Peter Dawson mooted an interesting proposal when he was R&A Chief Executive. Facing a dearth of future Walker Cup captains because most former players now can’t wait to grab the enormous riches on offer in the professional game, Dawson suggested turning to tour pros who had played in the match.
Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington were among the names Dawson suggested. It was a great idea – still is. Imagine the extra publicity the biennial match would receive if Great Britain & Ireland turned up with a team led by any of the above three.
“What we need is a good leader of men,” Dawson said. “We have quite a few of those in the professional ranks who played in the Walker Cup.”
“A good leader of men” is what’s needed for next year’s Ryder Cup match in Italy. But who? Luke Donald? Henrik Stenson? Robert Karlsson. They are the men in the frame now that Lee Westwood has changed his mind on the captaincy to try to play in one more match. Westwood’s time will come, but his decision has thrown the Ryder Cup selection committee into something of a quandary.
Europe is spoilt for choice when it comes to future skippers. Aside from the above quartet, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy are all future candidates.
But are they all good leaders of men? It’s an important question in the wake of the battering Europe took at Whistling Straits last year. Who would have thought we’d see a Ryder Cup match when Europe was so completely outgunned considering Europe’s dominance in the match since 1985?
Doom merchants suggest next year’s match in Rome will be a lopsided affair, too. Colin Montgomerie, the 2010 captain, is so concerned at losing next year he’s publicly backed Donald for the captaincy.
“The safe pair of hands is Luke", Montgomerie said in Dubai this week. "The safe pair of hands is safer than another risk. We don’t need another risk at this time because if we lose in Rome I don’t fancy our chances in New York at Bethpage Black (in 2025).
"We’ve got to get a result in Rome or we might lose three in a row.
Padraig Harrington, last year’s European captain, has also publicly endorsed Donald.
“All I can say is that Luke would be great,” Harrington said. “Behind the scenes, he does a terrific job. His management style, he’s got the experience and I’d thoroughly recommend him.”
Donald certainly has Ryder Cup experience from making four appearances as a player, and serving as vice captain to Harrington and 2018 skipper Thomas Bjorn. Donald is also a former world number one and one of the easiest going players in world golf. The demands that go with being Ryder Cup captain wouldn’t faze him in the slightest. Question is: does he fits Dawson’s “good leader of men” criteria?
Will Donald have the courage to make the hard decisions needed to win back the cup? Can he look players in the eye and tell them they’re going to sit out a session because they’re underperforming? Even if that player happens to be a Rory McIlroy, a Jon Rahm or an Ian Poulter? One thing's for sure, he won’t have to worry about team spirit. European teams have that in abundance.
Is Karlsson a strong enough character to lead Europe in Rome? Is Stenson?
I don't buy into the theory that America will blow Europe away in Rome. The match is a long way off and we have no idea at this point in time how members of both teams will be performing. Besides, the capricious nature of head-to-head golf means anything can happen in 18-hole match play and probably will. Many so-called "weaker" European teams have proved that.
However, a strong leader is required next year to give Europe a fighting chance. The Ryder Cup committee needs to take Dawson’s words to heart and pick the best person for the job.
Who’s your choice?
#JustSaying: “If you’ve got an ego, hang it on the hook outside the door because there’s no room for egos in here. We’re all equal and it falls on me to do what I’ve got to do, and it falls on you guys to do what you’ve got to do and together we’re going to do all we can for the team.” Tony Jacklin’s first words to his 1983 European Ryder Cup team