The DP World tour left Abu Dhabi for the short hour-long drive up to Dubai without naming a new European Ryder Cup captain for Rome next year. But it seems this will rectified sooner than later.
The meeting of the three immediate past captains, Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington – with Tour player director David Howell and chief executive Keith Pelley advising, but not voting – appears to have made its mind up on Luke Donald.
It’s the ideal compromise choice. There are the now-established surfeit of likely candidates, and the usual jostling for a preferred slot.
Donald was a four-time team member, and every team he played on won the cup. He might have played on more as he was unlucky to be omitted from Gleneagles in 2014, by his close friend Paul McGinley of all people. He was also in the mix for selection in 2016.
In more recent years, the former World No 1 hasn’t been really competitive at the top level. At 44 Donald’s smack in that ideal “captains” range between being a regular on tour and graduating to senior golf. And he’s been a vice-captain in the last two editions, getting a glowing endorsement from Harrington last week.
The political element
That rhythm 😍
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) December 7, 2021
Of course there’s also a political element that has crept into the selection. The “captains” range is also populated by players keener than most at taking the Saudi coin, either at their International tournament next month or potentially through their SGL concept.
Lee Westwood was thought to be a stick-on captain for Rome but withdrew from the running. He said that he still feels competitive and couldn’t lend the attention the job deserves.
This is a reasonable “excuse”, if you call it that. But his decision also means he can continue to flirt with the Saudi cash without things getting too awkward.
Henrik Stenson was also in the reckoning, but is another who has a contract to keep playing in Saudi.
The Swede once lost $8m in an unfortunate investment in the disgraced financier Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme. He’s perhaps understandably concerned with his limited earning opportunities at 45.
Ian Poulter was another mentioned, but Poults is probably holding out for 2025, when the Ryder Cup is scheduled for Bethpage Park, New York.
Phil Mickelson is generally understood to have lined that one up to be “official” US captain at last and despite his dire record in the event, Phil generally gets what he wants. Phil vs Poults is an obvious box-office cracker neither side wants to miss.
Westwood may have missed his chance
— Lee Westwood (@WestwoodLee) January 17, 2022
There are some who believe strongly that prominent captaincy candidates shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose their contests, and if they decline like Westwood then that’s their chance gone.
I don’t necessarily agree, mostly because Westwood hasn’t actually declined anything; he wasn’t appointed. But it’s effectively the risk he’s taking anyway.
With the captaincy slate set up the way it is now, Lee might not have another chance until 2027, when he’ll be 54. Even if he shoves Poulter aside to get 2025, Westwood would still be the oldest European captain since John Jacobs.
Also, Stenson, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell will all be in the hunt for the job by then, you’d think. McDowell certainly avidly wants the job in 2027, which is at Adare Manor in Ireland.
Donald might well have been one of those who was squeezed out of the reckoning just by the weight of suitable candidates available. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s going to be Westwood now.
Early season set-ups are always pretty easy
Rahm isn’t too happy with the easy conditions at the AmEx 😳 pic.twitter.com/mkj0gOqZgo
— Flushing It (@flushingitgolf) January 23, 2022
World No 1 Jon Rahm was not a happy bunny at the weekend’s PGA Tour American Express event, vocally and colourfully criticising the course set-up as a “putting competition”.
“Caught” by a fan’s social media video, Rahm will probably be quietly fined by the blazers. But while the level of scoring so far this season on the PGA Tour backs him up, I’m sort of puzzled the Spaniard was quite so upset.
It’s January. These are opening season knockabouts that are easing the players, gently, into a gruelling new season. The tour wants a low-scoring spectacle to open the season before the proper, serious business starts.
The level of scoring has a few of my fellow travellers in the modern-golf-is-too-easy brigade getting nervy, but we really only need proper set-ups starting in the middle of next month. Riviera, for the Genesis Invitational event, would seem an ideal place to start.
Until then, Rahm shouldn’t let his frustrations get the better of him. Come the high summer, when it really counts, his class should separate him from the pack.
Jamieson’s odd Abu Dhabi record
— Colin Montgomerie (@montgomeriefdn) January 24, 2022
Scott Jamieson led the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for three days before faltering on Sunday. I won’t surrender precious column inches to the few online cretins who branded him a “choker”, other than to re-iterate previous T2Gs on that word.
It is odd, however, that Jamieson appears to have such an affinity with Abu Dhabi. In the last four years, his worst finish is T11. In 2019, 2020 and 2021 he actually won his biggest cheque of each season in the event.
The aim this year, surely, is not to repeat that. Jamieson has been one of those Scots who has maybe not quite fulfilled his potential on tour. He’s not a multi-win-a-year type player, but he certainly has the game to have more than a win in 2011 and a second place in the Nedbank in 2017 as the career highlights.
Maybe this week in Dubai, the longest-established stop of the Gulf Swing.
Scots have a good record here – Monty and Stevie Gallacher won, and Robert MacIntyre had a good shot last year. Blown away in the gusts on Friday at Yas Links, expect a bounceback this week from him.