PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Luke Donald’s job as captain of the European Ryder Cup team is challenging enough without trying to figure out who is eligible — or doubling as a referee — while playing a full PGA Tour schedule.
The bad blood between former friends and Ryder Cup teammates Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy, and the rest of the uncertainty surrounding players who have joined LIV Golf, could add another stressful layer to Donald’s job.
“If we get to a point where someone’s qualified from LIV and there are disagreements between players we’re going to have to figure it out before,” said Donald. “My job as captain is to create a great culture for the team to be successful. Whatever that may be, whoever those 12 guys, that’s my job.”
Donald and his U.S. counterpart for this September’s Ryder Cup, Zach Johnson, are unsure whether any of LIV’s golfers will qualify, or even be allowed to play, for the event that is scheduled for Sept. 28-30 in Italy.
Donald and Johnson were in the same grouping for the first two rounds of the Honda Classic.
“Luke and Zach know their battle isn’t on the golf course at the Honda Classic; theirs is to come in September,” said Padraig Harrington, the 2020 European Ryder Cup team captain and the third member of the Honda group.
With LIV golfers banned from the PGA Tour, they are sliding down the rankings, whether it’s the money list, FedEx Cup ranking, Official World Golf Ranking or Ryder Cup.
Currently, no LIV golfer is close to qualifying for the Ryder Cup on either side.
The U.S. team is made up of the top six eligible players in the points rankings with six captain’s picks. The European team includes the top three eligible players from each of the European Points List and World Points List, plus six captain’s picks.
Two years ago at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, players on the U.S. team who have since joined LIV were Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka while LIV’s Phil Mickelson was a vice-captain. European players from 2021 who left the PGA Tour include Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Bernd Wiesberger and Lee Westwood. The team had three vice-captains now on LIV: Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson.
Stenson was removed as the 2023 Ryder Cup captain after joining LIV and was replaced by Donald.
“I’m not concerned about it right now at all, frankly,” Zach Johnson said. “There’s so much fluidity and uncertainty still involved.”
The friction caused by players choosing to side with the Saudi-backed league is something Donald and Johnson do not need on their plate when American and European pride are on the line at the biennial event.
Donald and Johnson are coaches trying to build team unity. Not babysitters or therapists for feuding grown men, some of whom have ended longtime friendships.
Bad blood between McIlroy and LIV’s Garcia, former friends who attended each other’s wedding, dominates the headlines in Europe. Garcia said McIlroy is immature after McIlroy revealed he removed Garcia’s number from his phone after receiving an angry text from Garcia.
“All I can do is stay in the present moment and deal with whatever happens in front of me,” Donald said. “I’m not looking ahead too much. Right now I’m concentrating more on the guys making points week in, week out.
“The guys on LIV. … I’ll certainly keep an eye on those, too. My focus is on those guys committed to trying to make the team.”
Donald and Johnson ended their two days on the Champion Course without any taunts or trash-talking or Johnson breaking out in “U.S.A., U.S.A.” chants.
Donald will have more time this weekend to devote to his team than Johnson. Donald missed the cut after shooting 76 on Friday. Johnson is 5 under after a 68-67.
The two surely will meet up again with both planning on playing as close to a full schedule as possible this year before the Ryder Cup.
“We’re in this together,” Johnson said. “Bottom line is that we’re ultra competitors first, and so I think we’re probably similar in the way we approach the game, but then also in our temperaments are pretty comparable. He’s very chill. I probably have a little bit more of a spike and drop in my blood.
“We’ll lead. I’m confident in saying that we’ll both try to lead the proper way and let the golf clubs of our 12 players do all the talking.”