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One of the Ryder Cup’s most compelling peculiarities is the way in which Europe can mould a team from players representing multiple nations, from contrasting backgrounds and often speaking different languages with far greater ease than the USA.

Last week’s match in Rome was another illustration. Luke Donald’s team featured men from nine countries. Northern Ireland, Spain, Scotland, Norway, England, Austria, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Sweden – all were represented. Add in vice-captains from Italy and Belgium and the number rises to 11. Twenty-one years separated Donald’s youngest player, Nicolai Hojgaard, and his oldest, Justin Rose.

Despite those apparent disadvantages, they were, not for the first time, infinitely more of a collective than a team of compatriots with just a decade between its youngest and oldest players.

Alas, t’was ever thus for the Divided States of America.

One nation? Sure. Under God? If you say so. Indivisible? Puh-leeze.

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So fractured are relationships amongst Uncle Sam’s boys (apparently) that one of their most noteworthy recent successes came in 2008 when captain Paul Azinger actually embraced the estrangement courtesy of his much-vaunted ‘pod’ system. Better to have three teams of four, he reasoned, than one disjointed, disenfranchised whole.

Europe has never had such issues. For whatever reason – fewer egos, underdog spirit, siege mentality, something else – the continent’s captains have routinely been blessed with teams who all seem to enjoy each other’s company. And if they don’t, they fake it magnificently.

Which is precisely why a LIV golfer cannot – and probably should not – be handed the European armband.

Certainly not for Bethpage in two years’ time and probably not Adare Manor in 2027 either.

Whether or not they deserve the opportunity is not the issue. It would take a particularly uncharitable and prejudiced mind to study the contributions made over the years by Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson in particular – and Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer to a lesser degree – and conclude that they haven’t done enough to merit the opportunity. Of course they have. It would be disingenuous and intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise.

The issue is the furore caused by their move to LIV Golf.

Whilst it should be nobody’s business where anybody else chooses to play their golf, the fact remains that those who joined the Saudi-funded enterprise have upset many of their fellow players. Some disagree on principle. Others say they’ve lost respect. Others still are furious about the litigation brought against the tour by several of the LIV golfers. “If you sue the tour, you’re effectively suing us,” one told me.

To the delight of everybody who’s not a lawyer, the legal chicanery appears to have ceased (for now) thanks to the ‘Framework Agreement’. Whether or not this ceasefire amounts to any sort of tangible agreement between the main warring factions remains to be seen. According to reports in the States, the armistice hangs by a thread with the PGA Tour trying to engineer both a way out of the brokering and a way forward with American investment.

If that happens, it’s square one and back to the ramparts. If you thought 2022 was an ugly year for the game, 2024 would like you to hold its lite beer.

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If it doesn’t, however, and this ‘merger of operations’ between the DP World Tour, PGA Tour and LIV does happen, then the likes of Poulter, Westwood, Garcia and Stenson would presumably re-enter the conversation for a shot at the captaincy. Bygones and all that.

Except it’s really not that simple.

The idea that Sergio Garcia could suddenly lead a European team featuring, say, Rory McIlroy – with whom he had a bitter falling-out after moving to LIV – is as preposterous as it is implausible. They may have buried the hatchet but their relationship will have undoubtedly changed.

Picture the scene: Bethpage, two years from now, it’s Friday night and the US has a handsome lead. Garcia wants to drop McIlroy for the Saturday morning session to keep him fresh for the afternoon and the following day’s singles. McIlroy, however, wants to play. Are we honestly supposed to believe that at least some of those old resentments won’t resurface?

The point is that the would-be LIV captains now have an awkward history with many of the players they would captain. Worse, the fans all know it (that’s what happens when dirty laundry is aired in public) and those same supporters are hardly universal in their support of a LIV captaincy either.

Europe would be starting the match from a position of weakness. The harmony and team spirit that has been such a cornerstone of ‘Blue & Gold’ success in the match over the last 30 to 40 years would be jeopardised.

That’s at least one point gone right there.

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It gives me no please to write this. I wanted to see Captain Poulter every bit as much as you did. Likewise, Garcia. Likewise, Westwood. But I’d much sooner see Europe win and the path of least resistance feels like the shortest route to sustained success.

It’s true that a lot of water has gone under the bridge. It’s also true that time is a great healer. But leaders need to demonstrate a singular commitment to the cause. How else can you expect to gain the trust, the respect and the buy-in from your troops? In the case of the LIV guys, they decided to go in a different direction. Unlike many others, I respect that. I just feel that, regrettably, it invalidates their captaincy credentials.

So, who should get the job going forward? That’s very simple.

Luke Campbell Donald OBE.

Presuming he wants to go again in Bethpage – and he hasn’t said he doesn’t – then let him do it. All of this “taking turns” is, and has long been, a nonsense. The Ryder Cup captaincy shouldn’t be given to the most deserving candidate; it should be given to the best candidate.

Right now, there’s a clear and obvious frontrunner.

He conquered Rome. Now, let him take a bite out of the Big Apple.

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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