Who Will Be The Next Ryder Cup Captains
Such is the cruelty of sport, winning captains are geniuses, losing ones are failures, but that's the scrutiny of the Ryder Cup. Steve Stricker won "his major" by leading the United States to a record success at Whistling Straits, while Padraig Harrington will be left to rue being the victim of bad timing - he simply faced an unstoppable American side.
However, now eyes look forward to 2023 and Italy, where Europe will defend an unbeaten home run spanning 30 years, with the US hoping to assert their dominance on away soil. It won't be long until the next captains are revealed, and there isn't a shortage of candidates.
Both sides have now long adopted the process of appointing leaders who have been an integral part of the backroom in previous cups, and there is no reason to expect that trend to be deviated from.
We take a closer look at some of the potential captains we could see leading their teams in Rome.
Part of a golden era for Europe, Luke Donald won all four Ryder Cups in which he was a player - 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012 - and he has quietly progressed into a behind the scenes role, serving as a vice-captain in 2018 and 2021. Despite being shy of his 44th birthday, the Englishman seems unlikely to recapture that past sparkling form on the course, so Italy may prove to be time to captain for the former world number one.
Tying Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances at Whistling Straits, Lee Westwood will be 50 when the next Ryder Cup comes round, but the former world number one (a vice captain in 2018) sounded unsure about captaining when speaking to Sky Sports in the aftermath of the record loss in Wisconsin. “I love playing. I don’t know whether I’d miss it too much. I feel like I’ve still got the nerve. I proved that today. And playing beats sitting there watching other people. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was in Paris sitting there watching the lads play. It almost feels like going into semi-retirement and you’re retired a long time. I’m not sure. I’m not sure whether I’m ready for semi-retirement yet. I literally love working hard and I love it too much to stop."
The European talisman is a Ryder Cup icon and maintained his unbeaten singles record at Whistling Straits. Despite being 45 and having relied on yet another wildcard pick in Wisconsin, the Englishman will likely feel that he has another playing appearance in him. He did serve as a vice-captain under Darren Clarke in 2016, but somehow, a lively 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage in New York seems more suitable for a captain Poulter.
When the event has been taken to continental Europe before, in 1997 and 2018, Seve Ballesteros and Thomas Bjorn were the captains, so having a non-British or Irish figurehead may again be suitable for Italy. The Champion Golfer of 2016 has shown encouraging form lately - so may back himself to qualify next time as a player - but his first vice-captaincy places him in the running to step up as captain in 2023.
So, those are some possibilities for Europe, but what about the United States, who will be attempting to retain the cup for the first time since 1993...
Winner of a Masters Tournament and The Open at St Andrews, Zach Johnson's playing career is Hall of Fame worthy, but in more recent years he has been a figure behind the United States team. The 45-year-old was a Ryder Cup vice-captain under Jim Furyk in 2018 and Steve Stricker in 2021, while he also took on that role under Tiger Woods in the 2019 Presidents Cup. The Iowan seems prepared to take on the leading position in 2023.
Despite making history by winning the PGA Championship in May, the 51-year-old's days of representing the United States as a player are likely over, following an unbroken run between 1994 and 2018. Serving as a vice-captain under Steve Stricker, many expect to see Mickelson captain at Bethpage in 2025, but the opportunity may come sooner. Whenever it happens, it will be blockbuster viewing after Mickelson's infamous critique of Tom Watson in 2014.
Since his shattering car accident in February, Tiger Woods has been quietly recovering at home, but his influence over this young American team remained evident through messages and regular communication. The 15-time major champion was a Ryder Cup vice-captain in 2016, took on that same role in the 2017 Presidents Cup, and then successfully led the United States to victory at Royal Melbourne in 2019. His playing future is unknown, but potentially a captaincy in Italy could be the magic touch for the US as they seek a first away triumph in the Ryder Cup since 1993.
Certainly, the least likely of these options, the former Masters champion is vastly experienced, having led the United States three times as captain in the Presidents Cup, but he was surprisingly overlooked by the US Task Force for 2016 due to concerns about his relaxed attitude. Since then, Couples was a Presidents Cup vice-captain in 2015, 2017 and 2019, while he was back in the fold at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Despite being in his 60s, Couples remains connected with the players and maybe his loose approach is what America needs to end a long losing streak away from home.
It will be fascinating to see how Europe reacts to the crushing defeat at Whistling Straits, but the first major decision will be the captaincy, a daunting task for anyone seeking to halt the newfound momentum of this remarkable United States team.
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