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‘Luke’s got the experience and credentials’ – Rory McIlroy backs Donald for Ryder Cup captain as Europe looks to Rome

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Rory McIlroy of Europe in conversation with vice-captain Luke Donald during a practice round at the 2018 Ryder Cup. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rory McIlroy of Europe in conversation with vice-captain Luke Donald during a practice round at the 2018 Ryder Cup. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rory McIlroy of Europe in conversation with vice-captain Luke Donald during a practice round at the 2018 Ryder Cup. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Europe appears to be struggling to find the ideal man to lead them in the Ryder Cup in 2023, but Rory McIlroy believes Luke Donald would be an ideal skipper in Rome.

The Holywood star, whose backing was instrumental in Paul McGinley’s selection over Darren Clarke for the Gleneagles job in 2014, sees the Englishman (43) and not two-time vice-captain Robert Karlsson (52) as the best candidate to take the reins at Marco Simone Country Club in less than 22 months.

Donald, who will be 44 next week, has emerged as one of the front runners for the job after Lee Westwood (48) decided not to make himself available as he feels he’s still competitive as a top-50 in the world player.

Justin Rose believes he’s too young to do the job just yet, while Henrik Stenson, who also failed to make Pádraig Harrington’s side for Whistling Straits, still feels he can be competitive at the top level though he did not rule himself out completely.

“I was not surprised by Lee’s decision and if Lee still thinks he can play and he’s competitive, which he is, and if he doesn’t want to take a year-and-a-half out of his career, then I get his decision,” McIlroy told the Daily Record at the Hero World Challenge, where a rollercoaster, second round 71 left him four shots behind Bryson DeChambeau.

“As for Robert? I don’t think Robert will be chosen as a captain. He’s a great vice-captain.

“It’s why I think Luke would be a great captain. When you look at his Ryder Cup record, he’s probably played in a good few of them (five), so Luke’s got the experience and the credentials, and he would make for a good European captain.”

Stenson (45) and Rose (41) have both played in five matches and wish to try and win their sixth caps in Italy when they are 47 and 43, respectively.

Another potential candidate, 2010 US Open champion and four-time Ryder Cup player Graeme McDowell (42) is keen to throw his hat into the ring for the matches Adare Manor in Limerick in 2027, when he is 48, though he could face serious competition from the likes of Sergio Garcia be available.

The Daily Record also reported that the Seve Trophy, which Europe used to blood players and captains before winning six of seven Ryder Cups between 2002 and 2014, will be revived in France next year after a nine-year hiatus.

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The match between Great Britain and Ireland and Continental Europe was played eight times between 2000 and 2013, giving winning Ryder Cup skippers such as José María Olazábal, Thomas Bjorn, Paul McGinley and Colin Montgomerie vital experience.

Ian Poulter, who will be 47 in 2023 and 49 when the matches go to Bethpage State Park in 2025, appears more interested in the challenge of taking in the Americans in their own backyard in New York.

“When you’re captain in 2025, will you be having press conferences at 7.30 am?” Poulter was asked in Wisconsin ahead of an early morning press conference on a chilly Wednesday morning.

“Nope,” Poulter said without hesitation.

Stenson was surprised to see Westwood remove himself from the reckoning for Rome, but he still believes he can play in Italy, having come close to forcing his way into Harrington’s team.

“Like a lot of people, I thought Lee was going to be next in line, but I had heard that he now wants to focus on his own game and feels like it is going to be too much of a clash at this point in his career and the timeframe,” Stenson said this week.

“We’ll see what happens, but I have certainly got some experience as a vice-captain, and we’ll see if we need to put on the big shoes in the future. It’s still early to tell on that, but it’s good to be part of the conversation.

“I feel like if I can get my game to where I want it to be and where it can be, I can have another Ryder Cup in me. We’ll just have to see if we can make it happen. When was the last time we had a playing captain?” he laughed.

As for Rose, he’s also keen to win that sixth cap in the Eternal City.

“I don’t expect to be asked,” the Englishman told reporters in the Bahamas this week. “I am hopefully still too young to be a captain. Hopefully, I can still play, and hopefully, I have more to offer the team in other ways.

“Some of those mentioned for the captaincy are four or five years older than me, so I just don’t feel like it’s quite my time, as yet.

“My Ryder Cup priority is to earn a few more team caps, and I think it’s the same with Poults and Henrik who think they can still play, so it’s going to be tough for those picking a new captain given Lee has indicated he doesn’t want the captaincy.

“Poult’s brings energy. Henrik will bring diligence and his mindset.”

Harrington will have some influence on who gets the job when the European Tour sits down next year to choose a successor, but while he thinks there are plenty of candidates going forwards, it could come down to a choice between Stenson and Donald or a return to Bjorn.

“I do believe there is a nice natural succession in Europe,” Harrington said at Whistling Straits. “The players I see in the middle of their careers now — probably just slightly less than the middle of their careers to the middle of their careers — they’ve got great role models in the experienced players, and they see what they do.

“I think Europe is in a very strong place going forward, in terms of that. Clearly, we have the top-end experience, but there’s a nice succession coming along.”

Choosing a successor may not be quite so straightforward, given Westwood’s comments this week about the lack of clarity of thought from Europe’s top brass.

“They were telling me the Ryder Cup captaincy is a full-time job,” Westwood told Golf Digest. “I’m not going to argue with that; I don’t know if it is or not. But I spoke to Thomas Bjorn, and he told me I would definitely have to forego my career if I did become captain, which made me feel like another year would be a better fit for me.

“Anyway, I asked the tour to get back to me after a couple of weeks and tell me what is actually involved. Three weeks went by. So I rang up [Ryder Cup director] Guy Kinnings. I asked him if he had the list. He hadn’t, which immediately irritated me. So I told him I was going to take myself out of consideration.

“I mean, they told me it was a full-time job, but they couldn’t tell me what the job entailed. That was no good to me. If and when I do the job, I want to give it 100 percent.

“But right now, I don’t feel like I could do that. It would almost feel like the captaincy was getting in the way of everything else I want to do, which is hardly ideal. So I told them there must be someone better suited, right now at least, to the job than me. Someone who isn’t playing as much.

“I’m not dismissing the Ryder Cup captaincy completely. Only this time around. In a way, the captaincy is an admission that you are done as a player. I’m not ready to do that.”


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