Behind the scenes

LIV’s Henrik Stenson power play leaves Ryder Cup ‘in tatters’

Team Europe are now searching for a new captain after Swede’s sacking

Golf’s civil war escalated this week after Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson was sacked from the role with just 15 months until the next edition in Rome. Stenson’s decision to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series meant his short tenure as skipper was “brought to an end with immediate effect”. 

In March the Swede was appointed European captain for the 2023 Ryder Cup, which will take place at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Italy. But in a statement on Wednesday, Ryder Cup Europe confirmed it had become clear that “he will not be able to fulfil certain contractual obligations” and it is therefore “not possible for him to continue in the role of captain”.

It’s understood that Stenson’s Ryder Cup contract included a clause which would forbid him from playing in the breakaway tournament, said The Irish Times. The search is now on to find a new captain. Possible contenders include 2018 winning skipper Thomas Bjorn, Luke Donald, Paul Lawrie, Robert Karlsson, and 2023 vice-captain Edoardo Molinari. 

Stenson ‘disagrees’ with decision

Stenson confirmed that he would be filling one of three remaining spaces at next week’s LIV invitational at the Donald Trump-owned Bedminster course in New Jersey. “His contract on offer from the Saudi breakaway competition is reported to be around £40m,” said Paul MacInnes in The Guardian

The 2016 Open champion issued a lengthy statement on Twitter and said that while he disagreed with the decision from Ryder Cup Europe, “for now it is a decision that I accept”. The 46-year-old added that “clearly” his decision to play in LIV golf events has been “commercially driven”, but the format, schedule and calibre of player “were also significant factors”.

Seismic rumbles in golf 

After becoming the “latest capture for the Saudi rebel circuit”, Stenson’s dramatic U-turn has “sent shockwaves throughout the sport” and it’s a “huge coup” for the LIV Golf Series, said James Corrigan in The Telegraph. He may be down to 171st in the world rankings, and his best days are “clearly in the past”, but the move to the Greg Norman-led series “shows that LIV has the ammunition to convince players to join even from seemingly the most unreachable of places”. 

Stenson “may not be as big a draw” in world golf as Bryson DeChambeau or Dustin Johnson, said Alex Perry on National Club Golfer. But taking the Ryder Cup captain from the DP World Tour will create “seismic rumbles” in the game. “Make no mistake – LIV’s Stenson move is about one thing: power.”

‘Lust for Saudi money’ 

The Ryder Cup captaincy is a role considered perhaps “the most prestigious in the sport” – and also “famously unpaid”, said The Irish Times. Vice-captain to Pádraig Harrington at Whistling Straits last year, Stenson “had been tasked with regaining the trophy” after Europe’s record 19-9 defeat to the United States in Wisconsin.

Even if there is no payment, captains can get “around £4m with endorsements around the gig”, said Riath Al-Samarrai in the Daily Mail. “They don’t go hungry, nor do their grandkids. They earn enough to leave necessity out of their choices.”

Stenson’s “lust for Saudi money” has left the Ryder Cup “in tatters”, Al-Samarrai added. The LIV “did not want” Stenson – they wanted a Ryder Cup captain as a means of “weakening one of the great institutions” of a sport they are “taking over with vindictive cunning”. What an “astonishing mess” this has become. 

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