Who Will Be The Next European Ryder Cup Captain?

Zach Johnson will lead Team USA in the Ryder Cup at Rome but who will be his European counterpart? We take a good look at the contenders

Ryder Cup Getty
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Team USA has announced that two-time Major champion, Zach Johnson, will Captain the team when it comes to Rome in 2023. As it stands, it is not yet known who will take the helm for Team Europe. It was rumoured that Lee Westwood was most favoured however, he has ruled himself out of captaincy in the 2023 Ryder Cup

Despite endorsement from Sam Torrance and a number of his peers, the Englishman has confirmed he will focus his efforts on qualifying for the team.

Following defeat at Whistling Straits, Westwood was in floods of tears and admitted it may have been his last Ryder Cup but he is set to give it one last try. 

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Westwood said: “Of course it’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly as it would be a huge honour to captain Europe and it’s something I’d love to do one day."

“But it’s almost a full time job nowadays and it’s something I can’t commit to whilst I’m in the top 50 (in the world)”

The former World No.1 is currently ranked number 38 in the world but importantly, only six Europeans better that. He will be a genuine contender to make the team; either through qualifying or captain's pick.

Westwood, who has made the joint-most Ryder Cup appearances (11) for Europe, has featured on seven winning teams and boasts a 21-20-6 record. 

An official announcement is expected in the New Year but we now know it won’t be Lee Westwood at the wheel for the 2023 Ryder Cup. We look forward to who it might be...


Perhaps the one that is favoured most for Rome is former World No.1 Luke Donald.

Donald has made four Ryder Cup appearances and has never featured on a losing side. He would be looking to instil that winning confidence back into the team that was shattered at Whistling Straits.

Donald’s playing record of 10-4-1 shows just what a reliable team member he has been and we would expect that reliability is his captaincy style. His playing style suited all formats and that is something he will want to adopt into his players and subsequent picks. It is not uncommon for Team Europe to look to a man that hasn’t won a Major. Interestingly, only five of the last nine European captains have done so.

Donald has, however, won five times on the PGA Tour and a further seven on the European Tour (now DP World Tour). His standout victories came at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in 2011 where he defeated Martin Kaymer 3&2 in the final. Donald has also won the flagship BMW Championship twice. 

Westwood described captaincy as a “full time job” and whilst that may cause issue for him, perhaps not so much for Donald. He is still active on the PGA & DP World Tours although he hasn’t recorded a top ten since the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. 

Donald is one of the most respected players to have taken part in the Ryder Cup and having already played vice-captain to Padraig Harrington at Whistling Straits and Thomas Bjorn in Paris, we imagine he would be ready to take the helm. 

Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell

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Can you believe it’s been eleven years since Graeme McDowell took down Hunter Mahan in the Sunday singles at Celtic Manor and earned the defining point in a narrowly fought victory for Europe? Time really does fly. 

Like Donald, McDowell has served his apprenticeship having been vice-captain to Thomas Bjorn in Paris and again to Padraig Harrington at Whistling Straits. He credits these experiences for igniting his interest in becoming captain in future. That said, speaking to Sky Sports during the BMW PGA Championship in September, McDowell admitted that he hadn’t given up hope of earning a fifth playing appearance. 

“When I won the Saudi International in 2020, I was starting to play well. I had a wee head of steam going and my dream of playing a Ryder Cup again was very much alive. But we obviously had the break and after that, its been 15 months of hell for me. I’ve just not played well at all” 

McDowell has made four Ryder Cup appearances and returned nine points from a possible 15. Whilst it’s unlikely the former US Open champion will make the 2023 team, you can never rule it out.

The elephant in the room is 2027, where the Ryder Cup will be at Adare Manor in Ireland. I suspect it will be one of the worst secrets in golf nearer the time but that’s where I expect McDowell to lead his merry men.  A Northern Irishman at the helm in Ireland. It might be worth buying shares in Guinness now for the celebrations (or commiserations).

Henrik Stenson

Henrik Stenson at the Ryder Cup

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Henrik Stenson has all the ingredients to make a great Ryder Cup captain. He is the perfect balance of intelligent, cheeky, authoritative and emotive; which has ultimately earned him the nickname the 'Ice Man' over the years. 

The Swede made his Ryder Cup debut at the K Club in 2006 where he holed the winning putt in a dominant 18.5 - 9.5 victory. He would go on to make five appearances in total with a record of 10-7-2. 

As well as Ryder Cup glory, Stenson has tasted success all around the world. In 2013, he became the first person to win both the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup in the same season and who can forget what happened at Troon? His duel with Phil Mickelson, and subsequent victory, broke the major Championship scoring record for both lowest total to par (-20) and aggregate shots (264). 

The Ice Man was vice-captain to Padraig Harrington at Whistling Straits and has a great pedigree to take charge.  A Stenson captaincy feels inevitable but it’s just a case of whether it’s now or later. 

