Luke Donald's Six Ryder Cup Captain's Picks
Luke Donald has selected Ludvig Åberg, Tommy Fleetwood, Nicolai Højgaard, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose and Sepp Straka as his six Captain’s Picks to complete his 12-man European Team for the 2023 Ryder Cup in Italy.
Here’s what you need to know about Donald’s six picks.
World Ranking: 90
Ryder Cup Record: ROOKIE
A rising star in world golf, Ludvig Åberg produced a statement performance as he birdied four of his final five holes to land his first professional title at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland - the final Team Europe qualifying event.
It came a week after the former Number One in the World Amateur Golf Ranking finished in a tie for fourth in his first regular DP World Tour event since joining the pro ranks at the D+D REAL Czech Masters.
Prior to that, the 23-year-old Swede made history earlier this year as the first player to secure a PGA TOUR card via collegiate merit, finishing top of the 2023 PGA TOUR University Ranking after making a name for himself at Texas Tech.
He finished in a tie for 25th on his first start as a professional at the RBC Canadian Open in June and registered his first top ten as a professional with a tie for fourth at the John Deere Classic in July.
His form in his short professional career so far - and his undoubted talent - is such that he has shown enough to impress Luke Donald and his backroom team to earn a Captain’s Pick.
Team and Match Play experience
While in the amateur ranks, Åberg racked up plenty of matchplay experience.
He represented his country on three occasions at the European Amateur Team Championship, forming part of the winning side on home soil in 2019 as they overcame England.
At the Arnold Palmer Cup, he would play his part in helping the International Team to victory over the United States in both 2020 and 2022.
In the first of those appearances, he enjoyed a perfect record from his four matches in the mixed team competition.
World Ranking: 14
Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2018, 2020)
Ryder Cup record: 4-2-2
Tommy Fleetwood, who made his debut during Team Europe’s victory at Le Golf National in Paris and was part of the team is Whistling Straits, will make his third consecutive appearance in the Ryder Cup at Marco Simone.
The six-time DP World Tour winner narrowly missed out on automatic qualification after he was overtaken by Matt Fitzpatrick in the final qualifying event of the season, but comes into the Ryder Cup in excellent form.
After capping off the end of the 2022 season with victory at the Nedbank Golf Challenge and a tie for fifth in the DP World Tour Championship, Fleetwood maintained much of that form early in 2023 and has consistently been at the top end of leaderboards on both the DP World Tour and PGA TOUR - particularly in the last few months. After a tie for 18th at the US PGA Championship, the World Number 15 has six top tens in his last eight worldwide starts including tied fifth at the U.S. Open, tied sixth at the Genesis Scottish Open, tied tenth at Royal Liverpool at The 151st Open, and tied tenth at the Tour Championship.
Ryder Cup Experience
During an impressive debut, Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari’s partnership and friendship stole headlines as ‘Moliwood’ became the first European pairing in history to win four out of four matches in a Ryder Cup. He secured four points from five matches, losing out 6&4 in the Sunday singles to Tony Finau. In the most recent contest, he partnered with Viktor Hovland for one draw and one loss in fourballs, and tied with Jordan Spieth in the singles.
Fleetwood has proven himself to be a prolific team player, with a record of 4-1-1 in Ryder Cup foursomes (2-0-0), and fourballs (2-1-1). That has also extended to other team performances in his professional career, having played in the 2023 Hero Cup, where he went 3-1-0, the 2018 EurAsia Cup, where he went 3-0-0, and in the 2013 Seve Trophy, where he went 1-3-0.
In two appearances in the Ryder Cup, Fleetwood has played with two different players across six matches.
Alongside Molinari, the duo combined for an unbeatable 4-0-0 record in Europe’s victory in Paris, taking down Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods 3&1 in the Friday fourballs, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth 5&4 in the Friday foursomes, Reed and Woods 4&3 in the Saturday fourballs, and Woods and Bryson DeChambeau 5&4 in the Saturday foursomes.
Without Molinari in Whistling Straits, Fleetwood played just twice in the opening four sessions – paired with Viktor Hovland during the Norwegian’s debut. They were in control of their opening match early on Friday afternoon against Thomas and Patrick Cantlay and held on to an advantage until the 16th, but ultimately ended up with a half in their first match together. They then went toe-to-toe with DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler for the first 13 holes, but the Americans won four in a row from there to end that match 3&1.
And while Molinari will provide his expertise as a Vice-Captain this time around, Hovland has already been confirmed as part of the team , as has Tyrrell Hatton, who he partnered with during the Saturday foursomes in the Hero Cup during a 2&1 victory over Sepp Straka and Thomas Detry.
World Ranking: 78
Ryder Cup appearances: ROOKIE
With back-to-back top five finishes in the final two events of European Ryder Cup qualification, Nicolai Hojgaard showed Luke Donald that he could handle both pressure and expectation and was rewarded with a Captain’s pick to earn his debut appearance for Team Europe.
