GUIDONIA MONTECELIO – European captain Luke Donald was delivering his Ryder Cup victory speech in front of a giddy crowd at Marco Simone when his celebrating players standing beside him started a chant that quickly swept through the grandstands.
“Two more years” was the cry — seemingly led by Rory McIlroy — which drew a broad smile from Donald.
As the party continued into the night in Rome, Donald tempered any talk of him staying on as captain after orchestrating Europe’s 16½-11½ victory over the Americans that won back the 17-inch golden trophy on Sunday.
For Donald, any thoughts of leading the Europeans into what will be a febrile atmosphere at Bethpage Black in New York in 2025 could wait.
Not so for McIlroy.
“I think everyone sitting here,” the four-time major winner said in the post-competition team news conference, “would be very happy to have him again.”
No one has captained Europe in back-to-back Ryder Cups since Bernard Gallagher did so, three times in a row in fact, in 1991, ’93 and then ’95. Back then, that wasn’t rare, with Tony Jacklin and John Jacobs having also repeated before Gallagher.
And Donald might just benefit from circumstance, just like he did in getting the job in the first place after Henrik Stenson — the original incumbent — was stripped of the role after defecting to LIV Golf for a reported $50 million.
The likes of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter — stalwarts of Europe’s Ryder Cup teams since the turn of the century — were widely regarded as captains of the future, only for the landscape to be muddied by their decision to join the Saudi-funded breakaway series. Ineligible for this year’s Ryder Cup, it might be too early for them to be considered for 2025 whatever transpires regarding this “framework agreement” between the Saudi backers of LIV and PGA and European tours.
Justin Rose? He still sees himself as a team member in 2025.
The Molinari brothers? They seem destined for background roles rather than being front and center.
So Donald seems an obvious choice to have a full term as captain. Just look what he did only having a year in charge.
If offered it again, he said Monday, he would sit down and consider it.
"Maybe I go out leaving a legacy as a winning Ryder Cup captain and not risk that,” the former world No. 1 said.
“Obviously going over there in New York, which would be a real cauldron, those fans are extremely passionate. It would be a really, really tough environment. If I was to do this job, and I was to go over there and win, that would be some accomplishment.”
If he does stay, Europe has a leader who has shown he has the brains, strategy and inner tenacity for the battle.
But what about the future of the team?
Listen to Jon Rahm — a major winner who has emerged as one of the figureheads of the European team — and that seems quite rosy, too, as he praised the impact of rookies like 23-year-old Ludvig Aberg, 27-year-old Robert MacIntyre and 22-year-old Nicolai Hojgaard, all of whom put points on the board in Rome.
“They did an unbelievable job,” Rahm said. “It’s not easy being a rookie and coming out here and showing why you deserve to be here.
“The future is bright, I would say. There were some possible question marks and I think we have proved the talent is there and the junior generation is looking bright.”
Aberg, in particular, is seen as a star of the future but others might be coming through.
Adrien Dumont de Chassart, a 23-year-old Belgian, also had a successful college career as a star for five years at Illinois, where he was an All-American and finished No. 3 in the PGA Tour University graduating class to earn a full card on the Korn Ferry Tour. Expect to see him on the PGA Tour soon enough.
Then there’s Rasmus Hojgaard, the twin brother of Nicolai. Rasmus was at Marco Simone this past week, brought along by Donald for the experience. He drove the golf carts, acted as a water boy, and looked like he had a blast. He is already a multiple winner on the European tour.
And how about the team having another set of brothers in Matt and Alex Fitzpatrick? The trajectory of Matt, the U.S. Open champion last year, makes him a likely lock to build on his three Ryder Cup appearances so far and Alex is making great strides, too, placing 17th in his first British Open in July and having top-five finishes at the European Masters and ISPS Handa World Invitational on the European tour since then.
Throw in McIlroy, Rahm and Viktor Hovland — Nos. 2-4 in the world ranking, respectively — as well as Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry, and Europe looks well set with its solid core. The average age of the team in Rome was 30, even with the 43-year-old Rose in there in possibly his final appearance.
One of the jobs of veterans like Rose and McIlroy this week was to infuse the team culture in the rookies. There were plenty of tears and goosebumps in a team room bedecked in blue and gold with images of the late Seve Ballesteros everywhere and with Jose Maria Olazabal among the assistants.
“Seve, Ollie, the legends of the Ryder Cup that have come before us,” McIlroy said. “We’re caretakers of this European jersey right now, and we’re hopefully going to pass it on in the future in a better spot than where we found it. I think that’s really what we are right now.”
Surely Donald won't turn down staying in the role once the dust settles on what he called the proudest moment of his career.
“I couldn’t be happier with the team I got,” he said. "I think these guys will be around for a long time, and we’re going to put up a great fight in two years.”
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf