Luke Donald: Europe will need more of Rory McIlroy’s bust-up ‘passion’ to make Ryder Cup history

Luke Donald with the Ryder Cup after Europe's celebrations in Rome - Luke Donald to stay on as Europe Ryder Cup captain for 2025
Luke Donald's Europe dominated Team USA to win back the Ryder Cup in Rome - Getty Images/Ross Kinnaird

Luke Donald has been reappointed as the Europe Ryder Cup captain and believes that the “passion” Rory McIlroy showed in his infamous bust-up with the United States team in Rome will be crucial if the Englishman is to make history by inflicting back-to-back defeats on the Americans.

It has emerged that McIlroy was concerned that Donald would dress him down on the Saturday night during the 161/2-111/2 victory last month, after the world No 2’s meltdown in the Marco Simone car park in the wake of his on-course row with caddie Joe LaCava.

But the supposedly quiet-mannered Donald acted oppositely, telling McIlroy, “Rory, I f------ loved that”. The whole team-room banged the table in response and the mood was set to complete the job and avenge the humiliating 2021 defeat.

Team Europe's Rory McIlroy argues with Joe LaCava, caddie of USA's Patrick Cantlay on the 18th following the fourballs
The row with Joe LaCava continued from the green into the car park - PA/David Davies

“You know, there’s always passion that boils over,” Donald said on Wednesday, after being unveiled as Europe’s first repeat captain since Bernard Gallacher in 1995.

“We have seen it many, many times in different situations, and this was no different. The fact that Rory was passionate about it just shows that he cares. I love that, and I love the fact that we’re there to win. You know, it’s good to be passionate in that environment.”

‘It was humbling to hear that they wanted me to carry on’

McIlroy is a huge Donald ally and helped to persuade his neighbour in South Florida to keep hold of the reins for the biennial dust-up at Bethpage Black in September 2025. McIlroy led the chants of “two more years, two more years” at the prize-giving ceremony in the Italian capital and that moment was a primary factor in Donald’s decision.

“It was so humbling, so gratifying to hear that they wanted me to carry on and certainly that was a big part of my decision to do that,” he said. “We created some special moments, some special memories that week and to have their backing meant the world to me.

“When I was lifting that trophy and hearing the support the guys had for me, even back then I thought I can’t let the lads down and maybe I have to do this again. Not often in life are you given great opportunities and I really feel like this is an amazing opportunity.”

Europe's Team Captain Luke Donald, centre, and team members lift the Ryder Cup after winning the trophy by defeating the United States
Donald has been a very popular captain among his team of players - AP/Alessandra Tarantino

Donald, 45, might be risking his winning Ryder Cup reputation, but he understands the upsides if he was to pull off what would be only the third away victory in the match this century, after Europe triumph in Detroit in 2004 and Jose Maria Olazabal presided over “The Miracle of Medinah” in 2012. The US have not won on away soil for 30 years.

“As Rory said at the end in Rome, it’s the ultimate to try to win away from home. I’ve done it twice as a player but it’s not easy,” Donald said. “We know that in any sport when you have the crowd behind you it’s a big advantage and certainly I’ll have to figure out ways to kind of counter that.”

Donald acknowledges that the Long Island layout – nicknamed “The Bethpage Bearpit” – could take the traditional hostility to new levels and that “we will have to figure out the right approach and attitude to have in New York”.

“I’ve played at Bethpage a few times and the New Yorkers love their sport and they love some jostling,” he added. “Obviously I have 22 months to try and figure out how to get the guys in the right frame of mind to deal with the crowd. It’s the same every time you go away but New York might be a notch above.”

Paul Casey of England plays a shot from the 17th tee during the final round of the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 19, 2019 in Farmingdale
The galleries at Bethpage will likely be hostile for Europe's players - Getty Images/Christian Petersen

If Donald can somehow manage it – and the former world No 1 has enjoyed a career of proving experts wrong – then he knows that a special place in the record books awaits. Tony Jacklin skippered Europe to wins in 1985 and 1987, but only after losing his first match. “I’m very interested in trying to create some history,” Donald said. “To be only the second European Ryder Cup captain to go back-to-back is a great challenge and excites me.”

The stage would be even more frenzied still if Tiger Woods were to accept the US captaincy. However, on Tuesday, Woods – who plays on Thursday in the Bahamas in his first competitive tournament since April – poured cold water on the notion, declaring that, as a member of the PGA Tour policy board, the ongoing merger negotiations with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund “is the issue we need to focus on right now”.

Donald is too wise to call out Woods and was as circumspect as possible about the potential to go to-to-toe with the 15-time major winner in front of a fanatical crowd.

“I’ve got to play a lot of times with Tiger in my career. I have great admiration for what he’s done in the game,” Donald said. “You would think he was going to be a Ryder Cup captain at some point and if it’s this time, great – if it’s another time, that’s great, too. We’ll have to wait and see. Whoever the captain is, the desire to win is always strong. My job starts now.”

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