2004: Our Opinion - A rule is a rule is a rule . . .

All right, PGA European Tour: When is a rule not a rule?

Recent waffling by the Tour’s leadership regarding Jesper Parnevik’s membership, coupled with his efforts to qualify for the European Ryder Cup team, prompts the question.

The tour has a rule in place stating that members who do not compete in 11 European Tour-sanctioned events per season will be suspended for two years. In order to avoid the penalty, Parnevik, a Swede who has lived in the United States for most of his career and who realized he wasn’t going to compete in 11 European events this season, recently surrendered his membership. His reasoning was that he wanted a chance to be a member next year, and particularly in 2006 – a Ryder Cup year.

Ah, the Ryder Cup. There’s the rub. Parnevik learned, through discussions with European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer, that the tour would waive the two-year suspension if Parnevik reinstated his membership but still didn’t qualify for the European Ryder Cup team. He’ll gain his first two “European” starts this season by playing in a U.S. Open qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, and a British Open qualifier in Bethesda, Md.

What then, does it mean to be a European Tour member? Not much, if the tour’s leadership eliminates penalties that keep in order the criteria for membership.

This points to a growing problem as the disparity increases between prize money on the European Tour and its counterpart in the United States. It has become more difficult for top players to maintain loyalty to the European Tour, even if they want to. Who can blame Parnevik, or any other European-born player good enough to compete on the PGA Tour, if he chooses to play for $1 million first-place prizes rather than $400,000? And the Catch-22 is that players such as Parnevik – who reside outside the top 50 in the world and who are fighting to keep their PGA Tour cards – are the ones most slighted by the system.

Players in the top 50 play the four majors and the three World Golf Championship events – all considered to be PGA European Tour-sanctioned tournaments no matter where they are played. So, top-50 players have to play only four “true” European Tour events to reach the required 11. But if you’re outside the top 50 and don’t qualify for the majors, all 11 events would have to be on the European Tour – thus restricting one’s abilities to play enough PGA Tour events to keep the more lucrative card in the United States.

It is wise, we agree, that only members of the European Tour be eligible for the European Ryder Cup team. Part of the charm of the event is the fact players relatively unknown on this side of the pond – your Christy O’Connor Jrs., Philip Waltons and Paul McGinleys – can carry the day.

We don’t blame the European Tour for wanting to give Parnevik every chance to make the Ryder Cup team, but changing a rule in midstream is no solution.

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