By DOUG FERGUSON – AP Golf Author
Henrik Stenson accepted the job as Ryder Cup captain on Tuesday, vowing his loyalty to Europe and his attention to doing whatever it takes to win back the gold trophy.
Stenson is the first Swede and fifth player from continental Europe to become captain, chosen by a five-man panel that included three previous captains.
Europe have not lost on home soil since 1993.
The 2023 Games will be hosted by Marco Simone in Italy and Europe faces a tough task. The Americans are coming off their biggest loss ever over Europe, 19-9 at Whistling Straits, behind a team that had youth, talent, hunger and a little attitude.
Zach Johnson becomes US captain.
Stenson’s announcement came later than usual – six of Europe’s last seven captains were unveiled before the end of January – due to the continued presence of a Saudi-funded opposing league.
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Stenson was among those tempted by the guaranteed fortunes of a “Super Golf League” that Greg Norman is trying to put together, backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The status of such a league is unclear as the entire top 10 in the world have declared they will remain there.
“There was a lot of speculation back and forth,” Stenson said. “And as I said, I am fully committed to the captaincy, the Ryder Cup Europe and the task at hand. So we will continue to work on that and I will do everything in my power to deliver a winning team in Rome.”
Due to the threat to the European Tour and PGA Tour, players signing to a competing league would likely forego Ryder Cup participation.
Stenson said the captain signs a contract with Ryder Cup Europe, but not the players or vice-captains. He said neither the players making up the 2023 team nor the vice-captains are required to sign the contract. He did not perform what the contract required.
“I’m fully committed to my role as captain and I’m working hard towards the result we want in Rome,” said Stenson.
Luke Donald was also a candidate, with Robert Karlsson and Paul Lawrie other possibilities.
Stenson was always a logical choice. The 45-year-old Swede, known as “Ice Man”, is a former British Open champion who became first to win the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour and the Race to Dubai on the European Tour in the same year.
He has played on five Ryder Cup teams and was vice-captain under Padraig Harrington at Whistling Straits last September. It was an aging European team with more experience than form – an average age of 34.5, with four players in their forties.
“It’s going to be an interesting 18 months,” Stenson said. “Time will tell exactly how the team will formalize. But we have the old guard. We have the experience, the players who have played many Ryder Cups. We have the new talent who are emerging and who have shown themselves. ” some great signs and intend to continue doing so.
“The door is open to anyone with a European passport.”
Stenson wasn’t concerned about the beating in Whistling Straits in front of the most one-sided gallery, where Europeans were facing severe travel restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that a strong US team clinched a win at Hazeltine in 2016 and Europe won effortlessly in France.
“I know my players are up for a challenge,” he said.
Popular on both sides of the Atlantic, Stenson is known for his dry wit, occasional pranks and excellence. In 2006 he played his first Ryder Cup at The K Club in Ireland, potting the cup-winning putt in a European rout.
Since then, he has only missed the 2010 and 2012 games.
“He comes with all the credibility of what he’s achieved and, as we all know, a wry sense of humor and a fantastically warm personality,” said Guy Kinnings, Director of the European Ryder Cup. “But he’s also a fierce competitor. He is very much respected by the players and admired by everyone involved with the game and the Ryder Cup.”
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