European Ryder Cup captaincy selection turns to nightmare as USA unfazed in announcing Johnson

Bernie McGuire

The Ryder Cup - Getty Images

The process of selecting a new European Ryder Cup captain is turning into by far the biggest nightmare ever to face Europe either on or off the field in the 95-year-history of the biennial competition.

What was more recently a simple show of hands within the closed doors of a Wentworth board room is turning into the breakdown of a straightforward captaincy selection structure that Europe has utilised since the amalgamation of Europe with GB&I just over 40-years-ago.

The expected news, believed to be set for during next month’s Players Championship, of those European players set to join the breakaway Saudi Golf League (SGL) has the European Tour in seemingly damage control mode.

Former captain Padraig Harrington says he’s been gagged by the Tour from speaking about a new captain while Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood fronted, via a European Tour arranged Zoom call, a question-and-answer session early last week, the like that Stenson said was more akin to a ‘job interview or school presentation’.

Taking a step back for a moment.  We have finally heard from Luke Donald about his chances of being named the more-than-likely 2023 European Ryder Cup Captain.  Donald’s been the one player who’s been strongly hinted to get the Rome captaincy vote but also the one player, no-one has heard from.

“I was told that they (European Tour) were doing something that stopped them making a decision until towards the end of March”, said Donald to Golf Digest at this week’s Honda Classic. “Certainly, I being a candidate for being captain is a lot sooner than I thought I was in the pecking order”.

And though Donald may have broken his silence, we now have a remarkable scenario of Harrington being informed by the Ryder Cup selection committee to keep his mouth shut in addressing any question on the subject of the Rome captaincy.

How does one go about ‘gagging’ Harrington?

“I have been specifically asked not to talk about it,” Harrington said also to Golf Digest at PGA National. “An actual do-not-discuss order. I’m not allowed to discuss the timeline; I’m specifically not allowed to discuss who’s in it. They won’t want opinions getting out there. There are four guys in there with a chance and if I start talking about one, it could be misconstrued as me favouring them.”

If the selection of a new European Team captain sounds as though it’s getting totally bizarre, we have also had Stenson saying he felt he was attending a ‘school presentation’ when being a party to the 45-minute Zoom Ryder Cup conference call.

Irish Golfer Magazine had observed Stenson at last month’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and at one corner of the Players Lounge area and on the grass outside the Yas Island Links clubhouse, in front of all to see including corporate guests, in deep discussion with European Tour CEO Keith Pelley or it looked more akin to Pelley in discussion with the Swede.  And you did not need to be a good lip-reader to know that the subject of discussion was not if Stenson knew any new jokes or one-liners.

So, was Stenson any the wiser following Monday’s Zoom hook-up?

“It (the Zoom call) felt like something between a job interview and a school presentation”, said Stenson also to Golf Digest at PGA National. “It’s been a while since I’ve done that.  They’ll take the conversation and digest that, and come back with an answer they’re looking for somewhere towards mid-March”.

Mid-March?  After the PGL makes golf’s expected bombshell announcement?

Stenson was specifically asked if he sees joining the PGL as an obstacle to ever becoming a European Ryder Cup captain.

“That’s more of a question for the (European Ryder Cup selection) panel,” he said.

It was also a question our friends at GD put to Westwood who responded: “I don’t think it should have any bearing, but it may have a bearing in the future, yes.”

What seems abundantly clear is that the ‘permanent members’ of the European Ryder Cup voting panel – Guy Kinnings, as European Ryder Cup Director, European Tour CEO Pelley along with David Howell, as the Tournament Players Chairman – don’t know which way to turn.

The choosing of a new European Team captain has always been pretty simple but it’s not now as simple as just appointing a captain, but rather who from as many as four candidates is not going to ‘jump ship’ to the PGL.

We’ll no doubt know Harrington’s replacement mid-next month following the expected PGL announcement during the PGA Tour’s flagship Players Championship by subtracting those from the foursome set to join the (PGL).  What if all four in the Rome captaincy mix are named as new PGL stars?

Seriously, what we do know is that Westwood, currently ranked 41st in the world and presently aged 48, remains determined to fight his way into next year’s Rome side but then if Westwood’s name is read out during the week of The Players will the Englishman ever again represent Europe?

Westwood was on last Monday’s Zoom call from PGA National to Tour HQ in leafy Surrey but he was not giving anything away, happy to divert any questions on his availability in saying; “Donald and Stenson are probably the two who are out in front at the moment.  They’re a little bit younger and a little bit more in tune with the current players”.

One thing we can confirm for certain is that come Monday the USA Ryder Cup team will have a new captain in Zach Johnson.

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