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With a little over 12 months until battle commences once again in the Ryder Cup, Team Europe is looking for a new captain after Henrik Stenson's position was ended with immediate effect.
The Swede, who only took up the post in March, had been the subject of widespread speculation linking him to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series. Ryder Cup Europe's decision to remove the 46-year-old as captain all but cements Stenson's new place on the Greg Norman-fronted venture.
While no decision has yet been made on whether LIV players will be allowed to play at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome next October, it is certain that Stenson will not be at the helm.
With a question mark still firmly hanging over LIV’s European contingent, a number of potential successors to Stenson, including Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer, are unlikely to be considered to take up the top job.
Stenson named Thomas Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari as two of his assistants, while former World No.1 Luke Donald will join them among the favourites. Molinari is not considered to be ready for the job yet but former captain Bjorn, who enjoyed a successful stint in charge in Paris in 2018, is thought to be interested in returning to the helm, and given the relatively short turnaround, having his experience is a plus.
Padraig Harrington, who presided over the heavily-defeated European team last time out in Whistling Straights, has publicly backed Donald as his successor, and it’s difficult to argue with his resume. Donald has made four Ryder Cup appearances and has never featured on a losing side with a playing record of 10-4-1. He has won five times on the PGA Tour and has a further seven wins on the DP World Tour.
Others in the running include Stenson’s fellow Swede Robert Karlsson, who has been a vice-captain for the past two teams but yet to be given the top job. If he did succeed his countryman, Karlsson, who topped the Order of Merit in 2008, would be the oldest captain this century aged 54 once the action gets underway.
Paul Lawrie is another with substantial pedigree but perhaps already missed his best chance to be Europe’s captain. He was vice-captain alongside Bjorn and Harrington in 2016, but while both of them went on to take the top job, the Scot has been left on the sidelines.
While US captain Zach Johnson has already stated that any LIV players will not take any part in next year’s clash on the American side - ruling out the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed - there is nothing official from the European camp. Golf Monthly’s current understanding is that the DP World Tour, which runs the biennial match along with the PGA of America, feels no player is bigger than the Ryder Cup and that the match would still be a success without some of the sport's biggest names. Henrik Stenson's recent denouncement further emphasises that viewpoint.
If Europe’s LIV players are ruled out, that would mean record points scorer Sergio Garcia and joint record appearance maker Lee Westwood would bring to an end their glittering Ryder Cup careers. Garcia is said to be on the verge of quitting the DP World Tour, which would rule him out before any decision is made over LIV.
Additionally, it would seem the curtain will close for Ian Poulter, the catalyst behind the Miracle at Medinah in 2012 and the one affectionately referred as the 'Postman' for his inspired performances in the Ryder Cup.
While ruling out LIV players would see the European team lose its most experienced members, their highest ranked players, such as Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood would remain available and make up the core of what is bound to be a strong team.
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!
- James Hibbitt Writer
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