GLENEAGLES, Scotland – This is, to use an old Scottish phrase, “steamie talk”. In other words, following the controversial removal of Henrik Stenson as European Ryder Cup captain, the identity of the Swede’s successor is the No. 1 topic of conversation at the Senior British Open. Which is logical. No less than 20 members of the 144-person field here at Gleneagles represented the Old World in the biennial competition. And eight of them went on to fill the role vacated by Stenson.
At first, the chatter centered on the good and bad sides of this unfortunate affair. Predictably, Stenson’s actions are widely condemned and have caused a mixture of anger and sadness among players and DP World Tour staff. Famous for their closeness and camaraderie over the years, the vast majority of 50-year-olds gathered in the shadow of the Ochil Hills view five-time Ryder Cupper’s decision to join the LIV Golf extravaganza as nothing less than a betrayal of what has always been presented as a united cause.
However, things are moving forward. And gossip is no exception. Now that Stenson has been shown the exit, speculation is rife over who will lead the European team in Italy in September 2023 and how the decision will be made.
“We don’t have as many options as a few months ago,” says Jose Maria Olazabal, who led Europe to a famous victory in Medina in 2012. “A lot of potential candidates are already on the LIV Tour I think we have only three possibilities left: Paul Lawrie, Luke Donald and Thomas Bjorn.
Seven-time Ryder Cup player Olazabal argues Donald of the three is more fit for a game in the United States. “He made his home and his life there,” Olazabal says. “Getting to the site would be easy for him.” That leaves him leading Lawrie and Bjorn for Rome in 14 months. “Both would be fine. Thomas has experience. He did a great job in 2018. But Paul has played enough times to know what the job entails. I wouldn’t be unhappy if he got the job.
As for how the final decision should be made, Ian Woosnam, European captain of K Club in 2006, keeps things simple. The little Welshman thinks as fast as he plays.
“To me, they should just start the process over again,” he says. “I don’t think they should do anything different. That would be the fairest way. It’s not like it’s going to take long. A meeting would suffice. »
Anyway, let’s take a close look at the most prominent names in the frame, with one addition to Olazabal’s list of suitors.
By all accounts, the former world No. 1 was more than a little miffed that he didn’t get the job on the first try. And, to some extent, Donald was right. Even in March this year, Stenson’s appointment was seen as a bit “uncertain”, with his name cropping up quite often whenever LIV Golf was mentioned.
By that measure alone, Donald should be considered a favorite. The 44-year-old Englishman has played in four (winning) Ryder Cups with some distinction, his 10-4-1 record a clear reason for pride. And he was twice an assistant, for Bjorn in 2018 at Le Golf National and again under Padraig Harrington in 2021 at Whistling Straits. Perhaps the only slight blow to his candidacy is that he has hardly been a strong supporter of his home circuit. In his 21-year professional career, Donald has only competed in a relatively paltry 183 European/DP World Tour events.
Lawrie has never hidden his interest in being European captain. More than once, the 53-year-old raised his hand in the air. But each time he did, he came away disappointed, which is strange. A great champion and respected by all both for the undeniable quality of his game and for his work outside the circuit (his eponymous junior foundation in the northeast of Scotland introduced golf to thousands of young people), Lawrie, veteran of 621 European/DP World Tour events, ticks many Ryder Cup boxes.
“I’d like to see Paul get the job,” says Peter Baker, Ryder Cup player in 1993 and Woosnam assistant 16 years ago. “He absolutely deserves it. He would be a very good captain. And, apart from anything else, he has done so much for the game.”
Lawrie has another supporter in former US Senior Open and PGA champion Roger Chapman.
“I really think Paul is worth it,” says the Englishman. “I’m not sure he gets it though. Thomas will promote himself. No question. But I would go for Paul. He would be a fucking good captain.
A two-time European player (13 years apart in 1999 and 2012), Lawrie has a commendable 4-3-1 record despite never playing a game at home. Assistant to Darren Clarke in the 2016 matches at Hazeltine National, the former Open champion has been strangely (and possibly significantly) overlooked since, which is clearly unnerving.
Speaking to The Scotsman newspaper this week, Lawrie was quick to point out that the upcoming selection process should follow the same path as the original. In other words, only he, Karlsson and Donald should be questioned. And the final decision is expected to be made by the same five-person panel which includes the three most recent former captains – Harrington, Bjorn and Clarke – DP World Tour general manager Keith Pelley and David Howell, chairman of the tournament committee of the tour.
“If it’s not, then it’s a joke, to be honest,” Lawrie said. “It has to be like before. You’re still trying to nominate the captain for a role, you’re not looking for something different.
It remains to be seen whether or not making this frank opinion public is the right thing to do.
The 51-year-old is seen by many as a pair of safe hands in this unprecedented situation, Bjorn’s captaincy of the 2018 European team winners in France was widely applauded. Unlike his American counterpart, Jim Furyk, the Dane arrived at Le Golf National armed with a team well suited to the requirements of the course. Bjorn had clearly done his homework and planned meticulously.
Yet, as Lawrie pointed out this week, it would be truly odd for a man involved in the selection process to be appointed to a position that is not only prestigious, but highly lucrative. So if Bjorn were to be a candidate, he would surely recuse himself from the aforementioned five-member committee.
Either way, Bjorn could well get the job if past (and winning) experience is, as Olazabal pointed out, seen as an essential part of transitioning from controversy to calm.
There is, however, another aspect to this. More than one player requested anonymity when he espoused the cynical opinion that Bjorn (former chairman of the tour’s tournament committee and now a board member) will ultimately benefit the most from his credentials. establishment.
“It’s done,” said one of them, summing up the prevailing feeling. “Thomas will be taken care of.”
The lanky Swede is a long shot this time around for several reasons. First, rightly or wrongly, his nationality will not be seen by many as an asset in the current climate. And second, the 52-year-old Karlsson plays most of his golf on the PGA Tour Champions these days, not exactly the best way to stay on top of all things DP World Tour.
Yet, by all accounts, he has been an outstanding assistant at the last two Ryder Cups. Look for him to possibly make it a hat-trick of backup roles in Italy, especially if Bjorn gets the top job.