Luke Donald has made a career out of proving people wrong and breaking American hearts in Ryder Cups. Now he’s trying to do it all over again in Rome as the leader of a new-look European team shorn of its most reliable performers.
Thrust into the role at late notice after Henrik Stenson defected to LIV Golf, Luke Donald has spent much of his captaincy dealing with resignations and trying to unite a team fractured by golf’s civil war. Donald accepts Europe are underdogs, but that was often the case when he was playing in the Ryder Cup and he was on the winning team in each of the four events he competed in.
As a student of the game, Donald kept notes on all the captains he played and worked under and is now using them in a bid to right the wrongs of Whistling Straits and uphold a 30-year-old winning record on home soil. As he explains, the pressure is on to get it right…
“When I was appointed last August, I said sometimes life gives you second chances, and it is then about what you do with that opportunity. That has been my approach to date and I also wanted to enjoy the journey of being captain. I’ve certainly done that so far.
No doubt we are going up against a very, very strong opponent. I think the US Presidents Cup team was the strongest they have ever been on paper. They have some phenomenal teams that seem to be tough to beat. You know, guys like (Xander) Schauffele and (Patrick) Cantlay, Justin (Thomas), and Jordan (Spieth); these guys have win records that are north of 80 percent.
It’s going to be a very tough challenge. I fully expect us to be underdogs, despite that home percentage of wins over the last 30 years.
I am excited about how the European team is shaping up. We have some hugely talented and in-form players, and we also have the motivation of trying to win back the Ryder Cup after what happened in Wisconsin. Our winning record in Europe is something we are clearly very proud of, and it is something we really want to extend.
One nice thing about being a home captain is you do have some control over how the course is set up. I have been to Marco Simone several times now, including having played in the last three Italian Opens, so I’ve given my input across that period. The template for European golf is to have a slightly narrower golf course, a little bit more rough, and greens that don’t get too fast, because that’s what the US guys are used to.
There’s definitely been times in the past when some players have managed to win seven, eight months out and been almost guaranteed to make the team. I think giving myself more picks will give me an opportunity to pick the best in-form team. I think that’s hugely important. It was a good statistical deep dive by Edoardo Molinari. He really helped form and shape that process.
It’s a shame that there were some resignations. A lot of those guys (Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia) have built their legacies around DP World Tour membership and their participation in the Ryder Cup. But ultimately that was their decision. I’m still excited about all the players we have on offer, both rookies and established players, and I think our team will be very good.
If you look back over recent Ryder Cups, Europe has always had great camaraderie and team spirit. It’s my role to create the right environment for the players to go out and perform. We’ve been working on a number of things to build that and to give us the best chance of success in Italy.
We are fortunate to have a great depth of talent in Europe and I think we can be encouraged not just for this Ryder Cup, but for future teams too. When I got the captaincy, I said there was an opportunity for some of the younger players to step up and state their case to be part of the team. I’ve really enjoyed watching them do that. It’s been great to see some of the potential rookies win on both sides of the Atlantic and equally, I’m very encouraged that so many players with previous Ryder Cup experience are in good form and are in or around the automatic qualification spots.
We were certainly upset at the manner of how we lost two years ago, and we are determined to ensure that doesn’t happen again. As a professional athlete, you never like losing, but defeat can also be a hugely motivating factor. My job as captain is to get the players in the right frame of mind to regain the Ryder Cup and what happened in Whistling Straits will certainly be one source of inspiration we will be drawing on.”
About the author
Today’s Golfer Features Editor
Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.
Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.
A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.
Away from golf he’s a keen amateur chef and has his own healthy recipes website. He also loves playing squash, going to the gym, and following Chelsea FC.