Future of Golf: New opportunities, old challenges vex European Tour

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 30: Ian Poulter of Europe celebrates after winning The Ryder Cup with supporters during singles matches of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National on September 30, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Future of Golf: New opportunities, old challenges vex European Tour

Golf

Future of Golf: New opportunities, old challenges vex European Tour

By

Get ready for the Ian Poulter show five years from now. The 2023 season should see Poulter named European captain for the 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black. Poulter turns 48 in January 2024.

If you thought the Englishman had a huge presence inside the ropes at a Ryder Cup, imagine what he’s going to be like in charge of the European team. If any European can handle the potentially hostile New York crowds, Poulter’s the man.

Of course, when Poulter leads Europe at Bethpage, he likely will be in charge of a side defending the trophy won in Rome two years before. Europe should bask in the glory of another Ryder Cup victory in 2022 after losing the 2020 match at Whistling Straits. Why do I make such a bold prediction? Because it seems blatantly obvious golf’s greatest team event favors the home team.

Since the United States sorted out its selection process after the K Club in 2006, home teams have won five of the of the last six matches. (It would be 6-for-6 if not for the so-called Miracle of Medinah.) I see no reason for that to change. The U.S. team will enjoy a bomb-and-putt fest at Whistling Straits two years from now, with 2022 European captain Lee Westwood ensuring Marco Simone Golf and Country Club is set up with tight fairways and slow greens to accommodate his side.

Thankfully, Europe will have more major winners five years from now. Take your pick from a plethora of good, young European talent excelling on the world stage: Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Eddie Pepperell, Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace and Lucas Bjerregaard should all finish 2018 inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. They likely will compete with established Europeans such as Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson and Poulter for major titles over the next five years.

Expect English players to continue to dominate the European Tour, as they did in 2018. Eleven Englishmen accounted for 14 European Tour wins last year. Another, Aaron Rai, kicked off the 2019 season by winning the Honma Hong Kong Open.

And expect the England Golf system to continue to churn out young players with the talent to make a name for themselves on European fairways. There’s an English junior by the name of Conor Gough – you heard the name here first – who just could be stepping onto the European Tour five years from now. He’s the leading English player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at No. 21 thanks to his victory in this year’s British Boys Championship. He played in the Junior Ryder Cup in Paris, and he could play in the real thing in the future. He’ll be 21 in 2023. It will be interesting to see if he emerges as the next English star.

Of course, five years from now Keith Pelley probably won’t be in charge of the European Tour. He’ll have moved onto new challenges, leaving former IMG man Guy Kinnings in charge. Kinnings knows the European scene well and should seamlessly take up Pelley’s reins. Kinnings has the same challenge that faces Pelley: keep his star players competing in Europe.

Poulter, Rose, Casey, Stenson, McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Russell Knox and other Europeans are essentially PGA Tour players who pay lip service to the European Tour. They play a full PGA Tour schedule and fulfill the basic requirements for European Tour membership. That amounts to four regular events along with the majors and World Golf Championships.

Don’t expect that quota to change in the next five years, even if it is a paltry number of tournaments. But maybe not so paltry for McIlroy, who hinted recently he may quit the European Tour to focus solely on the PGA Tour. That sent shock waves around European Tour headquarters.

That’s why the current Rolex Series is crucial over the next five years. The tour needs to build on the series’ eight events currently on the schedule to keep young stars from emulating Poulter et al. and upping sticks for permanent homes in the United States. Rahm has opted for U.S. residence on the basis of having played college golf at Arizona State. Shane Lowry has concentrated more on the PGA Tour than the European Tour in recent years, too. However, so far players such as Fleetwood, Hatton, Olesen, Bjerregaard, Pepperell, Wallace, Thomas Pieters and others have not shown a great desire to establish permanent homes in the U.S.

Only by staging big-money events can the European Tour hang on to its star players – that’s the challenge the tour will face five years from now, same as now. Gwk

(Note: This column appears in the December 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home