Exclusive by Bernie McGuire in Saudi.
Graeme McDowell’s dream of captaining the European Ryder Cup team on Irish soil is fading as he realises Lee Westwood is likely now to be handed the Adare Manor team reins in 2027.
McDowell’s name to captain Europe on Irish home soil has been mooted a number of times since fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington appointed him a vice-captain for last year’s Ryder Cup. McDowell has been a part of four successive Europe Ryder Cup teams from 2008 to 2014 and holed the winning putt in 2010 at Celtic Manor.
‘GMac’ was also a vice-captain under Thomas Bjorn in 2018 in Versailles and again took on the role under Harrington at Whistling Straits in September.
However, the decision by Westwood not to put his hand up for the Rome captaincy in 2023 now leaves the European captaincy door wide open for Luke Donald, along with Ian Poulter to lead Europe in 2025 at Bethpage Park, and only strengthening Westwood’s case for Adare Manor.
Westwood, currently World No. 41, would be aged 54 at the time of the Adare Manor Ryder Cup while McDowell would be aged 48.
McDowell spoke to Irish Golfer Magazine, not of his disappointment, but the 2027 realisation he may now be facing during Wednesday’s Pro-Am at the Saudi Invitational at the Royal Green course laid out along the stunning-looking Red Sea.
“It would seem now with what is unfolding ahead of naming a 2023 European Team captain is that my opportunity to captain Europe at Adare Manor in 2027 looks less realistic than it was,” said McDowell.
“It would seem now Westy (Lee Westwood) may be the choice in 2027 and if that is the case he should be appointed, and rightly so.
“Lee’s one of the greatest Ryder Cup players of all time, and when it comes to future Ryder Cup captain’s he is more senior when it comes to Ryder Cup’s and as a player.
“The way I now see it, Luke (Donald) for ’23 in Rome, Poults (Ian Poulter) for ’25 at Bethpage Park, and Westy for Adare Manor in ’27. Then for ’29, I will have turned 50 but you’re then looking at players like Rose, Stenson, Garcia, and myself who could be appointed captain.
“I still have a tremendous shot of being a European captain but then if it doesn’t happen in either ’27, ’29 or whenever it certainly is not going to change my life. So, would it be amazing to be a Ryder Cup captain on home soil in Ireland? Of course, it would be.
“And as I’ve said before, it would be a dream come true but then if it is Westy who is the choice for ’27 then I may get my chance in ’29 at Hazeltine because if I can lead Europe to victory then I can’t mind where that would be.”
Among McDowell’s pro-am partners was big-hitting LET star Isabella Deilert who clearly enjoyed walking the Royal Greens club fairways with McDowell.
McDowell has contested all three Saudi Internationals and in 2020 he ended a six-year European Tour winless run along the Red Sea shoreline by denying defending champ and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson a second title by two shots.
And McDowell did so despite being controversially put on the clock by European Tour referee Mark Litten after he agreed to an on-course interview with SKY Sports.
“There’s always that little bit of extra confidence and belief, or whatever you want to call it, coming back to a venue where you have won,” he said.
“It is only two years ago we won here, and in saying that, it is an important year for me this year. This is my 21st year as a pro and I want to refocus and looking also for a little dis-injection of confidence and momentum.”
As I walked the last handful of holes with McDowell in the pro-am, I asked if there was a key shot he played on route to victory in 2020, and as it happened I placed the question to him as he played his second shot into the downhill dogleg left par-4 15th hole.
McDowell’s long-time caddy Ken Comboy answered.
“The setting sun was in our eyes hitting into the 15th and Graeme hit this shot and he’s saying ‘where’s that, where’s that?’. We thought it was close but why aren’t they clapping,” said Comboy.
McDowell remarked: “It turns out everyone was in the corporate hospitality hut (pointing at the building also in place alongside the 16th green). It turns out, it landed three feet from the hole for a nice tap-in birdie.
“In the bigger picture that week I also holed two mental putts including holing a massive putt on 12 and both on Saturday that was really key to my win.”
Also in this week’s $5m Asian Tour-sanctioned event is fellow Irish Shane Lowry, who will play the opening two rounds in the company of McDowell, and Ardglass Cormac Sharvin who is making his 2022 season debut.
SAUDI INTERNATIONAL – IRISH TEE TIMES (Irish time)
- Shane Lowry & Graeme McDowell same group – 5.10am
- Cormac Sharvin – 10.10am