[IMAGE: Julio Aguilar]

So far at least, the probable make-up of the next European Ryder Cup team has gone all but unscathed in the face of LIV Golf recruitment. Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, long-time mainstays, were long shots to make the 2023 squad anyway.

Only 40-somethings Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey – both of whom likely to play in just one more edition of the biennial contest – have made the jump from the PGA Tour/DP World Tour, swayed by the money Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is pumping into the LIV project. 

But that relatively happy state of affairs is about to change. After a prolonged and increasingly loud period of speculation, Henrik Stenson, who was named captain of the Old World side in Italy for next year in March, has been relieved of his duties.

Ryder Cup Europe released a short statement Thursday (AEST) announcing the decision, never mentioning LIV Golf but telegraphing an announcement that Golf Digest sources says will come this week that Stenson is joining the breakaway tour.

“Ryder Cup Europe today confirms that Henrik Stenson’s tenure as captain of Team Europe for the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Italy from September 25 – October 1, 2023, has been brought to an end with immediate effect. 

“In light of decisions made by Henrik in relation to his personal circumstances, it has become clear that he will not be able to fulfil certain contractual obligations to Ryder Cup Europe that he had committed to prior to his announcement as captain on Tuesday March 15, 2022, and it is therefore not possible for him to continue in the role of captain. 

“Confirmation of the new 2023 European Ryder Cup captain will be made in due course. Ryder Cup Europe will be making no further comment on any aspect of the process until that time.”

Speaking before the announcement was made official, 2014 Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was clear that “due process” is likely to be followed when it comes to selecting Stenson’s replacement. In other words five men will be involved: the three most recent Ryder Cup captains – Padraig Harrington, Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke – DP World chief executive Keith Pelley and David Howell, chairman of the DP World Tour tournament committee.

“I’m not involved with any of the decision making in what will happen should Henrik go, as seems very likely at this stage,” McGinley said. “But I would say due process has to go on. It was the process in place for this decision. I’m not on the coal face but I’d be surprised if we didn’t have that in place for this. Whether we change it for New York [Bethpage in 2025] or not is a different question, but five people put Henrik in place and it will be their job to put someone else in place.”

Stenson, the 2016 Open champion, played at St Andrews last week in the 150th Open but missed the cut by one shot with rounds of 75-70. After finishing play on Friday, he was asked about his upcoming schedule and said it was “undecided”.

Approached by Golf Digest about whether he was considering a jump to LIV, Stenson responded: “I have no comment on that at all.”

Before Stenson accepted the Ryder Cup job in March, the Swede also was reportedly flirting with the idea of playing on the LIV Golf series. But when he was named captain, he seemed to close the door on joining the breakaway circuit: “There’s been a lot of speculations back and forth, and as I said, I am fully committed to the captaincy and to Ryder Cup Europe and the job at hand,” Stenson said. “So we’re going to keep busy with that and I’m going to do everything in my power to deliver a winning team in Rome.”

While the R&A had made it clear earlier in the week that no LIV players would be asked to give official pre-championship interviews, Stenson was also a notable absentee from that roster. As European Ryder Cup captain and a past Open champion, he seemingly would have been included. 

Stenson’s draw for the two rounds at the Old Course also hinted at backroom tensions. The five-time Ryder Cup player toured the premises alongside (British) Amateur champion, Aldrich Potgieter, and journeyman Luke List. Neither, of course, owns anything like the status enjoyed by Stenson. 

Published reports said that DP World Tour officials talked to Stenson one more time after the Open to see if they could persuade him to stay. Apparently, they couldn’t.