European Tour’s upcoming slow season a perfect feeding ground for the minnows

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 10: David Law of Scotland celebrates after making this eagle putt on the 18th green to win trophy during Day four of the ISPS Handa Vic Open at 13th Beach Golf Club on February 10, 2019 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images) Michael Dodge/Getty Images

European Tour’s upcoming slow season a perfect feeding ground for the minnows

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European Tour’s upcoming slow season a perfect feeding ground for the minnows

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Welcome to the European Tour’s Dead Zone, that time of year when the stars’ names disappear after collecting fat appearance fees, ceding the floor to the little guys.

Scotland’s David Law isn’t complaining.

At the ISPS Handa Vic Open – a $1 million, bottom-of-the-food-chain tournament – Law earned his first European Tour victory. The Vic Open is in the same league as the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, Oman Open, Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, Kenya Open and the Hero Indian Open.

Oman and Qatar take the plaudits from the above bunch. They’re the richest at $1.75 million. That’s just slightly more than the appearance fee needed to land a star name.

Throw in the Belgian Knockout, the GolfSixes, Shot Clock Challenge, D+D Real Czech Masters and the Scandinavian Invitation –these are the Euro Tour’s third-tier events.

Yes, third tier: Tournaments with purses of less than $2 million without extra cash to lure a star. Law should hope his future doesn’t involve participation in these tournaments.

The Shot Clock tournament is one of European Tour CEO Keith Pelley’s innovations, an event that ensures competitors play shots within a maximum time of 50 seconds with penalties for those who break the rule. Kudos to Pelley and the Euro Tour for trialling the idea (I just wish they and other organizations would adopt the shot-clock policy to speed up the game’s snails). However, it’s not a tournament that gets a lot of attention. The Official World Golf Ranking gave it a strength of field rating of just six last year, the weakest event on the Euro schedule. It was only 886 points below the top-ranked British Open.

Still, it’s an important tournament for Euro Tour minnows, who need such tournaments as stepping stones.

Eddie Pepperell explained the three-tier system perfectly when he found himself in two of the tiers in 2017. Pepperell lost his card in 2016 and had to go to Qualifying School to regain it. He managed to play well enough in 2017 to graduate to tier two.

“We have a three-tier system, three different tours,” Pepperell said. “You’ve got the top 50 guys, and guys like me and your Q School guys. One group’s going to play for, let’s say, $120 million over the course of the year, one group is going to play for $80 or $90 million and the bottom guys are going to play for $30 million.”

Pepperell is now in the top tier after an excellent 2018 in which he won twice, including in Qatar. The victory took him into the OWGR’s top 100. He built on it by winning the British Masters to move into the top 50.

Pepperell is now 41st in the OWGR, status that has earned him his first Masters invitation this year. He’s moved up a tax bracket by playing for that annual $120 million pot.

Pepperell’s not the first player to use third-tier tournaments for advancement. England’s Matt Wallace parlayed victory in the Indian Open into two further wins last year. He’s also a top-50 guy, ranked 37th, looking forward to the Masters and a schedule that includes the majors, WGC tournaments and the Euro Tour’s Rolex series events.

It’s easy to be contemptuous of tier-three events. Interest is low, as there are no stars. Why would there be? They’re too busy playing the PGA Tour, where there are enough world ranking points to help them stay in the top 50.

We shouldn’t be contemptuous of tier-three tournaments. They might be bottom of the food chain, but they’re an important breeding ground for future stars like Pepperell and Wallace.
Law will hope he can come through the Dead Zone into the promised land of milk, honey and more money than he ever dreamed of making. Gwk

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