By Kees Jan Stel
GolfWRX European Tour Contributor
With Europeans Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Graham McDowell and Padraig Harrington already playing in America, the top European golfers spent more time on the other side of the Atlantic than on home soil.
The increasing desire to play in America has much to do with the sustained acceptance and success of the PGA Tour’s FedexCup. And who can blame the players? The total purse of around $260 million in prize money on the PGA Tour is almost twice the amount in Europe. Moneywise, it’s a no brainer to cross the Atlantic once equipped with the required exemptions.
The good news for Europe is that more stars in America will help the old continent as well. Playing on the PGA Tour will make them better players and thus increase their chances of landing a major championship, further improving Europe’s record in team events such as the Ryder Cup. But there is an obvious downside. Englishman David Lynn, who came second in this year’s PGA Championship, is one of the European Tour players that has the credentials to give the PGA Tour a shot, but he is not intent to do so yet.
“It’s not good for the Tour if guys all keep playing in America all the time,” Lynn said. “If guys just have that attitude, like ‘I’ve got the right to go and play over there, it seriously doesn’t do a lot of good for the European Tour in the future. It is a vicious circle where America keeps getting stronger and Europe keeps getting weaker.”
Complaining never solves problems. So instead of staring at the success of the PGA Tour, the leaders of the European Tour recognized the flaws and decided to up the specs on their own tour. And it seems they are heading in the right direction, since there will be a substantial revamp of the European Tour’s calendar in 2013.
With the economic climate in Europe still heavily under par (the European Tour lost six tournaments in one year due to lack of funding), it is clear that the growth of the European Tour will come from outside of Europe. There are 46 events on the European Tour, 24 of which are played outside the continent and eight of which that are played in Asia.
The recently played Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in Belek will become an official, 78-man stroke play event on the European Tour next year with a purse that will surely be one of the better ones in the season. The Turks are after a bid to stage the Olympics in 2020, and are eager to show the world they can pull off events large events like the World Golf Final.
There is also BMW Masters in Shanghai, China. In 2011, it was an exhibition tournament, but this year it was an official part of the European Tour with an 80-man field and a $7 million purse.
Last but not least there is the inaugural Tournament of Hope that will be held in South Africa in late November of next year. Co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour, it is a 10-year signed event with a $9 million purse, which places it even above the four majors and the World Golf Championships in terms of total prize money. With the $7 million WGC-HSBC Champions in China, the $6 million Singapore Open and the $7 million Dubai World Championship already scheduled, all of a sudden the end of the year on the European Tour looks completely different. Rory McIlroy was clear about it:
“I think that’s what the European Tour needs to do, give it some sort of buzz like the PGA Tour has,” he said. “It will mean a very busy end to the season for us, but an exciting one too.”
The 2013 FedExCup Playoffs will mark the official end of the PGA Tour’s 2013 official season. Competition for the 2013-2014 FedExCup will resume three weeks later with the PGA Tour’s Fall Series. Much of the refurbished European Tour season will be not be played during the ultra-rich FedExCup Playoffs, but during the Fall Series, which should give the European Tour’s more lucrative season-ending events a boost.
It will be interesting to see how players deal with the serious amounts of dollars and ranking points that all of a sudden are available. Not only it will give the top players interesting options, it also leaves a mouthwatering prospect for golf fans who have gotten used to a fading end to the season once the Wannamaker Trophy was presented.
Currently, European Tour rules state that its members must play at least 13 events in a calendar year (up from 11 last year). But it significantly helped make itself more attractive to top international talent by doing what the PGA Tour has done for years, making participation in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup counts towards membership (the Seve Trophy, a biennial golf tournament between teams of professional male golfers representing Great Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe, will also count toward membership). Since the four major championships and all the WGCs already count toward membership on both tours, the strain of joining the European Tour will be much less for players.
Rory McIlroy said in Turkey that playing both Tours was clearly on his mind, in particular since he has never won the Harry Vardon Trophy*, which is given to the Order of Merit winner (leading money winner) on the European Tour. Not that playing on both the European and the PGA Tour is easy — it requires serious travelling and intelligent planning. On the other hand, Luke Donald successfully showed last year it can be done and Rory McIlroy is close to pulling it off this year. Tiger Woods also said in Turkey that he is contemplating membership of the European Tour. This year, including the Ryder Cup, Woods fell only four events short of the 13-tournament minimum (4 majors, 3 WGCs, and the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship).
Will the exile of Europe’s best players hurt the European Tour? Not necessarily, as long as they decide to play on the European Tour as well. That would indicate that they will not play on European soil as often, since the restructuring of the European Tour’s end of the season will mainly take place in Asia and Africa. That may lead to Rory McIlroy not playing in his own Irish Open and Lee Westwood and Luke Donald not playing the BMW PGA Championship (Wentworth). But if it means that in the bargain players such as Tiger Woods become members of the European Tour and Europe remains as dominant as it is in Ryder Cup, no European will complain.
*The Harry Vardon Trophy should not be confused with the Vardon Trophy, which is awarded by the PGA of America to the player with the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour.