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Henrik Stenson takes the helm for Europe in Rome with a new Ryder Cup wave coming

Henrik Stenson was a winner with Europe in Paris, and now skippers the team in Rome.
Henrik Stenson was a winner with Europe in Paris, and now skippers the team in Rome.

So was the poisoned chalice drained by his predecessor, and is Henrik Stenson landed with a brave new world as the next captain of Europe’s Ryder Cup team?

The Swede was confirmed as skipper for the matches at the Marco Simone club in Rome next September. His is the task of rebuilding after the record defeat at Whistling Straits.

He suspects that it will involve a significant changing of the guard as the generation of Celtic Manor, Medinah, Gleneagles and Paris finally move on.

An enormous personal legacy

But it’s likely that Europe has appointed the right man – invariably they do. A fifth continental captain was always likely in Rome. Stenson has now an enormous legacy as the first Swede to win a major – his brilliant triumph at Royal Troon in 2016 – and to be European captain.

The laconic 45-year-old is still pretty much an active and competitive player, unlike the three other candidates Paul Lawrie, Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson. Sadly for Scotland’s Lawrie, now 53, his chance of captaincy is probably finally gone.

After Lee Westwood pulled out of the running, it was always likely that if Stenson resisted the approaches of the Saudis and the SGL, the job was his.

He was definitely square in the target range of Greg Norman’s LIV Investments group. After a couple of poor financial investments outside of golf, he might have been vulnerable to their approaches.

Although he didn’t reference the SGL directly, Stenson did point out that like all captains, he’d signed a contract with Ryder Cup Europe, which is wholly owned by the DP World Tour. You can be certain there’s a clause within that preventing him defecting to a rival circuit.

The changing of the guard?

That assured, maybe the SGL will do a bit of Stenson’s selecting for him by attracting some of the veterans seeking a pay-off. It certainly seems like there will be a change to youth, built around the core of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.

Padraig Harrington was almost obliged to give the stalwarts a last go-around last year, – the poisoned chalice referred to – and it showed against a hungry young American team. But Stenson hasn’t closed the door on the old warriors quite yet.

“I know from my own experience,” he said. “When you play in a Ryder Cup, you don’t want to hand that jersey to someone else. You are going to fight dearly to keep it another time.

“But at Whistling Straits, I think (Europe) was near enough 35 years old on average and the American side had about 26 years.

“So we certainly had an older team. At some point, there will be a shift, and I can definitely see that happening this time around.”

‘It’s got the potential to be the best Ryder Cup ever’

The pull of the job for him was clear, he added, especially for a Swede.

“Very humbled and proud to be given the captaincy, and super, super excited for the journey ahead,” he said.

“Going back to the history of Swedish players, I feel like this is also for them. Sweden’s played a big part in The Ryder Cup history, so to be able to accept this captaincy, it also goes back to the players that came before me.

“I think it’s got the potential, clearly, to be the best Ryder Cup ever. The City of Rome has so much to offer. I think we can make it really, really special.

“The European fans will travel in from near and far as we know; add to that the very passionate Italian fans, and I think we’ve got really the right mix.”

A players’ captain

Stenson’s wish is to have the bond between captain and players that has always worked best for Europe.

“I want to be a players’ captain,” he said. “As you know, for decades, we’ve had a great bond within The European Team room and within the players.

“Given that I’m very much an active player, I will have the opportunity to meet up with both the experienced players and also the young and upcoming players on the European side when we are over there playing.

“I think they are going to get Henrik. I don’t see myself changing that much. But (the players) are the important thing. I want to make sure they are comfortable.”

Qualification doesn’t begin until later this year, so Stenson has time he will use to decide on wildcard options and his backroom team. But the emotions this unique event brings are foremost in his memory.

The raw emotion

“It’s hard to explain the feeling in a team room,” he said. “The bonds you create, the atmosphere on the first tee, on the 18th green, when a match is coming up the final hole.

“It is just a sporting event like no other, and that’s what makes it so interesting for the fans, for people that might not watch golf on a regular basis, but they certainly zone in when it’s the Ryder Cup.

“Standing there when Darren (Clarke) finished his match at The K Club in 2006…just the raw emotion that goes with victories, with losses.

“I got some of my greatest memories and some of my strongest connections with other players, from The Ryder Cup. It’s the experiences of a lifetime.”

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