Rory McIlroy put it best during Team Europe’s Ryder Cup winner’s press conference: Winning a Ryder Cup on the road may be the hardest thing to do in sports.
Considering that the U.S. side hasn’t won on European soil since 1993 and the Euros needed the Miracle at Medinah to rally from a 10-6 deficit to do so in 2012, McIlroy has a good argument. The home team has held serve ever since but more troubling is the fact that you have to go back to the 2012 edition of the biennial competition for the last time we didn’t have a blowout. Sundays have largely been a foregone conclusion as to which side is going to win.
Want to make the Ryder Cup great again? How about giving arguably the two best captains of the modern era another shot behind the wheel to see if either of them can win on the road. In other words, Paul McGinley, who guided the Euros to a beatdown of the Americans in Scotland in 2014, as Europe’s captain in 2025 at Bethpage, and Paul Azinger, who was brilliant at the helm in 2008 in Louisville, in 2027 in Ireland.
When I proposed this scenario to Azinger, he chuckled and said, “That would be awesome.”
“McGinley was a brilliant captain, he really was,” Azinger said. “There’s only so much a captain can do but he has a huge responsibility to create an environment, to create a message and get his players to out-prepare the other team. I might have said to this U.S. Ryder Cup team that if you were in the top six (an automatic qualifier to the team) do whatever you want, you made it, but the next six, you have to play the week before or two weeks before or I’m not going to pick you. That’s the way it is, sorry. You have to promise me you’re going to play. Everyone knew they didn’t play enough going in. That to me was the biggest way they out-prepared us.”
Europe players lift their captain Paul McGinley as he holds the trophy after winning the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Azinger laughed when I said let either Tiger Woods if he wants the job at Bethpage or Stewart Cink or even Fred Couples take a turn in 2025 but let’s get going on 2027 to end this seemingly endless losing streak on the road. The idea of taking another bite at the captaincy? He says that ship has passed.
“I lobbied in 2010 to carry the flag and win the cup on the road. The PGA of America told me, ‘There’s more captains than there are Ryder Cups.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine.’ They chose Corey Pavin. Then they get (Tom) Watson and (Davis) Love again. I wanted that challenge but it was 17 years earlier. I think I’m passed due. I’ll be 67. It’s not fair to a guy like Stewart Cink. I think he’ll be an awesome captain. I’d roll in as an assistant captain. They’ve got a clique going now. It’s the result of the Task Force. Sometimes cliques are incredible. Let’s not forget they won the last Cup by 10 points but I think it’s time to break the clique up…I worry that Tiger is going to want Freddie and Davis and Strick again. I would like to see a different group be in there as assistants that can be future captains.”
McGinley echoed a similar sentiment that his window for a return engagement as captain has closed.
“I think we’ve certainly nailed the home template but we haven’t written the template for away from home. I like the way you’re thinking but I think my ship has sailed in that regard. I’m 10 years aways from being a captain, I’m 56 years old, there’s a certain disconnection with the current crop of players,” he argued.
But McGinley, too, recognized that winning on the road has become the white whale for Ryder Cup captains and it was something he once desired.
“I think it so much more difficult away and I’d have loved to have written the away template but I thought it was greedy to go again,” he said. “I knew there were a lot of guys waiting patiently behind me and I thought it would be unfair to go again.”
But what once was a backlog of potential captains has become a shortage due to LIV, which wiped out Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey for Team Europe and Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and (eventually) Dustin Johnson from consideration. Let’s take this unique moment in time to determine once and for all which of these brilliant leaders of men can steer his team to victory away from home.
Azinger and McGinley both lived and breathed the job for two years and understood team dynamics better than anyone before or after in the captaincy role. Both are still active in their role as TV commentators and have a handle on the pulse of the game.
“I think I’d rather broadcast it, thank you, though,” Azinger said. “I think it’s really important at this point to have someone of their era who really knows the players.”
Who does he think should lead Europe into the hostile environment that will be Bethpage Black in 2025?
“It’s going to be contentious. Luke Donald is the perfect personality type. Otherwise, I would love to see Sergio (Garcia) but it will never happen. If I’m them, I’m bringing the most polished professional I can bring. If you can find anyone more polished and buttoned up than Luke, let me know,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Luke was to go again,” McGinley added. “In an ideal world, you should do two captaincies – one home and one away. That would be a real test of the captain, wouldn’t it?”
Azinger expressed one concern for the Ryder Cup going forward: Will the U.S. be able to field its best team?
“I really fear for the next Ryder Cup,” he said. “If LIV plucks a bunch of guys off of the Tour as is rumored, why would I even watch the Ryder Cup? That’s the way I’m feeling about it. It’s just not America vs Europe anymore. I mean, it is, but it wouldn’t be our best players. I fear for the Ryder Cup because of LIV.”
You heard it here first: McGinley in ’25, Azinger in ’27. Let’s settle who is the best captain once and for all.