Luke Donald insists he has no problem with the LIV Rebels playing it alongside him in this week’s Abu Dhabi Championship here, but acknowledges the event “has the potential to be uncomfortable” for Henrik Stenson as the Swede is playing on the DP World Tour for the first time since being stripped of the Ryder Cup captaincy six months ago.
Donald was tasked with leading Europe to the September match in Rome when Stenson was dramatically dropped from his role last summer after breaking his contract by joining the Saudi Arabian-funded circuit in a deal of £40 million.
At the time, Donald emphatically promised “not to do a Henrik” and was fully committed to the job. The Englishman has not seen his predecessor in the meantime, but revealed to Telegraph Sport on Monday that the two have been in contact.
“In the beginning, when I became captain, we exchanged some messages and there are no problems,” he said. “From my point of view, this week will be fine.” When asked if it will be an awkward situation for Stenson, Donald replied: “Potentially it’s just an odd situation, isn’t it? But he’s clearly playing, so it looks like he’s fine around [the Tour].”
Stenson, for his part, was adamant that he could have continued as captain while at the same time playing in the LIV Golf League, which will compete for more than £330 million this year. He has refused to discuss the stipulation in the contract he signed when he was appointed Padraig Harrington’s successor in March – in fact he pledged not to transfer to Greg Norman’s venture – and has instead positioned himself as the victim.
That’s clearly not the view of the Tour, though, especially among the Ryder Cup staff in the back room who had been working on the 2016 Open championship for the two-year Metabolism in Marco Simone, where the US will try to take on Europe for the first time. to win. soil for 30 years. While fellow pros here at Yas Links may make it a frosty atmosphere for the 46-year-old, it will be fascinating to watch his interactions with the Tour staff.
It is understood that all ties were not severed when he defected and that after an agreement was reached between the respective parties, Stenson would continue his role as joint promoter – along with compatriot Annika Sorenstam – of the Tour’s groundbreaking Scandinavian Mixed event in June. . He has since backed off, explaining that it would be “too uncomfortable” in Stockholm.
By then, Stenson could well be banned from his home circuit, which he has raced on for the past 22 years. There is a hearing in the UK in three weeks which will decide in principle whether Wentworth chief executive Keith Pelley has the right to sanction the LIV brigade, including Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, the English duo also in this week’s field sit.
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.
“It will definitely help me get clarity,” said Donald. “Hopefully we will have more of that in a few weeks. But I can’t control it, you know, and I’ll deal with it no matter what. My job is to get 12 guys in that team room, all on the same page, willing to win the Ryder Cup.
It’s a difficult situation on a personal level for Donald, the former world number 1, as he played in Ryder Cups alongside both Poulter and Westwood. Meanwhile, Donald is close to 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 last week at the Bears Club, the course near their Florida homes, and are busy planning the clash with the Americans. Donald has managed to keep his long-standing friendship with Garcia intact.
“I’ve spoken to Sergio a few times since I’ve been captain,” he said. “I mean, he’s cool with me. He understands my role and that I don’t have much influence over a lot of these things that are going on right now, so. But yeah, we’ve had some conversations, which I’ll 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 the 2023. Donald will be looking for some good performances for some of the youngsters who shone in the Hero Cup – the Ryder Cup dress rehearsal – which ended on Sunday with Continental Europe beating Great Britain and Ireland 141/2-101/2.
“It was a bit of a trial run for me and it’s been a great week, with so many of the guys playing well,” said Donald, naming a few to be commended, including Scotland’s Bob MacIntyre. “The material is really getting going now and I’m excited to see them take off from here, starting with these two weeks.”