The 22 year old had a somewhat tumultuous 2022, but firmly put himself in the frame for selection after making a big statement when he replaced injured brother Rasmus in the Hero Cup in the second week of January. He finished the week as the joint top-point scorer, winning 3.5 points from four matches that included a singles victory over Seamus Power and 2.5 points alongside playing partner and Ryder Cup Vice Captain Francesco Molinari, who also Captained the winning Continental European side.
He then hit the ground running. The next week he posted a top ten in the first Rolex Series event of the year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and proved a consistent name featured on leaderboards that also saw him add a fifth place in Thailand, a runner-up finish on the PGA Tour in the Corales Puntacana Championship.
He continued to impress with a tie for fifth at Ryder Cup venue Marco Simone at the DS Automobiles Italian Open, and once again among a strong field at the Genesis Scottish Open, where he finished tied sixth finish. Hitting form at the right time, Nicolai added a top 25 in his first Open Championship, and a tie for 14th at the Wyndham Championship before his top three in the Czech Republic and his tied fifth finish in Switzerland last week.
Team and Match-play experience
The Hero Cup in January was Nicolai’s first experience of match-play as a professional, and he seized the opportunity of his last-minute replacement into the team as his chance to impress.
On the opening day, he and Molinari tied their fourballs match against Ewen Ferguson and Richard Mansell, and went on to win both of their Saturday foursomes: First a 3&1 over Callum Shinkwin and Matt Wallace in the morning, and then 2&1 over Ferguson and Mansell in the afternoon. As good as they were together, Hojgaard proved he could also do it alone, turning his match around from 2 down after three to win 1UP on the 18th.
In addition to his first professional team experience at the Hero Cup, Hojgaard has a strong resume when it comes to team appearances.
Along with Rory McIlroy, Hojgaard will be the only other player on Team Europe who has experience of representing Europe at a junior level, having been part of the Junior Ryder Cup team that played the United States in Paris in 2018. He ended his first taste of the Ryder Cup with a 1-1-1 record, which included a 4&2 victory in his singles match.
World Ranking: 37
Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (2021)
Ryder Cup record: 1-2-0
Shane Lowry, who made his Ryder Cup debut as a Captain’s pick at Whistling Straits in 2021, will experience a Ryder Cup on home soil for the first time later this month when he makes his second appearance for Team Europe.
The 2019 Open Champion made the best possible start to his campaign with his sixth DP World Tour victory at last year’s BMW PGA Championship, and a steady and consistent performer in the biggest events underlined his case. He counted three top 20s on his 2023 Major resume, the best of those a tied 12th at the US PGA Championship, along with a tie for 12th at the Genesis Scottish Open amid a particularly strong field full of Ryder Cup stars.
He eventually finished ranked ninth on the World Points List and 11th on the European Points List, but his steady performance and prolific team experience made him an expected pick for Luke Donald’s side.
Ryder Cup Experience
Lowry made his Ryder Cup debut for Team Europe at Whistling Straits in 2020 after being selected as a Captain’s pick by Padraig Harrington.
During his rookie appearance, Lowry played three times – earning one point from three matches during Europe’s defeat to the strong United States Team. He played two fourball matches over the contest, teaming up with Rory McIlroy during their 4&3 loss to Tony Finau and Harris English on Friday afternoon, before getting his own back on the same opposition with a 1UP victory alongside Tyrrell Hatton. He then came up against a strong Patrick Cantlay, who defeated him 4&2 in the second match of the singles.
But although he hasn’t yet tasted Ryder Cup success or played a foursomes match, Lowry has a plethora of team events and match-play experience under his belt that make him far more of an experienced member of Team Europe than that record suggests. In addition to the biennial contest, Lowry has appeared in the EurAsia Cup (2016), the Hero Cup (2023), the World Cup (2013, 2016, 2018), and has made eight appearances in the WGC Dell-Technologies Match Play.
During the last Ryder Cup, Lowry had two different partners in Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton, both of whom automatically qualified for the team this year and could provide an option for the Irishman on his second outing for Team Europe.
After combining to beat Finau and English in Wisconsin, Hatton and Lowry teamed up for a second time earlier this year in the Hero Cup. They proved once again to be a good team, but were narrowly beaten 1UP Sepp Straka and Thomas Detry.
That week, Lowry also got his chance to partner with Tommy Fleetwood in fourballs and Seamus Power in foursomes, but suffered a 2&1 loss to Alex Noren and Thomas Pieters in the first match, and a 3&2 loss to Victor Perz and Guido Migliozzi in the second.
His most successful partnership in team competition to date was during the 2016 EurAsia Cup, where he teamed up with Andy Sullivan for a 2-0-0 record in their fourball and foursomes matches on Europea’s way to victory.
As for other match-play experience, Lowry has plenty. He’s played in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play eight times, and despite a best of tied 16th, he did beat Ryder Cup USA member Jordan Spieth 2&1 in their match earlier this year.
