Luke Donald has acknowledged that he could have players from the rebel Saudi circuit in his Ryder Cup team next year – including his sacked predecessor, Henrik Stenson.
Donald, 44, was officially appointed as Europe’s 2023 captain on Monday for next year’s match, replacing Stenson, who was stripped of the role last week after breaking the contract by signing up to the Saudi-funded circuit.
Stenson won on his Liv Golf debut in New Jersey on Sunday, collecting £3.65 million to add on to his £40m signing-on fee, both Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter declared that it would be wrong if he was not allowed to play his way onto Donald’s side in Rome.
After Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed last week that the former world No 1 would step up to lead the campaign to win back the trophy next September, Donald did not pull his punches, saying, “I will not do a Henrik” and promising, that unlike Stenson, “I will keep my word”.
Yet while repeating his unconditional allegiance – “I guarantee you that I will stay true to what I have agreed and will be here for 14 months” – Donald was rather more circumspect about Stenson, saying his goal was to create the “strongest” team possible to tackle Zach Johnson’s Americans, who will be looking to win on away soil for the first time in 30 years.
Donald left the door open when recognising that with a legal case in procedure it remains to be seen whether that included players who have defected to Liv. Stenson has indicated he will bring in the lawyers if he is treated differently to anyone else on the Liv roster and with Ian Poulter having won an 11th judgement last month to overturn a suspension and play in the Scottish Open, this is turning into a legal nightmare at Wentworth HQ.
“Part of being a captain is to create a strong 12-man unified team, and I'll be working on that over the next 14 months,” Donald said. “I'm not here really to talk about Liv and whether they will be eligible or not. Hopefully, we'll have some clarity on that situation and we can start making some decisions. There’s a legal situation going on. But I don't think that situation's going to get resolved any time soon.”
This means a state of flux, lasting way past the normal date for next month’s qualification to start. It seems ridiculous that Stenson could be fired as captain of a team for a match and then proceed to play in the match – and the DP World Tour will do everything to ensure that does not happen – but that is the chaotic world of golf at the moment. And Stenson’s remarkable display on his has only made the picture seem more frenzied still.
When the world No 171 arrived at Trump National Bedminster looking weary and drawn, nobody gave him a prayer. He was bizarrely feeling aggrieved and “hugely disappointed” at being dismissed. Yet somehow, the 2016 Open champion, steeled his focus and in a front-running display that would have graced any Tour, fended off Dustin Johnson and Matthew Wolff to win his first title in 2 1/2 years.
So excited and truly honoured to be named European Ryder Cup Captain, I’m really looking forward to the next 14 months & getting my team ready for Rome. pic.twitter.com/KnqaLxpfL1
— Luke Donald (@LukeDonald) August 1, 2022
Westwood – who benefited from Stenson’s command performance, because he was the captain of the Majestics team and received an additional £305,000 top of the £532,000 he picked up for coming sixth – sees no reason why Stenson and other Europe heavyweights such as the Ryder Cup’s all-time leading points scorer, Sergio Garcia, should not be at Marco Simone Country Club.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens with our DP World Tour membership and if we remain eligible for Ryder Cup qualification points,” he told Telegraph Sport. “Because if we do, there is no question that Henrik, in this form, would play his way on to the team. He is only 46. I played in last year’s match at 49.
“I don't know about the politics and wish they’d just make a decision on where we stand, but I can tell with you all certainty that if Henrik is back to his best or even approaching his best and his game is in this sort of nick, then as a European you’d want him on team in Rome.”
Poulter concurs. “An Henrik Stenson firing on all cylinders is a huge asset to the Europe Ryder Cup team,” he said.
Donald insisted he had had no second thoughts after being asked to take over from Stenson, saying other captains had had to navigate their way through difficult situations. “I was disappointed I didn't get the nod back in March but sometimes we're given second chances, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to making the most of it,” he said.