Ryder Cup: Europe’s Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald ‘fit the bill’ for captaincy – Ian Poulter


(l-r) Luke Donald, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harringont, Martin Kaymer and Robert Karlsson
Luke Donald (left) and Henrik Stenson (second left) were part of captain Padraig Harrington’s (fourth left) backroom team in Wisconsin

Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald are the stand-out candidates to succeed Padraig Harrington as Europe’s 2023 Ryder Cup captain in Rome, says Ian Poulter.

Stenson and Donald were vice-captains for last year’s record 19-9 thumping by the United States at Whistling Straits.

“[They are] a couple of guys who would fit the bill,” Poulter told BBC Sport.

Sweden’s Stenson, 45, has played in five Ryder Cups, winning three, while Englishman Donald was on the victorious side on all four of his appearances.

“A certain Mr Stenson, he would clearly qualify,” added Poulter, who has helped Europe win the biennial contest five times out of the seven he has played.

“He’s played so many and he’s in a position where I think he would like the opportunity to.

“And you have another golfer in Luke Donald who is also in a very similar position.”

Englishman Donald, 44, was an assistant to Thomas Bjorn in Europe’s most recent triumph at Le Golf National in Paris in 2018 and has not played in the Ryder Cup since 2012.

Lee Westwood was favourite for the job but Poulter understands why the Worksop golfer, who is in the world’s top 50 players, has taken himself out of the running.

“Competing in all the majors, WGCs and events where he feels he wants to focus on his golf, understandably for him it’s come a little too early,” said Poulter, who is preparing to play in the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, which starts on Thursday.

“He still feels he is fit enough to compete and you can certainly understand why Lee wants to concentrate on playing a bit more than taking the role.”

‘Youngsters need to step up’

Poulter is also not ready to call time on his own Ryder Cup playing career, especially after high finishes in the two most recent Rolex Series tournaments, last week in Abu Dhabi and last year’s season finale here in Dubai.

“I’ll be 48 and I feel I’ve got another one in me,” the current world number 53 said. “The hunger is still there. You know, it was a strong field last week, we had some great players playing.

“Obviously when you have a top-six finish you’ve played pretty well. The last time out at the Earth Course, just down the road, again I finished top six. So my last two starts on the DP World Tour, I’ve played well.”

But the Ryder Cup legend – who defeated Tony Finau at Whistling Straits to keep alive his proud record of never being beaten in the singles – knows that Europe face a huge task to avenge last September’s crushing defeat when they compete in Italy next year.

“I think you try and pull it apart to realise why we lost,” Poulter added. “It’s how well the American team played, how we as European players are going to look to the next 10 years, how we’re going to take on that young, energetic American team.

“We’ve got a few ageing players, me included, that can’t play an awful lot more. So we, as the elder statesmen of the team, look towards the youngsters that we need to come through.

“We have a decent group of young players. They need to step up, they need to start delivering to push themselves into a European team that can take on a strong US team.”

‘No problem’ in playing Saudi event

Poulter also defended his decision to play in next week’s Saudi International event which is now the flagship tournament on the Asian Tour.

The Saudis have injected $200m into the circuit and remain at the centre of rumours surrounding an upstart super league to challenge the established tours. “It’s a tournament I’ve played the last three years,” Poulter explained.

“I don’t see a problem in me going over there to play again even though it’s not a co-sanctioned event. I’ve played it, it’s a good course, they have a lot of world ranking points on offer.

“So for me playing next week is a continuation from how I’ve played the last few years. I’m committed at the minute to making sure I play on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

“At the minute the other tour isn’t a fully functioning tour so I can’t say any more than that because I don’t know if it’s going to happen. If it does, who knows?

“It’s different,” he added. “It’s a new format, a huge investment into the game of golf, so until it becomes real we’re all playing the guessing game.”

You can listen to more from Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Colin Montgomerie among others as Iain Carter looks ahead to the golfing year on a BBC Radio 5 Live golf special on Thursday from 20:00 BST.

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