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Who Should Be Next U.S. and European Ryder Cup Captains?

There are clear favorites in the race to be the next U.S. and European Ryder Cup captains. But are they the best choices? John Hawkins and Mike Purkey debate.
Hawk and Purk Podcast

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Let’s start here at home. Who should captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2023 in Rome?

Hawk’s Take: Zach Johnson is the lead candidate to succeed Steve Stricker, which makes the story more about who won’t get the job than who will. Can somebody please explain why Davis Love III served two terms as the U.S. skipper and Fred Couples didn’t get one? Does Couples not wear the right political deodorant? Does going 3-0 as a Presidents Cup captain somehow disqualify you as the best man for the post? What are we trying to do here, beat the Europeans again or run a tight ship that doesn’t float?

Nothing against Johnson, but Couples is quite possibly the best-liked tour pro who ever lived. Tiger Woods would all but volunteer to run Freddie’s fan club—why do you think he hired Joe La Cava as his caddie? The current generation of hotshots looks at Couples with enviable awe, wondering how anyone can make the game look so easy and still carry himself like a man who doesn’t have a care in the world. Knock, knock. Is anybody home?

Purk’s take: If you think Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson should be the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain, relax. There’s plenty of time. You might even think Steve Stricker should reprise his role. However, the line of succession points toward Zach Johnson to be the American captain for the 2023 matches in Rome.

Johnson served his second tour as a U.S. vice captain at Whistling Straits and it’s clear that experience is a requirement for future captains. The other vice captains under Stricker were Jim Furyk, Fred Couples, Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson. Furyk and Love are former captains and Couples has been Presidents Cup captain three times and doesn’t want the head Ryder Cup job. Stricker all but said last Sunday after the record American victory that he’s done.

Johnson played on five Ryder Cup teams and has two major championships – the 2007 Masters and the 2015 British Open – on his playing resume. He is 45 and still competes on the PGA Tour, which means he regularly sees the players who might make his Ryder Cup team. And there aren’t many tougher competitors than Johnson

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It makes all kinds of sense for Mickelson, who would no doubt be one of Johnson’s vice captains, to be the U.S. captain in 2025 at Bethpage Black. New York fans love Lefty with a boisterous passion and the love is requited. But for Rome, Johnson is perfetto.

What about Europe? Who should they tap as captain to try to help turn the tide and take out a suddenly powerful U.S. team?

Hawk’s take: Realistic options are getting sparse. There’s a lack of internationally accomplished, top-tier players who haven’t already captained a Ryder Cup side, most of them successfully. Therefore, why not bring one of them back? Colin Montgomerie, one of the greatest performers in the history of the biennial series, certainly deserves another shot. Jose Maria Olazabal wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

Lee Westwood is the unofficial favorite to pilot the Euros when they host the Americans in Rome. He would appear to have plenty of golf left in him, however, so you save him for down the road and let Monty or JMO run the show in two years. For better or worse, that is very unlikely to happen. It makes too much sense.

Purk’s take: If you’ll notice, Europe’s Ryder Cup captains over the last 10 years seem to have the same type of personality: low-key, not easily excitable, not prone to saying anything outrageous. For examples: Padraig Harrington, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal.

Harrington’s vice captains included Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson – all cut from the same bolt of cloth. So is Lee Westwood, who is likely to be Europe’s captain in Rome. Westwood is 48 and said at Whistling Straits that he’d probably played his last Ryder Cup match, which opens the door for the next phase of his Ryder Cup life.

Westwood has played on 11 European teams with a record of 21-20-6 and was a vice captain in 2016 at Hazeltine. No doubt he would have been a vice captain at Whistling Straits had it not been for the frankly surprising year he had as a player in 2021.

Westwood said that the one thing tougher than playing in the Ryder Cup is not playing and having to watch. However, if you’ve played in 11 of these things, surely you know how to adapt.