VIRGINIA WATER, England — In the wake of what turned out to be a highly successful Ryder Cup captaincy at Gleneagles in 2014, Paul McGinley was quick to pay tribute to the positive experience he gained while skippering Great Britain & Ireland against the Continent of Europe in the eventually defunct Seve Trophy. And now Luke Donald, who will lead Europe in the Ryder Cup in Italy in 2023, is to be given a similar opportunity to flex his captaincy muscles.
In January, a new match-play contest between GB&I and the continent will take place at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Two 10-man teams will compete over three days, Jan. 13-15, for the Hero Cup, with Donald over-seeing the roles of the two as-yet unnamed captains. Twenty points will be available over the course of the three sessions—five foursomes, five four-balls and 10 singles.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of this week’s BMW PGA Championship—an event Donald has won twice—the 43-year-old Englishman was quick to confirm the potential benefits that the Hero Cup will bring. Both for himself and for prospective team members.
“I’ve talked to a few of my predecessors over the last month or so and they all identified the Seve Trophy as an important part of the journey towards becoming a Ryder Cup player or captain,” Donald said. “It’s nice to create team events that get players together. It will be especially useful for players who have not been involved before. This event is part of the process to get them understanding how important they are. We’ll be trying to get as good a field as possible.”
On that front, Donald is almost certain to be without the four Europeans—Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm and Matt Fitzpatrick—who won events during the just-finishes 2021-22 PGA Tour season. All are more than likely to be in Hawaii to compete in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, one week before the Hero Cup. Still, as Donald pointed out, the match in the Middle East will be useful practice for those who have less extensive experience of team golf.
Where the former World No. 1 was less definitive was when the inevitable question regarding LIV golfers came up: Will they be eligible for the Ryder Cup? And, to his credit, Donald did a pretty good impersonation of a politician by answering another question altogether.
“All I can control is right now and the decisions in front of me,” he said. “That’s something totally out of my control. It’s going to be down the road. I’ll deal with it when it comes. There have been many challenges from different Ryder Cups in the past. Sam Torrance had to have a team [picked in 2001 but playing in 2002 due to 9/11 delaying he event] that a year later, some of the players weren’t playing nearly as well when they were picks. Monty had an issue with the weather (2010 at Celtic Manor) and had to completely change the format. There have always been challenges.”
What Donald did reveal is that one of his vice captains, Edoardo Molinari, will be handling the statistical side of the Ryder Cup operation, both when it comes to the six captain’s picks available and the subsequent pairings once the side is finalized.
“Statistically, it makes sense for us to have six picks,” Donald said. “I didn’t really see any downside with having more picks. I think form leading up to a Ryder Cup is key, and that will give us an opportunity to see who is playing the best. I think a few of the picks will probably be self-explanatory, and it’s nice to have other picks to round out the team, create great partnerships, great foursomes and fourball pairings that really work. I’ll also be looking at players that suit the course at Marco Simone. So having six picks is nice. It gives me a lot of flexibility to really choose the strongest lineup.”