World Ranking: 34
Ryder Cup appearances: 5 (2008, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018)
Ryder Cup record: 13-8-2
Justin Rose will bring a wealth of experience to Team Europe when he appears in his sixth Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.
Having missed out last time, Rose made sure he was part of Luke Donald’s consideration with a consistent campaign that included a return to the winner’s circle at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour in February.
The triumph saw the Englishman become the first European to win the tournament, in addition to helping him climb into the top ten on the World Points List and return to the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
A tie for sixth soon followed at The PLAYERS Championship, before he finished in the top 20 at both the Masters Tournament and US PGA Championship.
On his return to Europe earlier this summer, he finished in a tie for fourth at the Betfred British Masters hosted by Sir Nick Faldo and has since played in the opening two events of the FedExCup PlayOffs, finishing tied 22nd in the FedEx St Jude Championship and tied 20th at the BMW Championship.
Ryder Cup experience
On the winning side three times, Rose has played in 23 Ryder Cup matches, winning 13, tying two and losing eight, with a total points tally of 14.
He delivered three points from four matches as a rookie in 2008 at Valhalla after qualifying for Captain Faldo’s team as one of the top five players on the European Points List.
Four years later, he was one of only two players to play in all five matches in the Miracle at Medinah, securing a crucial third win of the week in Sunday’s singles against Phil Mickelson to help José María Olazábal’s team to victory.
He again played in all five sessions when Gleneagles hosted the contest in 2014, going unbeaten across the four days as Europe retained the trophy for their third consecutive win. However, he was unable to extend that winning run in 2016 at Hazeltine as he won two points after again being picked to play in all five matches.
On his most recent experience at Le Golf National in 2018, Rose registered two points from his four matches as Europe regained the trophy under the captaincy of Thomas Bjørn.
This is the first time Rose has required a Captain’s Pick to be on the team.
Across his five appearances in the Ryder Cup, Rose has played with five different players, forging two successful partnerships.
On debut in 2008, he teamed up with countryman Ian Poulter to win two of their three matches together and their only defeat was a narrow loss to Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell in the morning foursomes on the opening day.
He would partner Poulter to victories in foursomes play on both days at Medinah, either side of securing a half point with Martin Kaymer and a defeat alongside Francesco Molinari in fourballs.
In 2014, his partnership with Henrik Stenson proved pivotal in helping Europe to a comfortable victory in Scotland as the pair won the three matches together before he secured a half point alongside Kaymer in Saturday’s afternoon foursomes.
There were mixed fortunes for the Rose/Stenson pairing in 2018 as they won one and lost two of their three matches together, with the Englishman also delivering a full point alongside rookie Chris Wood in Saturday’s foursomes.
After a narrow defeat alongside rookie Jon Rahm in the opening fourballs match in 2018 at Le Golf National, Rose and Stenson were part of a clean sweep of the afternoon foursomes before the pair delivered another point together on Saturday as Europe took control of the contest.
World Ranking: 23
Ryder Cup record: ROOKIE
Sepp Straka is the second player from Austria to feature at a Ryder Cup, following on from Bernd Wiesberger at Whistling Straits, after earning a Captain’s Pick from Luke Donald.
One of four rookies in the European team, he will be hopeful of making his debut appearance a winning one as the hosts look to reclaim golf’s biggest team prize against a formidable American side.
How did he make it onto the team?
In the formative weeks of the qualification process last year, Straka finished runner-up at the Sanderson Farms Championship, losing a play-off to Mackenzie Hughes in the PGA TOUR event.
Victory would have been his second stateside after he made history as the first Austrian winner on the PGA TOUR earlier that year with a fine comeback to edge out Shane Lowry at the Honda Classic.
After closing out last year with a tie for tenth at the Hero World Challenge, results would be hard to come by early on in 2023 as he arrived at the US PGA Championship with just one top ten to his name.
But after finishing in a tie for seventh at Oak Hill Country Club in May, he made another big move on the World Points List by winning his second PGA TOUR title at the John Deere Classic in early July.
Later that month he would produce a career-best Major performance with a tie for second at The Open, before ending the PGA TOUR campaign at the Tour Championship in a share of sixth place.
That saw him finish in seventh place on the World Points List, missing out on automatic qualification, but he impressed enough to earn selection from Donald.
Team and Match Play experience
Straka formed part of the Continental Europe side that won the inaugural Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year.
After defeats in his opening two matches, he paired up with Thomas Detry to record a 1UP victory against Tyrrell Hatton and Lowry.
But he left his best to last as he comprehensively defeated Ewen Ferguson 5&4 in the singles and help his team to a 14.5 - 10.5 victory at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Meanwhile, as an amateur, Straka also showcased his matchplay credentials by playing his part in Austria finishing second at the 2011 European Boys’ Team Championship as they lost the final against a Spain side featuring Jon Rahm.