Rory McIlroy has all but closed the route back into the European Ryder Cup team room for the LIV rebels by saying that their presence in Rome would have prohibited the side’s superstars from “flourishing”.
Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood all sent messages of congratulations to Luke Donald after his men saw off the US with a comfortable 16½-11½ victory at Marco Simone Golf Country Club on Sunday.
That trio – and others such as Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell – were excluded from this year’s match because they resigned their DP World Tour memberships in the wake of being hit with fines and bans for playing in the LIV Golf League.
But the surprise truce between the Saudi sovereign wealth fund – which bankrolls LIV – and the PGA Tour and European circuit has given hope to the defectors that, as part of the ongoing negotiations, they will be presented with a path back into the fold.
Westwood maintains he will never rejoin the Tour, but Poulter and Garcia have both spoken of their wish to return, if only to be involved in future Ryder Cups. They might be alarmed by the comments of McIlroy – their friend and former team-mate – as he essentially declared that Europe did better without them in Rome.
“So the one thing I would say is that they’ve had unbelievable Ryder Cup careers and they’ve made their choices, and they’ve done what they’ve done and no one can take away the impact that they’ve had for the European team over the years,” McIlroy said on Monday. “But I feel like this week, not having those big personalities in the team room let other guys have that chance to flourish and to shine: Viktor [Hovland], Jon [Rahm], myself.
“There wasn’t a ton of space taken up in that room by some of the other big personalities and I think that let the rest of the team just sort of flourish. It’s a young team. We can all grow together. I could potentially be the oldest person on the team next time. It’s a new era. And it’s a pretty good one.”
Shane Lowry concurred. “I think not having those guys there this week gave certain guys the opportunity to be something different in the team room,” he said. “And I think that made a big difference. We have had three of the world’s top four [ranked] players in the team room this week. Those [LIV] guys are obviously big Ryder Cup legends and have been amazing. But if they had been in the team room, maybe Rory, Jon and Viktor wouldn’t have been what they were this week.”
Between them, the threesome – who are world Nos 2, 3 and 4 respectively – remarkably contributed 10 points to the Europe total, only losing two out of 14 matches. Donald, the Europe captain, emphasised their influence.
“Your superstars – especially when they are three of the world’s top-four players – have to perform and they did,” Donald said. “No way the other guys can pick up that slack. At one point I wanted to play all of them. John had talked to me about how drained he felt two years ago playing the singles. He is a very passionate guy. It takes a lot out of him. Viktor, Jon and of course, Rory were a massive part of this win.”
The spotlight will inevitably fall on the captaincy, with McIlroy, Lowry and apparently the rest of the team emphatically in favour of Donald staying on for 2025. However, Lowry believes the Europe team are well placed regardless.
“We have built the bones of an amazing future team here this week,” he said. “Ludvig [Aberg], Nicolai [Hojgaard], Viktor, Rahmbo aren’t old. Rory is not old, Tommy is not old. Everyone is pretty young in the team room.
“And I am not even talking about the 12 players who are here. I am talking about Rasmus Hojgaard, Vincent Norman and Adrian Meronk. Look at all the young players in Europe coming up, we have a great foundation now for the future and I think it is a great chance to look forward.
“I think if we do things right we can be successful over there and I want to be a part of that. It has got to be one of my goals over the next few years.”
Lowry hitched a lift back to his South Florida home on McIlroy’s private jet on Monday afternoon. A few of the Europe team are competing in this week’s Dunhill Links at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, including Tommy Fleetwood, Bob MacIntyre and Matt Fitzpatrick. McIlroy felt sad to be leaving the team environment.
“It’s actually these mornings that are the hardest,” he said. “You’re having to say goodbye to people, you’re not going to see them in a while. It’s only a week, but they feel like they become family in a way. So we’re already making plans to all catch up at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in a month’s or so time.”