Archive

History needs help

PGA European Tour executive director George O’Grady is on a high right now as his circuit travels through its lucrative Middle East tour swing. However, O’Grady would do well to climb off his lofty perch and listen to the views of one erudite Irishman.

O’Grady should have a chat with Ryder Cup player Paul McGinley. It might help O’Grady focus on a potential pitfall facing his tour.

McGinley raised an important issue during the European Tour’s debate on the number of events a tour member must play to retain membership.

The Irishman isn’t so much concerned with the number of tournaments Europe’s marquee names are playing, but rather the events they are missing.

The minimum number of events to maintain European Tour membership likely will be raised from 11 to 13 for the 2009 season. The expected move comes from growing disquiet among the membership that players who divide their time between the European Tour and PGA Tour aren’t playing in enough regular tour events.

Justin Rose topped the 2007 European money list even though he played in only 12 events, the lowest tally by an Order of Merit winner since Seve Ballesteros played the same number in 1978.

The difference is that in Seve’s day, only bona fide European Tour events counted toward the Order of Merit.

Since 1999, the tour has counted the four majors and three WGC tournaments in a player’s required minimum of 11 events. Thus you have the bizarre situation where a player needs to play in only four other European tournaments to qualify for the money list.

Needless to say, there have been rumblings from European Tour members.

“It’s hardly asking a lot to play what is basically once a month in Europe,” Colin Montgomerie said. “When I was winning my eight Orders of Merit, it was because of what I did in Europe, not what happened in America.”

So the number will almost surely be raised to 13 for 2009. Question is, will it be enough to save some historic tournaments? That’s McGinley’s worry.

“We need our bigger players to commit to some of the bread-and-butter continental tournaments like the Irish and French opens because right now we’re in danger of losing them,” he said.

The European Tour is blessed with some tournaments with real history, events that were real mainstays of the European circuit in the days before anyone had coined the term “WGC” or thought of including the three U.S. majors as “European” tournaments.

The French Open dates back to 1906, and includes the likes of Arnaud Massy, J.H. Taylor, James Braid, Walter Hagen, Sir Henry Cotton, Roberto de Vicenzo, Bobby Locke, Byron Nelson, Kel Nagle, Peter Oosterhuis, Seve Ballesteros, Bernard Gallacher, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sam Torrance, Retief Goosen, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Marie Olazabal among its winners.

It isn’t that long ago that the French was on virtually every European Tour member’s schedule. Not now. No disrespect to the following players, but the names Malcolm Mackenzie, Phil Golding, Jean Francois Remesy (twice), John Bickerton and Graeme Storm, winners of the last six French Opens, bear no resemblance to the who’s who in the above paragraph.

It’s the same with the Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian opens. Once mainstays of the European Tour, these historic events are being squeezed. They lose out to the cash cows currently being staged in the Middle East – tournaments willing to pay huge appearance money to lure marquee names to the desert. Meanwhile, many PGA Tour-based members can afford to become highly selective about the events they play in, given that all they have to do is pencil in four of them.

You can’t blame the players, who always will take the easy option. If they can get away with counting the four majors and three WGC events, then they will select the tournaments offering the most money for their four other appearances.

You don’t have to have an MBA in business to understand that dynamic.

McGinley is right to sound warning bells. If tournaments struggle to attract decent fields, then it’s going to get harder to get sponsors to dig into their pockets.

There are a few examples in of fine European championships falling by the wayside: The Belgian Open, German Open, English Open, Monte Carlo and Lancôme Trophy are now but footnotes in European Tour history.

McGinley’s warning needs to be taken to heart, or other historic championships could be consigned to slow, eventual deaths.

STORY COMMENTS
Show Hide