Luke Donald insists he has no problem with the LIV Rebels playing alongside him at this week’s Abu Dhabi Championship here, but acknowledges the event has the “potential to be awkward” for Henrik Stenson as the Swede plays on the DP World Tour. for the first time since he was stripped of the Ryder Cup captaincy six months ago.
Donald was tasked with leading Europe until September’s match in Rome when Stenson was dramatically ousted last summer after breaking his contract by joining the Saudi-funded tour in a £40m deal.
At the time, Donald made a deliberate commitment “not to do a Henrik” and fully committed to the job. The Englishman has meanwhile not seen his predecessor, but revealed to Telegraph Sport on Monday that the pair have been in contact.
“At first, when I became captain, we exchanged a few messages and there were no problems,” he said. “From my point of view, it will be fine this week.” When asked if it would be an awkward situation for Stenson, Donald replied: “Potentially, it’s just a weird situation, isn’t it? But obviously he’s playing, so it seems like it’s okay to be around. [the Tour].”
For his part, Stenson has insisted he could have continued as captain while playing in the LIV Golf League, which this year will compete for more than £330m. He has refused to discuss the stipulation in the contract he signed when he was named Padraig Harrington’s successor in March, effectively vowing not to move to Greg Norman’s company, and has instead positioned himself as the victim.
However, that’s clearly not the view on Tour, particularly among the Ryder Cup backroom staff who had been working with the 2016 Open championship for the biennial contest at Marco Simone, where the US will try to win by first time in Europe. soil for 30 years. While fellow professionals can create an icy atmosphere here at Yas Links for the 46-year-old, it will be fascinating to watch his interactions with Tour staff.
It is understood that all ties were not there when he defected and that after a deal was negotiated between the respective parties, Stenson would continue his role as joint promoter, along with compatriot Annik Sorenstam, of the innovative Scandinavian mixed Tour event in June. However, he has since withdrawn, explaining that he would be “too uncomfortable” in Stockholm.
By then, Stenson could well be kicked off his home circuit, which he has appeared on for the past 22 years. There is a court hearing in the UK in three weeks which will basically decide whether Wentworth CEO Keith Pelley has the right to sanction the LIV brigade, including Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, the English duo who are also in field this week.
Until then, they remain eligible to compete, and indeed to earn Ryder Cup points, a fact that has put Donald in an unenviable state of ‘limbo’, as he considers his staff to be.
“Getting some clarity will definitely help me,” Donald said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a little more of that in a few weeks. But it’s not in my control, you know, and I’ll deal with it anyway. My job is to have 12 guys in that team room, all on the same page, out to win the Ryder Cup.”
It’s a tough situation on a personal level for Donald, the former world number 1, having partnered Poulter and Westwood in the Ryder Cups. Meanwhile, Donald is close with Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, who have feuded in the LIV controversy.
Donald is a neighbor of McIlroy’s and the pair have been playing practice rounds, most recently last week at the Bears Club, the course near their Florida homes, and have been busy planning the clash with the Americans. Donald has managed to keep his longstanding friendship with Garcia intact.
“I have spoken with Sergio several times since I have been captain,” he said. “I mean, he’s fine with me. He understands my role and that I don’t have much influence on a lot of these things that are happening right now, so. But yes, we have had some conversations, which I will keep private.”
Garfcia has opted not to play this week or next week’s Dubai Desert Classic, where McIlroy will make his first start of 2023. Donald will be looking for strong performances for some of the youngsters who starred in the Hero Cup – Ryder Cup dress. trial – which ended on Sunday with continental Europe beating Great Britain and Ireland 141/2-101/2.
“It was a bit of a drill for me and it was a great week, with a lot of the guys playing well,” Donald said, identifying a few to praise, including Scotsman Bob MacIntyre. “Things are really ramping up now and I’m excited to see how they pick up from here, starting with this fortnight.”