Exclusive: Luke Donald on Ryder Cup, Hero Cup & relationship with long-time LIV friends

Bernie McGuire
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Luke Donald - Getty Images

By Bernie McGuire in the Bahamas.

It has been four months to the day since Luke Donald was handed the captaincy reins to the 2023 European Ryder Cup team.

Donald took over the captaincy following the sacking of Henrik Stenson, and this after the Swede joined the ranks of LIV Golf.

Stenson was always in the mix to be appointed the replacement to 2021 captain, Padraig Harrington, and it came as no surprise on March 23rd when the European Tour confirmed his appointment.

However, what then transpired was unprecedented in Ryder Cup history and, for that matter, in the history of men’s professional golf, when on July 20th Stenson was stripped of the captaincy.

Donald, who has the distinction of playing in four winning European Ryder Cup sides, was always going to lead Europe and since his appointment he’s already strongly displaying the qualities of leadership.

He has started playing more in DP World Tour events, including the recent Nedbank Challenge while a week later he was in Dubai, having arranged a meeting with members of Harrington’s 2021 team in an informal environment within the Jumeirah Estates clubhouse.

And, as we have seen, it was Donald who was at the heart of re-establishing a team event among the European players with the first hosting in January of the Hero Cup.

“It’s been busy straight from day one when I was appointed on August 1st,” said Donald.

“There is already a lot that’s been going on behind the scenes and especially as the home captain. There are a lot of decisions that fall upon you to make, though in saying that, it’s been energising and it’s certainly given me a good focus, and the good thing is that I am enjoying the role.

“I find it comes with the job that it’s an obligation as a captain to play alongside them throughout the year and then once every two years, we try and bring a European side together.”

Aside from never having been in a losing European team, the four-time Ryder Cup capped Donald has the experience in a vice-captaincy role, first under Thomas Bjorn at Versailles in 2018 and Harrington late last year.

“Having been a vice-captain has provided me with great experience though I did not enjoy the experience last year at Whistling Straits, as it’s never fun being on a losing side,” he said.

On playing in four winning European Teams, he added;

“Yes, that is something I am very proud of while I was a vice-captain under Thomas’ side in France.”

Of course, there is no escaping the scenario present when Donald was approached to take over from Stenson, and with the likes of now LIV Golf players Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell very much in frame to be appointed a European Ryder Cup captain.

However, to Donald’s enormous credit, he’s stayed away from the controversy, even admitting LIV stars will continue to remain his friends.

“What going on in men’s professional golf at the moment is still kind of up in the air and I’m trying not to think about it,” said Donald.

“I know there’s a court hearing coming-up in February with the European Tour and LIV, so we are going to have to wait and see where it goes from there.

“And while I may be good friends with guys like Lee (Westwood), Sergio (Garcia) and many others, I am sure they know that my role is not to be political, nor is it my job to have any influence on those decisions.

“It’s not like I am coming out saying ‘this and that’, so far I’ve not had to face that.”

As hinted, Donald has never been a controversial golfer and, in stark contrast, has been long admired as a true gentleman of the sport.

“There’s always a way to avoid any controversy, and you leave that to others,” he said.

So what’s the next Ryder Cup box to tick for Donald?

“The Hero Cup is the next big thing, so it’s going to be good to be in that team atmosphere and be there for Tommy and Francesco, so I will be overseeing a lot of what will be going on including discussions with all the players.

“It’s going to be a nice kind of dry run for me, as well.”

And there’s Donald’s schedule, with the Chicago-based Brit already on record that he will be playing more on the DP World Tour in the countdown to late September.

“It is going to be quite busy as I will play more on the DP World Tour but I also want to play a lot of events on the PGA Tour, so that I can be around the guys on both tours, get to know them better.

“So, I am going to be playing a lot on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I’m also entered for the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic and I plan to go back to the States and play the AT&T at Pebble Beach, and if I get into the Phoenix and LA, then I will play those.

“So, it’s going to be a busy new season for me.”

FOOTNOTE 

Luke was speaking with Irish Golfer Magazine here in Albany but only after having played 10-holes in the storm-affected pro-am for the Hero World Challenge. He was a guest of Hero and was only in The Bahamas for the day.

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