Donald Arrives as Player and Scout
Luke Donald isn’t holding back anything from his role as European Ryder Cup Captain. In fact, he’s been telling potential rookies who may join his squad come September at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club exactly what they can expect.
“I describe it as hopefully going to be the best week of their lives,” Donald said Tuesday from the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, where he’ll be pulling double duty as both captain and player. He’s in the field thanks to a special exemption from the PGA of America. In 2003, Donald missed the cut when the PGA Championship was staged at Oak Hill and finished T-23 in his return to the venue in 2013.
“It's a really good test,” Donald said about Oak Hill, which recently underwent a restoration. “Certainly the rough is thick. The fairway bunkers, the greenside bunkers are very penal. They can move tees around to kind of make it very fun, this golf course. Playing earlier in the year with it being a little cooler, some high winds forecast today, there's some very, very strong holes out there.”
This week will be for Donald as much a chance to compete in his 15th PGA Championship as it will be an opportunity for him to scout the first-timers who he may tap for his team. Once qualifying is completed on September 3, with the top three players from the World Points List as well as the European Points List earning qualifying positions, Donald will have six captain’s picks he’ll need to make.
“I think it's always good to see how rookies, potential rookies, do in major championships. It takes a different kind of mindset, a different kind of nerve,” Donald said about seeing how his possible picks handle a major week. “The challenge obviously is totally different to what you'd be playing week in, week out. Obviously a very strong field this week. So again, a good performance here at a major can go a long way.”
While Donald wouldn’t reveal the specific names of the players he will be watching at Oak Hill, a quick glance at the points standings reveals several players who will no doubt be looking to make some noise in an effort to garner the captain’s attention.
Just lurking outside the automatic qualifying positions on the European Points List, and in the field at Oak Hill, are Viktor Perez at No. 4, Adrian Meronk at No. 5, and Thornbjorn Olesen at No. 7. On the World Points List, Tommy Fleetwood sits at No. 6 and Shane Lowry at No. 7, two veterans looking to play their way back onto the European Team. Both are competing this week.
“There's certain profiles that will match better to Marco Simone than others, whether some of those rookies and their games will match the six qualifiers, automatic qualifiers,” Donald said about players he’s considering. “Experience does come into play, certainly, because Ryder Cups are different, but everyone has to be given an opportunity at some point.”
Donald pointed back to the first time he was given a chance to compete in the Ryder Cup, when Berhard Langer picked him for his team in 2004. The young Englishman was relatively unknown at the time, but Langer told Donald that his game was a good fit for Oakland Hills, where the matches were being contested that year. It was the first of four winning teams that Donald was to be a part of.
The captain is hopeful he’ll be adding another win to his Ryder Cup resume when the matches roll around in September. And regardless of the players he does or doesn’t have to choose from, he’s confident he’ll have a strong squad that will come together outside Rome for what he knows, without a doubt, will be the best week of their lives.