Who follows Stricker and Harrington?

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What happens in Italy '23 and beyond?
Posted on
September 29, 2021
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Lee Westwood (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes


Haven, WI. The 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup is now forever sealed in the history books and as is wont the discussions are already in motion for the next rendezvous that takes place in '23 in Rome.

Who will lead the respective teams?

The European side seems fairly straightforward. Lee Westwood has probably played in his final Ryder Cup. After being on 11 teams stretching back to 1997 it is fairly likely the talented Englishman saw his final match when he downed American Harris English in the singles matches at Whistling Straits.


At 48 years of age, it appears the baton will pass from Irishman Padraig Harrington who as of the matches in Wisconsin is 50 years old. Westwood still harbors a strong desire to play but he is well aware the thrashing by Team USA showcased a younger generation of players on the American side. And the one-sided affair means Team Europe will need to reshuffle its player deck to keep the Americans from winning for the first time on foreign soil since 1993.

"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?" "Trust me, it's better playing than it is watching."

The average age of the USA squad for this year's matches was 26 -- on the Euro side that number jumped to 35.

Ryder Cup - Future captains - Who follows Stricker and Harrington?
Graeme McDowell (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

A Westwood captaincy would mean being the first Englishman to return to the helm since Nick Faldo led the squad in 2008.

The Euro side seems to be fairly set in the matches scheduled following Rome. Speculation has fellow countryman Ian Poulter being selected captain when the matches return to the States at Bethpage Black in New York. The '27 matches will mark a second return to Ireland -- this time at Adare Manor. Irishman Graeme McDowell appears to have the inside track on that encounter.

There are other vice captains also waiting in the wings. Former world number one Luke Donald is now 43 and given the natural progression of captaincies the Englishman is positioned towards the end of the decade. 

Luke Donald (Nigel French/PA)

The American side is quite uncertain. Some of that uncertainty stems from having two blockbuster golfers waiting in the wings with the likes of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Complicating matters is that unlike Team Europe, the USA squad plays the Presidents Cup in the year following the Ryder Cup matches. 

For next year's Presidents Cup event the team will be led by Davis Love III. Waiting in the wings is one of Stricker's assistant captains Zach Johnson. The two-time major champion will be 47 by the time the '23 matches take place.

Ryder Cup - Future captains - Who follows Stricker and Harrington?
Zach Johnson (Peter Byrne/PA)

There's been speculation either Mickelson or Woods could be chosen to captain for '23 but given the needs tied to a location outside of America it's more likely that Mickelson will assume the captaincy when the matches return to the States at Bethpage in '25. Does that mean Woods would lead the USA side in '27 in Ireland? That's unknown. But Woods does have a relationship with the property's owner J.P. McManus and it's quite possible that Tiger's first captaincy could take place on Irish soil.

What is rather interesting is that Mickelson and Woods will have an opportunity to captain more than once given their overall stature within the sport. That's not an unusual development as others such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Love III have done that in recent times.

Ryder Cup - Future captains - Who follows Stricker and Harrington?
Phil Mickelson (Adam Davy/PA)

Clearly, the star power Mickelson and Woods command would be of immense interest to the television networks that carry the event. Given the inexplicably poor records both players have had when competing in the event -- a captaincy could provide a pathway to successful conclusion to their dominant careers.

Is it possible that Woods serves as captain in '23? Yes. That is a possibility but Johnson has been waiting in the wings and has served as an assistant in both Ryder and Presidents Cup matches. What has happened is both teams have put into operation a system of interning. Getting interested past players to work at the ground level before being considered for a future promotion to the top spot. Those who go that direction need to prove themselves and show the wherewithal to work in close quarters with others.

Ryder Cup - Future captains - Who follows Stricker and Harrington?
Tiger Woods (Peter Byrne/PA)

On the back end of all the speculation has been the idea Stricker might return for one final time. The Wisconsin native shot down the idea during a post Ryder Cup press conference and indicated a set process was in place for what will happen in the years ahead.

Undoubtedly, no captain for either side, hits a golf shot or plays in a match. The captains do get to make a certain number of selections and this involvement can prove crucial. At this year's matches -- Stricker went with a younger generation of players -- six rookies in total. On the flip side, Harrington went with proven veterans. The results from Wisconsin overwhelmingly validated Stricker.

Setting the tone is an intangible for any person selected to be captain. Stricker's approach fitted well with his team. Harrington was also liked by his team but the results were not present.

(John Walton/PA)

Building a collaborative environment is something both teams now emphasize. Getting needed input and involving the key players early on is what cements the bond on all levels.

The announcement of what players will be chosen to captain in '23 will be a key first step for all of those that follow. A Westwood / Johnson captaincy is not 100 percent inevitable but given the indicators it looks more likely than not.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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