first took up vice captaincy duties at Oakland Hills in 2004, a role he reprised in 2010, 2012 and 2016. As captain, he oversaw a comprehensive European win, 17½-10½ in Paris, and while he admits he thought that was it for his Ryder Cup involvement, Bjorn agreed to become Stenson’s first vice captain in May, and it’s a role he will continue under Donald.
While choosing an Italian captain to replace Stenson may have gone down well with the fans in Rome, Italy’s first Ryder Cup has come just a little early for Edoardo Molinari in terms of the top job. The 41-year-old joined brother Francesco in Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup team at Celtic Manor, the first brothers to take on the USA since Bernard and Geoffrey Hunt made the GB & Ireland team in 1963. Edoardo contributed two half points in that 14½-13½ win.
This is Molinari’s first involvement as a vice captain, and having the experience of Bjorn beside him will be crucial in making sure the Italian doesn’t get swept away by the passionate Rome crowd.
USA Ryder Cup Captain - Zach Johnson
While the European camp has been dealing with the turmoil of losing the captain, Team USA’s skipper Zach Johnson has been free to carry on planning how his team are to win the Ryder Cup on European soil for the first time in 30 years. Not since Tom Watson led his team to a 15-13 win against Bernard Gallacher’s European side at The Belfry in 1993 has an American team headed back across the Pond with the trophy, a record Johnson will be desperate to put right.
Johnson has previously served as an assistant captain on two occasions, under Jim Furyk in 2018 in Paris and then for Steve Stricker at Whistling Straits. He played in five Ryder Cups, losing the first four before tasting victory in the 2016 edition at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.
While LIV Golf has not affected the US team at a captaincy level, it will arguably have a bigger impact if players from the Saudi-backed series are not involved. Johnson, a two-time Major winner himself, said in June that LIV players hoping to take part in the Ryder Cup are in for a disappointment, and if they are left on the sidelines, that rules out the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka from last year’s winning side, as well as the likes of Patrick Reed, Talor Gooch, Kevin Na, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson from playing or vice captaincy duties.
The 12-strong USA team will be made up of the top six American players on the US points list, with Johnson having six captain’s picks to complete the line-up.
USA Ryder Cup Vice Captain
When Johnson was named as Team USA’s captain, it was confirmed that Steve Stricker, the man who he is succeeding and he served under at Whistling Straits, will be a vice captain in Italy. The 55-year-old drew widespread praise for the way he led the team in 2021, and brings with him not only that experience, he also played on three Ryder Cup teams, and served as a vice captain previously in 2018. He won 12 times on the PGA Tour before joining the Champions Tour in 2017.
Stricker is currently the only confirmed Team USA vice captain, though Tiger Woods is a definite potential to take up the role he carried out in 2016 at Hazeltine. Mickelson was one name that was thought to be among those considered by close friend Johnson, but his decision to join LIV Golf looks to have put an end to that. Fred Couples, who has captained three US Presidents Cup winning teams, and also served as Ryder Cup vice captain twice, and Matt Kuchar, another of Furyk's vice captains in 2018, are thought to be among the names likely to be called upon.
Jeff graduated from Leeds University in Business Studies and Media in 1996 and did a post grad in journalism at Sheffield College in 1997. His first jobs were on Slam Dunk (basketball) and Football Monthly magazines, and he's worked for the Sunday Times, Press Association and ESPN. He has faced golfing greats Sam Torrance and Sergio Garcia, but on the poker felt rather than the golf course. Jeff's favourite course played is Sandy Lane in Barbados, which went far better than when he played Matfen Hall in Northumberland, where he crashed the buggy on the way to the 1st tee!
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