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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 29, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

    Fore! Time to share the wealth

    Paul Gallagher

    Rory McIlroy and his caddie JP Fitzgerald at a photo-shoot during the recent Egyptian Open

    Rory McIlroy and his caddie JP Fitzgerald at a photo-shoot during the recent Egyptian Open (Photograph: Jon Walley/Reuters)

    It’s a curious time of year in the world of professional golf.  When so many lesser lights are busting their balls in the hope of retaining their playing rights for next season those at the top table traverse the globe in their private jets and hoover up all the riches thrown their way.

    Not so much a criticism as an observation, but this time of the year, more than any, illustrates the gargantuan gulf between those playing for their livelihoods at one end of the spectrum while the game’s elite get to boost their already considerable coffers before Santa’s annual visit.

    Take the recent Egyptian Open on the Challenge Tour as a case in point. In the field were two Irishmen, both former Walker Cup players and successful Irish internationals – both with pedigree – but they belong to completely different (golfing) stratospheres at this juncture.

    Athlone’s Colm Moriarty is in a last minute dash to regain his playing rights to the main European Tour – and appears destined for a return to the gruelling season-ending Qualifying School – whereas the name of Rory McIlroy on the Egyptian timesheet stood out like a sore thumb.

    On paper McIlroy should have cantered to victory for it was akin to a Chelsea or Manchester United dropping down a league for the chance to pummel a Preston or Doncaster over four days in the desert.

    And for what? What benefits befitted the world number nine teeing it up in Cairo? Could it be financial gain by way of appearance money and endorsement commitments, for it certainly wasn’t for the world ranking points and prize purse on offer on Europe’s second tier.

    The PR machine got their money shots of golf’s boy wonder beating balls against the backdrop of a world wonder at the Pyramids. On course the affable McIlroy writhed with his swing all week to eventually finish tied 12th for pocket money of €3,308; a paltry amount when compared to the €842,000 he scooped for winning at Quail Hollow on the PGA Tour.

    Moriarty to his credit finished a shot behind McIlroy and won his way into this week’s Grand Final. From 13 events the 31-year-old has amassed €29,308 on the Challenge Tour, while McIlroy has banked over €3million in prize money alone from 29 events on the PGA and European Tour. Let’s not get started on endorsement deals for that’s a whole different ball game.

    We need only look at this month’s PGA Grand Slam in Bermuda where the four majors were meant to tee it up in what should be considered the most enviable fourball in golf. Instead Ernie Els and David Toms were drafted in to replace Masters champion Phil Mickelson and British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen. Ironically the major winners, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer tied third – or last – and still pocketed €161,000 apiece for their two day’s work.

    If there is a point to this, it is that it appears glaringly obvious the extremities of professional golf need to be closer aligned? At the top end the elite slosh around in more greenbacks than they know what to do with, whereas the next pay cheque, let alone financial security, isn’t immediately obvious when viewing from the foot of the mountain. The transition from top amateur to successful tour professional needs to be made easier, if only from a financial standpoint.

    McIlroy and Moriarty aren’t picked out for special mention, two names of equivalent stature could just as easy replace the Irishmen and the story would be the same – it’s just McIlroy’s presence in Egypt appeared such an obvious mismatch from a golfing standpoint.

    Yes, McIlroy is a prodigious talent – not to mention highly marketable – and deserves all the trimmings that come his way. But for the sake of nurturing talent and unearthing the next Rory McIlroy, is there not a case for reducing the surplus at one end to boost the purses at the other?

    An unscientific look at the 2010 purses shows the Challenge Tour offering up in the region of €5 million for a 25-event season compared to the €100 million plus on the main European Tour with almost one event per week all year round.

    As the likes of Moriarty, Simon Thornton and an out of sorts Gary Murphy stare into the unknown of Qualifying School to determine where next year’s playing field will be, the high-end gravy train trundles on.

    After the Race to Dubai sorts itself out in the Gulf next month, Ireland’s top trio of McIlroy, McDowell and Pádraig Harrington are just some within the upper echelons who will find time to squeeze in lucrative pit-stops such as the Tiger Woods’ €3.5million Chevron World Challenge or the €2.1 million Shark Shootout before signing off for Christmas.

    Curious times indeed.

    • Nicholas Armstrong says:

      Very interersting points made. In order to keep Europe dominating golf on the global stage we need to maintain that level by not offering endless bags of cash to the comfortable but distribute broadly to those in need of making their next mortgage payment. McIlroy and Harrington need never worry so lets allow Moriarity and Thornton to sleep peacefully aswell. What a life though if you can!

    • An interesting thought but is it not the same in all sports – the elite are by their nature a very select number otherwise they couldn’t be an elite. I don’t hear too many people arguing that lower league soccer players should get a little more money and that premier league players should get less.
      The truth is that the top end players are just better. Look at the finish to the Andalucia Masters – it was G-Mac who came through at the finish, the others fell away. That’s why he gets the big bucks, because he consistently delivers under pressure.
      And how can you convince a sponsor to give more money to a Challenge Tour event than a European Tour event? The sponsors are in it for profile.
      Maybe if you follow the example of the American Sports – NFL, NBA etc – where there are salary caps and a draft system and apply them in some way to golf but I think it’s much harder in an individual sport.

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