Rory McIlroy, the captain of the Ryder Cup? Why not? | Golf News and Tour Information
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Fire Pit Collective, a content partner of Golf Digest.
AUCHTERARDER, Scotland—Have you heard of the Ryder Cup talk being held at the Senior British Open here in Gleneagles, a former Ryder Cup venue, and won by Darren Clarke, a former Ryder Cup captain?
Rory McIlroy is in contention as an emergency replacement for the Europeans at next year’s Ryder Cup now that Henrik Stenson has been sacked.
OK, in the interest of full, necessary and immediate disclosure:
When I say ‘go around’ it means I pitched the idea to my Scottish colleague John Huggan while having lunch here on Sunday. So when I say “people” I pretty much mean Huggan and me.
From my perspective, McIlroy would be the player captain and the face of the European team, the first Ryder Cup player captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963. A deputy would be the detail manager.
About Huggan: Remember Phil Mickelson’s quote about “abhorrent greed” about the PGA Tour? Mickelson said that to Huggan at Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on February 2. In that same interview, Mickelson said, “My ultimate loyalty is to the game of golf and what it has given me.”
There was no mention of the LIV golf league in Huggan’s GolfDigest.com story because the name was not yet in public circulation. Huggan asked this question in the article about Mickelson: “Will he make the jump to the Saudi-backed Super Golf League?”
It’s been a long semester since then. Stenson’s dismissal as European Ryder Cup captain, just before he announced his intention to join LIV Golf and playing his first LIV event this week in New Jersey is part of the upheaval. Now the Ryder Cup Europe is trying to find its successor. Among the candidates under consideration are Luke Donald, Paul Lawrie and Thomas Bjorn.
My suggestion is to install McIlroy as player captain and make Lawrie, his new honorary member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, his principal assistant, the person who does everything behind the scenes. McIlroy would be the main actor in the many Ryder Cup press conferences, television appearances and corporate meetings, but he would get a break from it all while playing. McIlroy won the Open at Hoylake in 2014. Lawrie won it at Carnoustie in 1999.
Lawrie, by the way, has played in two British Opens this year, the St. Andrews Open and the Gleneagles Senior Open. Part of the considerable charm of the Senior Open is seeing Open winners attempt an unlikely double.
Clarke, who also played at the Old Course, won the Open in 2011 and with his win he is now part of a small club of golfers who have won both, along with Gary Player, Tom Watson and Bob Charles. Maybe Stenson, who won at Royal Troon in 2016, will one day join the club. He’s 46, so his wait for 2026 is on. Next year’s Senior Open will be held at Royal Porthcawl, Wales.
Regarding Porthcawl: If you can get there, for the Senior Open or any other time, I urge you to do so. Alan Shipnuck and I played there in 2010 when the Ryder Cup was on the road at the forgettable Celtic Manor. Porthcawl, on the other hand, is one of the best courses you could hope to play (or see). Stewart Cink, winner of the 2009 Open, can try to become the fifth player with a career Open-Open double at Porthcawl. He will be 50 next May.
The runner-up for this year’s Senior Open, played on the King’s course, was fellow (twice!) Open champion and former Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington. Mark James, Bernhard Langer, Paul McGinley and Colin Montgomerie, all former Ryder Cup captains, were on the pitch. In 2014, here at Gleneagles, McGinley’s side beat Team USA, led by Tom Watson. Stenson was one of Europe’s stars, although he lost to Patrick Reed in the Sunday singles.
It was at that Ryder Cup, at the losing side’s Sunday night press conference, that Mickelson first exerted his influence on global golf matters by opening his mouth. He called Watson’s captain, and the system by which America’s Ryder Cup captains were groomed and selected was elevated, rocked hard and totally overhauled.
Stenson has lost something special. McGinley and Bernard Gallacher, neither of whom have won a major tournament, are members of golf’s royal family across Europe due to their success as European Ryder Cup captains. Portraits of the two hang on the walls of the breakfast room at Rusacks, the hotel on the 18th fairway of the Old Course, alongside portraits of Palmer and Ben Crenshaw and Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam, to name four winners of major tournaments who have led Ryder Cup teams. . (Well, at the moment Woosnam’s portrait is in a room in the basement of the hotel, probably awaiting repairs. But the painting does exist.)
Since that memorable 2014 Ryder Cup, the Americans have won twice and lost once. Mickelson’s own path to captaincy was clear. He was a staunchly committed assistant captain to Steve Stricker when the United States routed the Europeans at Whistling Straits last year. He would almost surely have been assistant captain to Zach Johnson next year, when the Ryder Cup is played in Italy. And he almost certainly would have captained Team USA in 2025, when the Ryder Cup is played at Bethpage Black.
Mickelson will not be Johnson’s assistant in Italy. He will not be the captain of Bethpage Black. (Tiger Woods would be a good guess.) Everyone knows why Mickelson is missing: His second foray into global golf politics through his mouth hasn’t played out, for him, anything like his first. It wasn’t his reference to the House of Saud’s “scary mothers” that changed his life. He admitted to Shipnuck that he helped design and fund the lawyers for what one British newspaper likes to call “the Saudi-backed rebel golf league.” In other words, LIV Golf.
For Phil’s sake, and for the sake of the fans’ interest in the game, I hope he tries to win a Senior Open, to go along with his win at the 2013 Open. The Senior Open is the one of the most enjoyable events in golf. You’ll see plenty of legendary golfers, and plenty of golfers still in their fifties and clinging to childhood dreams, on courses that have stood the test of time.
I’ve been to the Senior Open at Turnberry, Muirfield, St. Andrews and now Gleneagles. It takes place the week after the Open, in part so that former Open winners over the age of 50 can play both Opens in consecutive weeks. It’s funny.
For years, Palmer, Player, Watson, Charles, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and John Daly played consecutive weeks in this fashion. Ernie Els did it this year. The champion receives a small jug of Bordeaux. This year’s winner’s check was for $432,000.
Mickelson could have had a Scottish fortnight in this hot summer of 22, a week at St. Andrews followed by a week at Gleneagles. He does grand hotels as well as anyone, and the hotel here is as grand as grand, if you like stately splendour. But he was overbooked. Had he played both Opens, that would have meant three tournaments in a row, as he is obligated to play in the LIV event at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey horse country this week. The Senior Open was not going to happen, not this year.
Woods will qualify, by age, for the Senior Open in 2026. He can attempt to join the Open-Open club. Louis Oosthuizen will get his first round in 2033. McIlroy in 2039.
But he has things to do before that. Like, for example, his role as captain at the 2023 Ryder Cup.