Lack of star power still stings biggest European Tour golf events

BRESCIA, ITALY - JUNE 01: Callum Shinkwin of England tees off on the 2nd hole during day two of the Italian Open at Gardagolf CC on June 1, 2018 in Brescia, Italy. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Lack of star power still stings biggest European Tour golf events

Digital Edition

Lack of star power still stings biggest European Tour golf events

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley might be having uncomfortable conversations with some of his biggest sponsors right now. Those companies he roped into his much-heralded Rolex Series could be asking for some of their money back.

The last two weeks prove throwing money at tournaments doesn’t always guarantee the best possible fields. First, the BMW PGA Championship was missing a few marquee names the German car company might have expected to turn up at the ultra-exclusive Wentworth Club to the west of London. No Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose or Henrik Stenson. True, Rory McIlroy was in the field, but the Northern Irishman played the tour’s flagship event many times before it became a Rolex Series tournament.

Scroll forward to last week’s Italian Open and the field was even worse. The above four also skipped a trip to Italy. Rahm and Garcia had a week off, while Rose and Stenson played in the Memorial along with McIlroy. It left Tommy Fleetwood as the highest-ranked player in the field at World No. 14. Other top-50 players included Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ian Poulter, Francesco Molinari, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher, Haotong Li, Alex Levy, Dylan Frittelli and Thomas Pieters.

Good players. But worthy of a $7 million purse? Don’t think so.

Italy was much akin to last year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa. It, too, was a Rolex Series event, with a slightly higher purse of $7.5 million ($7 million is the minimum purse for a Rolex Series tournament). That field didn’t seem worthy of Nedbank shelling out $7.5 million. South African Branden Grace won the tournament, which kept the home fans happy. He bettered players such as Fleetwood, Hatton, Fisher, Cabrera Bello, Noren, Molinari and players of that ilk. However, as with Italy, there were no major stars in the field.

You won’t hear anyone playing in the Rolex fields complaining about the prize funds. Why would they? James Heath finished last in the BMW PGA Championship and earned just under $14,000. Not huge money but significant for a relative minnow such as Heath. The one-time Augusta State player only got into the BMW PGA after reaching the semifinals of the Belgian Knockout. As a Qualifying School graduate, he’s been limited to events at the bottom of the food chain this season. After missing seven of his first eight cuts, Heath is 149th on the money list with just over $90,000 in earnings. He’s got a long way to go to keep his tour status. That $14,000 just might make the difference between keeping and losing his card at the end of the season.

Pelley launched the Rolex as a means of attracting his PGA Tour-based stars back to the European Tour more often. The jury’s out on whether it’s having any more effect than pre-Rolex Series years. Rose played four of the seven last year. Stenson appeared in three, although he missed the DP World Tour Championship because of injury. Garcia was the worst Rolex Series attendee: He played just one of the seven in 2017. Rahm won two of the three he competed in last year, the Irish Open and DP World. McIlroy’s season was hampered by injury, but he’s on record as saying the Rolex Series wouldn’t change his schedule.

This year’s Irish Open at Ballyliffin is another event that might lack star power. It does have McIlroy, because his charitable foundation is heavily involved in running the tournament. Rahm returns as defending champion, but so far Rose, Stenson and Garcia have not committed. The Irish is sandwiched in the middle of the French and Scottish Opens in the run up to the British Open. That’s a scheduling issue that perhaps needs attention. No way are Europe’s big guns going to play three straight before a major.

Molinari’s press conference after winning the BMW PGA was telling. When asked about the tournament moving to September next year, the Italian said: “Hopefully we’ll get even a stronger field than we did this year.” BMW will hope so too, as will Pelley.

Top marks to the Canadian for coming up with the Rolex concept, but the series isn’t quite living up to its advance billing. Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home