European captain Luke Donald believes “nothing has changed” regarding his selection process for the Ryder Cup despite LIV Golf’s shock financial merger with the PGA and DP World Tours, just 100 days from the start of the event in Rome.
It appears increasingly likely there will be at least one LIV star at the Marco Simone Golf Club on September 29, with Brooks Koepka’s strong major performances putting him third in the United States points list.
But European stalwarts Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood all resigned their DP World Tour cards after leaving for Saudi-backed LIV and remain ineligible for selection by Donald.
“Obviously when that announcement was made, my first question was, ‘Does this affect anything I am doing and my selection process and my ability to select players?’,” said Donald, who himself replaced LIV rebel Henrik Stenson as Europe skipper.
“To be honest, nothing has changed. We are still bound by the rules and regulations that the arbitration granted the DP World Tour a few months ago.
“To be eligible (for the Ryder Cup), you still have to be born in Europe and be a DP World Tour member. So, nothing has changed.”
The expected absences of Ryder Cup record point-scorer Garcia, former world number one Westwood and matchplay titan Poulter means Donald will likely have several inexperienced players in his side.
German world number 99 Yannik Paul currently occupies an automatic qualification spot, alongside Masters champion Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fiztpatrick.
Donald will have six captain’s picks, an increase from the three at Padraig Harrington’s disposal for the 19-9 hammering the Americans dished out at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Other possible European rookies include Frenchman Victor Perez, Seamus Power, Sepp Straka and Poland’s Adrian Meronk.
Justin Rose’s recent strong form will though likely ensure Donald has some extra experience in his team as Europe bid to avoid a first defeat on home soil since 1993.
– Formidable USA –
The USA will boast a fearsome 12-man squad, no matter who captain Zach Johnson selects.
Koepka appears to have all but wrapped up a place on the team despite missing the majority of the qualifying events, but debate could rage over the decision of whether or not to pick Dustin Johnson.
The two-time major champion is only 32nd in the US points standings after leaving the PGA Tour for LIV, but has been in good form and won all five of his matches in the 2021 Ryder Cup.
“I would definitely like to play in the Ryder Cup, it’s one of my favourite events to play,” Dustin Johnson said earlier this year.
Despite their long wait for an away triumph, the Americans will again be strong favourites.
Of the top 12 currently in their points standings only Kurt Kitayama, the world number 23, is outside the top 20 in the world rankings.
Europe boast plenty of firepower of their own — Rahm, McIlroy, Hovland and Fitzpatrick are all in the world’s top 10 — but they only have four other players in the top 30.
The Marco Simone course will be somewhat of an unknown for the majority of players.
It has hosted the last three editions of the Italian Open, with few Ryder Cup contenders taking part.
Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood have both finished runner-up, while Meronk was this year’s champion.
For the next few months, though, the focus will be on the race to qualify for the event, with the spotlight especially on Zach Johnson and Donald’s potentially controversial picks.
© Agence France-Presse