This feels like an early win for Europe. Michael Jordan, a long-time cheerleader for the US in Ryder Cups, believes Luke Donald’s team will prevail in Rome next Sunday. Donald, a neighbour of Jordan, had dinner with the NBA icon in recent weeks. “He tipped the Europeans to win,” Donald says. “Take whatever you want out of that one.
“He is a good friend. He would be very supportive of me having a great experience. I think ultimately he wants the US to win.” Yet Jordan’s faith is in Europe.
Donald is far too astute to take Jordan’s confidence as proof of a simple task. The 19-9 canter for the US in Wisconsin two years ago was an embarrassment for European golf. It permitted theories of a decade or more of dominance for a team now led by Zach Johnson.
“I don’t think about losing,” Donald insists. “You prepare the best you can, you go out and you take care of what you what you can do and hopefully the winning takes care of itself. I’m very big into the controlling what you can control and the processes and all that kind of stuff and the result will take care of itself.
“I have been in the role for 14 months but this has been a two-year process. I had conversations with Paul McGinley on Sunday night at Whistling Straits about what needed to change. We are very prepared and we are very ready.”
It is easy to forget that Donald was initially overlooked for this post. Henrik Stenson was the intended captain for Europe in 2023 before the Swede’s LIV alliance necessitated Plan B. Donald had kept his counsel when Stenson was appointed, rather than crying foul. “It’s not my style to go down that path,” he says. “I was disappointed. That’s water under the bridge. I got given the second opportunity and I plan to make the most of it.
“I got the call and there’s a mixture of excitement, there’s a mixture of, ‘Wow, can I do this? Am I ready?’”
Donald has been helped by a Ryder Cup template which has served Europe well. His attention to deal – the former world No 1 is a serial note taker – has been likened to the captaincy profile of Bernhard Langer. Donald made his debut under the German as Europe trounced the US at Oakland Hills in 2004.
“I wake up often in the night with a lot of thoughts,” Donald says. “Am I remembering this? Am I doing this right? There is a lot to this.
“Bernhard did an amazing job. We all felt very comfortable, certainly as an individual playing for him. I knew where I stood, I knew what I needed to do. I knew my role.
“Going back to my captaincy, that clarity that consistency is really important. Having good communication, being open to feedback and knowing that you don’t know everything. Learning from other people. Those are the sort of the captaincy traits that I’ve been trying to embody.”
Donald also exudes confidence. “We have some superstars. We have a great core of great players and then we have some young guys. The future is bright. Anything is possible with these guys. But saying that, we’re coming off the worst loss we’ve ever had and the Americans are going to be betting favourites.
“We have a tough task ahead of us. We will never underestimate the Americans. They are very strong and they have some great partnerships, winning partnerships. They have partnerships that have an 85 per cent, 90 per cent win rate, which was unheard of.
“You could go on and on about how strong they are and that shows in their world rankings. But I’m still very confident about our team. That Monday after Whistling Straits; that’s when we got together and started to try and figure out a plan, how to avenge what happened.”
Pádraig Harrington, Donald’s immediate predecessor, branded him a “hard nut”. The term draws a smile from Donald, who has been understated throughout his career. “You have to have some ruthlessness,” he says.
“I’m a very much a detail-oriented person. I like to write things down. I like to think things through. I’m not a just act off-the-cuff kind of person. There has to be a plan in place. There has to be steps. How are we going to get there?”
If this all sounds exhausting, it absolutely is. “It has been stressful,” Donald admits. “But I think any kind of big leadership role is going to be like that. You have a lot of responsibility. This is a big deal. So it should be that way and that’s fine.”
Oakland Hills stands out as a victory for an away Ryder Cup team. The US have not prevailed in Europe since 1993. This feels far more than coincidence. “We have done very well with teams that would have been way bigger underdogs I think than the team we’re going to Rome with,” Donald says. “Obviously the unity we are able to create is important.”
Whatever transpires from Friday, Donald will have left nothing to chance. – Guardian