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New Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald motivated by ‘bitter’ memories of 2021 defeat

Luke Donald will captain Europe’s Ryder Cup side in 2023 following the sacking of Henrik Stenson (David Davies/PA)
Luke Donald will captain Europe’s Ryder Cup side in 2023 following the sacking of Henrik Stenson (David Davies/PA)

Luke Donald will be motivated by the “bitter” memories of a record Ryder Cup defeat at Whistling Straits after succeeding the sacked Henrik Stenson as Europe’s captain.

Stenson was appointed on March 15, but the Swede’s tenure lasted just 127 days before he was stripped of the role for breaking his contract by joining the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series.

Donald, who turned down an offer from LIV to commentate on their events, said when linked with the role that he would not be “doing a Henrik” and reiterated his commitment following confirmation of his appointment.

“I’m giving you my word that I will be here for the next 14 months,” Donald said. “I’m excited about this opportunity, I really am. The Ryder Cup means so much to me and I’m not going to take this lightly, so I will see you in Rome.”

Donald was on the winning side in all four Ryder Cup appearances as a player, including the record wins in 2004 and 2006 and the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012, where he won the opening singles against Bubba Watson as Europe overturned a 10-6 deficit on the final day.

The 44-year-old, who spent a total of 56 weeks as world number one, was also a vice-captain under Thomas Bjorn for the win in Paris in 2018, with his only experience of defeat to date coming in the same role under Padraig Harrington for last year’s 19-9 thrashing in Wisconsin.

“I think the DP World Tour and the Ryder Cup Committee have a great template in place,” Donald said when asked about the difficulty of regaining the trophy next September.

Ryder Cup
Team USA celebrate with the Ryder Cup trophy after beating Europe 19-9 at Whistling Straits (Anthony Behar/PA)

“We have had a lot of success over the years. We’ve won seven of the last 10, nine of the last 13. So certainly last year’s defeat was very bitter. It was tough to swallow. It was the first time I was ever on a losing team and it’s not nice.

“But sometimes failure can really motivate you, and I certainly know that the players will be motivated to win back that cup, and I will be doing everything I can to get those guys in the right frame of mind to put us in a position.

“We had some things going against us, obviously Covid and not having the support that we usually do even at an away match. So hopefully this time will be a little bit easier in terms of having a great crowd support.

“Some of my best experiences in golf have been in the Ryder Cup and I would not swap those for anything. It is an event like no other and I cannot wait to create more special memories in Italy next year.”

Luke Donald
Team Europe’s Viktor Hovland with vice-captain Luke Donald during day two of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits (Anthony Behar/PA)

While the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry and US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick would appear near-certainties to be on the plane to Italy, it remains to be seen if LIV players will be eligible.

DP World Tour members who were banned from the Scottish Open for playing the first LIV event in June without permission won a temporary stay of their suspension pending a determination of their substantive appeals.

The likes of Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood therefore feel they remain eligible to try to qualify and Ryder Cup director Guy Kinnings said: “There are legal appeals ongoing and until such time the players are entitled to play.

“The Ryder Cup qualification process, when it does get announced…. then the points will run, but I suspect they will be much as they are with the PGA of America, listing players that are mentioned but subject to eligibility.”

Donald’s appointment came just hours after Stenson pocketed 4.375million US dollars (£3.5million) on his LIV debut, the 46-year-old winning the individual event and finishing second in the team competition at Trump National Golf Club.

That was gleefully described as “the greatest F/U in the history of Golf” on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr, whose father – former US president Donald Trump – owns the course in New Jersey.

But Donald stressed that he remains friends with Stenson and has no qualms about effectively being second choice for the captaincy.

“To be honest, 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,” added Donald, who will retain Stenson’s vice-captains Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari.

“I can only speak personally. Henrik has made his decisions and he’s got his reasons for it, and I’m not really here to judge that. We have spoken. Everything is totally fine between us. We’re friends and next time I see him I’ll congratulate him.

“He obviously played great yesterday (Sunday) and fair play to him. I’m concentrating now on being captain. This is something I’ve always wanted to do.

“I’ve had amazing experiences in Ryder Cups and this feels kind of like a Lifetime Achievement Award in a way; a kind of reward for everything I’ve done for the Ryder Cup and for golf, and to be a part of this is truly very special.”