In recent months, speculation of a Saudi-backed Super League has increased and it was reported that the Swede would have any future captain privileges revoked should he accept a proposal. It remains to be seen whether that will jeopardise his chances in Rome and beyond.

Francesco Molinari

Francesco Molinari at the Ryder Cup

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Now this one is unlikely but who doesn’t love to romanticise?

The Italian, and one half of the famous “Moliwood”, was the first European to win five out of five at a Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris and has never been on a losing side in his three appearances. He also became the first Italian to win a Major in the 2018 Open Championship where held off Tiger Woods and ultimately finished two clear of Kevin Kisner, Rory Mcilroy, Justin Rose and Xander Schauffele.

On paper, it’s fair to say that Francesco Molinari isn’t qualified…. yet. His Ryder Cup record speaks for itself but he is yet to take a vice captaincy position so it’s unlikely he’ll be thrown in at the deep end. That said, an Italian, in Italy, feels great. Queue the chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole”

Ian Poulter

Ian Poulter

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Ian Poulter and the Ryder Cup go together like John Daly and Diet Coke. 

Affectionately known as the Postman, because he always delivers, Poulter is a Ryder Cup veteran and as many Americans will tell you, the first name they look for on the team sheet.

Poulter has made six Ryder Cup appearances and was the catalyst for the Miracle in Medinah. It’s fast approaching ten years since his closing five birdies secured a precious point in the Saturday fourballs and inspired the heroics that would follow on Sunday. He has also never lost a singles match.

Injury ruled Poulter out of the 2016 Ryder Cup however he jumped at the opportunity to be vice-captain to Darren Clarke. Similar to McDowell in many ways, it feels Poulter is earmarked for future captaincy. 

Bethpage Black hosts the 2025 Ryder Cup and honestly, who knows what to expect. New York City golf fans have earned a reputation for being a boisterous bunch over the years and I suspect that intensity will engulf when the Ryder Cup is in town. Who could possibly tame an atmosphere akin to Kiawah Islands in 1991, or Brookline in 1999? Enter, the Postman.

Could you imagine the steely eyes of a near 50-year-old Ian Poulter bumping his chest in the Big Apple? You really would love to see it. 

Like Stenson, Poulter has also been caught up in the ongoing speculation of a rumoured Saudi-backed Super League. It was reported that he had received an offer to join the rumoured Super League but told that if he were to do so, he would lose the opportunity to captain the Ryder Cup team in future. 

Robert Karlsson

Robert Karlsson

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When it comes to speculating about future captains, Europe are blessed with strength in depth. 

As well as everyone we’ve named here, there’s still an enormous amount of Ryder Cup and Major experience in the likes of Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer. Admittedly, it’s too soon for Rome but they will almost certainly dominate captaincy for the next decade and beyond. 

One however, that tends to be forgotten in these conversations is Sweden’s Robert Karlsson. The Swede is one of the most respected professionals on Tour having been a member since 1990. His career-high came in 2008 where he topped the Order of Merit.

Karlsson finds himself in a catch 22 situation. He has been a vice-captain for the last two teams and, if selected, would find himself the oldest captain since the turn of the century. If not now it feels as if the opportunity will pass. Always the bridesmaid but never the bride. 


Paul Lawrie Ryder Cup getty

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Paul Lawrie has long been linked with a Ryder Cup Captain position. The Scotsman was a rookie when he played his way onto the 1999 team having won the Open Championship in dramatic fashion just a few months prior. He would go on to win three and a half points from a possible five in what many describe as the "Battle of Brookline." Europe held a convincing lead going into the Sunday singles, only for the United States to fight back for a single point victory. The competition was marred by what late veteran broadcaster, Alistair Cooke, described as "the arrival of the golf hooligan." 

Lawrie would have to wait over a decade for his next Ryder Cup appearance, where he played a key role in the "Miracle at Medinah" in 2012. This time, roles were reversed and Team Europe, sparred on following the tragic passing of Seve Ballesteros, overturned a 10-6 deficit going into the final day to win. Lawrie defeated Brandt Snedeker 5&3 as Europe roared to a famous comeback.

Lawrie was perhaps most favoured to to captain the 2014 team in his home country at Gleneagles but honours were awarded to Paul McGinley. Lawrie was vice-captain to Darren Clarke in 2016 alongside Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington, who went on to become captains in 2018 and 2021 respectively. It may seem that Lawrie's credentials have been overlooked. 

James Hibbitt

James joined Golf Monthly having previously written for other digital outlets. He is obsessed with all areas of the game – from tournament golf, to history, equipment, technique and travel. He is also an avid collector of memorabilia; with items from the likes of Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Francis Ouimet, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Adam Scott and Ernie Els. As well as writing for Golf Monthly, James’ golfing highlight is fist bumping Phil Mickelson on his way to winning the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. James grew up on the east coast of England and is the third generation of his golfing family. He now resides in Leeds and is a member of Cobble Hall Golf Club with a handicap index of 1.7. His favourite films are The Legend of Bagger Vance and Tin Cup.