Though they have some time to figure it out, the European Ryder Cup team is suddenly without a captain.
Henrik Stenson was officially stripped of his Ryder Cup captaincy on Wednesday morning ahead of his move to the controversial LIV Golf Invitational Series.
Ryder Cup Europe said in a statement that Stenson, who had played on the team five times in his career, is now not “able to fulfill certain contractual obligations” and it is “not possible for him to continue” as its captain. The position — which is one of the highest honors in the world of golf — will be filled “in due course.”
While the Europeans would obviously like to fill this position sooner rather than later, the next Ryder Cup isn’t set to kick off until Sept. 25, 2023 in Rome.
Who will replace Henrik Stenson as Europe’s captain?
Even though multiple Ryder Cup players have left for LIV Golf — including Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia — there are several notable ones left who could fill Stenson’s shoes in 2023.
Team Europe hasn’t had a repeat captain in three decades, but Padraig Harrington would be an easy move to replace Stenson next year.
Harrington led the Europeans last year in their 19-9 loss to the United States at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. He’s also played on six Ryder Cup teams himself, including four winning ones, so he clearly knows what it takes on that front.
The six-time PGA Tour winner is an easy option if Team Europe wants a quick fix.
Again, like Harrington, Thomas Bjørn is a fairly straightforward option here.
Bjørn is already a vice-captain for the 2023 team, and he just led Europe to a dominant 17.5-10.5 win as their captain in France in 2018 — which automatically gives him a leg up on Harrington.
Giving Bjørn a promotion back into the captain's seat would be another very easy move for Europe.
With two easy, safe picks out of the way, it’s time for a fun one — and one that would make a big statement amid the sport’s battle with LIV Golf.
Rory McIlroy, one of the loudest opponents of the Saudi Arabian-backed venture, could easily step up and be a playing captain for Europe next fall.
Europe has never had a playing captain in the Ryder Cup, but McIlroy would undoubtedly be an excellent fit. And, his blatant opposition to LIV Golf would be an extra jab at Stenson and others as they make the jump over.
McIlroy is gearing up for his seventh Ryder Cup appearance in 2023, so he’s no stranger to the competition. He holds a 4-2 record in the biennial event, too. And, while majors seem to keep slipping out of his reach, McIlroy is playing some of the best golf in his career right now.
McIlroy is ranked No. 3 in the Official World Golf Rankings, his highest spot since 2020, and he has two wins so far this season on the PGA Tour. He finished inside the top-10 in all four majors this year, including a runner-up finish at The Masters and a third-place finish last week at the British Open.
McIlroy is already going to be a key piece to Europe’s team in Rome. Why not just make him the captain, too?
Luke Donald is another name that should be in the mix for Europe.
The four-time Ryder Cup player has served as a vice-captain for the team twice now, and he was very adamant about wanting the job in 2023 back when Stenson was first announced. Donald said he “thought I had a chance this time,” and he was “disappointed personally that I didn’t get the nod.”
The 44-year-old won six times on the European Tour and held the No. 1 spot in the world back in 2012. He could easily slide in and replace Stenson.
With no timeline in place, it’s hard to know where the European Ryder Cup team will go here. Harrington, Bjørn, McIlroy and Donald seem like they would be great candidates, but they’re far from the only ones.
Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke are all former captains that are still active on the PGA Tour Champions. There's no reason why they couldn't do it again.
Robert Karlsson is Europe’s only other vice-captains from Whistling Straits who didn’t make the jump to LIV. Paul Lawrie has been in the mix for the job in the past, too.
For now, however, the position remains open.