It’s time for the European Tour minnows to swim.
The end of the European Tour’s Middle East Swing heralds the start of a golden opportunity for the Tour’s lesser lights. We now enter a stretch of low-purse, low-key tournaments that give the minnows chances to play.
Getting a card off the European Challenge Tour or at the European Qualifying School might at the time seem like a ticket to the riches of European Tour. Unfortunately, many of the tickets don’t qualify for all stops.
The three-tournament swing through the Middle East often excludes many at the bottom of the food chain. With the bigger players turning up to play this swing, it means a three-week layoff for many players.
Then once the bigger events start up after the Masters, it can be back to many weeks off. It’s hard to deal with for many players.
Former North Carolina State player Stephen Lewton earned a card for the 2011 season, but didn’t manage to hold on to it. He made just eight of 23 cuts and now plays on the Asian Tour.
“It’s very stop, start for a lot of guys,” Lewton said. “You can go big stretches without playing. You tend to play a few weeks in a row, then go weeks without playing and then back to playing another stretch of tournaments. It’s hard to get into any sort of a rhythm, and the pressure is on to play well when you do get starts.”
This week’s Joburg Open marks the first event of 2013 for Spain’s Carlos Del Moral. He got the 27th card at last year’s Q-School. England’s Daniel Brooks got the 21st and last card off last season’s Challenge Tour rankings and makes his first start of the year.
They take their place in Joburg along with many other members of Europe’s supporting cast. The highest-ranked player in the Joburg field is England’s Danny Willett, 84th on the Official world golf ranking. The field is so devoid of top players that Austria’s Markus Brier gets a start. Brier finished No. 147 on last year’s Euro Tour money list and lost his card.
Joburg marks a stretch of tournaments leading up to the Masters that will be devoid of most of Europe’s top names. The first time the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and other top names turn up on European soil will likely be in May, in either the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria or the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the European Tour’s flagship event.
The minnows need to make the most of things while the big fish are away.