In the immediate aftermath of a record defeat by the United States, Europe’s players were probably delighted there are two years to run before another Ryder Cup. The flip side is that is a short period to implement a changing of the guard. Steve Stricker’s team, which mauled Europe 19-9, had an average age of 26. Europe, at 35, looked geriatric in comparison.
The unwritten rule of Europe and Ryder Cups tells us Pádraig Harrington will bow out after a single captaincy stint. Lee Westwood is the overwhelming favourite to lead Europe in Rome in 2023, which would render his singles win over Harris English his last playing act in this event. Westwood, now 48, remains circumspect over what his future holds.
“I assume I’ll get three or four months to think about it but people keep coming up and saying, ‘Are you going to be the captain in Rome?’ I’d prefer to play but Father Time’s not kind, is he?” he said. “Trust me, it’s better playing than it is watching.
“Being Ryder Cup captain is a massive honour and it is something I’d want to do. Why wouldn’t you? I’m sure Pádraig’s enjoyed it even though it’s not gone right for him. It’s got to be some time in my future but I don’t want to let go yet. I still feel competitive.”
In the cold light of day it has to be assumed captaincy will make far more sense to Westwood than attempting to qualify. The Englishman is also smart enough to consider likely outcomes. The weekend showed Europe need younger talent – akin to the outstanding Norwegian Viktor Hovland – to supplement Jon Rahm, Sergio García, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry. The top two players on the European Tour’s order of merit are American.
“The US have had theirs,” said Ian Poulter of personnel overhauls, pointing out that Tiger Woods was absent while Phil Mickelson was present only as a vice-captain. “You know they’ve handed the baton over,” he said.
“In the team room on Saturday there were a couple of emotional speakers and you just wish you were 20 years old again.
“That’s hard, when you’ve played so many [and been] part of so many successful teams; hard when you get old and you know so many of the best days are behind you.
“We’ve got a super crop of young players. Our younger players can grow over the next few years like the Americans have.”
Poulter rightly referenced the Højgaard twins, Nicolai and Rasmus, who, at 20 years old, are already European Tour winners. Predicting future Ryder Cup teams is a fool’s errand – just ask Matteo Manassero – but this pair look destined for the top. The Italian Guido Migliozzi, who tied fourth in the US Open, continues to nudge his way towards the world’s top 50. Robert MacIntyre’s major performances have been notable.
“The future’s bright for European golfers,” said Westwood. “It’s easy to say Jon Rahm is world-class because he’s world No 1 but watching him and Sergio is like watching Seve and Olly.
“It keeps flip-flopping, doesn’t it? We set the course up for us, narrow the fairways, have thick rough. They set it up for them, they cut all the rough out and home advantage is massive. It was even bigger this time with no crowds [backing Europe].
“You don’t expect much support but, other than a handful, there was zero this week. Not that that’s an excuse. We were just outplayed and out-putted.”
If Westwood does assume captaincy duties, there will be no repeat of the messy conclusion to the qualifying campaign that overshadowed the PGA Championship at Wentworth. Westwood would also rather increase wildcard picks from three to four. “But that’s the nice thing, different captains have different ideas,” he said.
Westwood and Poulter afforded high praise to Harrington. “Paddy has done incredible this week,” said Poulter. “I hope I don’t read the papers on Tuesday and see stuff that will upset me.
“Paddy and [his wife] Caroline gave their heart and soul for three years. They made us all feel so comfortable. You just have to take your hat off to the American team.”
And work out how to stop them.