European Tour has made huge strides but has a long way to go
While Rolex Series has been a success, it is not until May that really elite events begin
Next year Paul Dunne could be defending a Rolex Series event at the British Masters. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
One interesting aspect of the PGA European Tour season which has just ended is the impact of the megabucks Rolex Series on the wraparound year-long campaign: without any doubt, players are playing for more money. In 2016, the 100th ranked player in the final standings earned €275,000; this year, the 100th ranked player boosted his bank balance by €389,000, which equates to a 41 percent differential.
In its first year of being, the Rolex Series – eight tournaments in the schedule that takes in the BMW PGA Championship, the Italian Open, the French Open, the DDF Irish Open, the Scottish Open, the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Challenge and the DP World Tour Championship – has been an unqualified success and has certainly brought the European Tour up a level.
There is talk too that the British Masters – won this year by Paul Dunne – will be elevated to that status, where tournaments have a minimum prize fund of $7 million. So, it would seem that all is ticking along rather nicely, with all the precision you’d expect from a luxury watch.
You make your own luck to a large extent, yet Keith Pelley’s arrival on the scene as the European Tour’s chief executive was timely for him and the tour. He’s in the job two years, which has coincided with the advent of the Rolex Series. In this case adding two and two really does make four.
Pelley has described the arrival of the Rolex Series as “a monumental step” in making the European Tour what he calls a “viable alternative” to the PGA Tour. “It’s a wonderful option for the top players, and they have embraced it . . . . (it) has provided us the opportunity that we didn’t have before,” he said.
Yet a look at the schedule for the 2018 season only serves to underline the fact that the tour is top-heavy towards the second half of the itinerary. Up to the flagship BMW PGA at Wentworth at the end of May, the European Tour pursues a nomadic existence in Australia, Mauritius, South Africa, Malaysia, the Middle East, India, Philippines, Morocco and China with stops also in Italy and Belgium whilst the WGCs in Mexico and the USA and the US Masters offer big money opportunities for the elite players.
But it is only from Wentworth on that the European Tour really becomes that viable option for those elite players, thanks primarily to the success of the Rolex Series. However, it still seems unlikely that the really big American players – Spieth, Thomas et al – will any time soon follow the lead of Patrick Reed and play both circuits. The PGA Tour still has an edge, although the European Tour has certainly beefed up with the impact of the Rolex Series events.
Day desperately trying to halt his slide
Blink and you’ll miss something. Jason Day’s fall from world number one at the start of the year to his current 12th position tells you all you need to know about what sort of season the Australian has had, a year hampered by injury and worries about his mother’s health.
Day will hope that a return to some home comforts might provide the inspiration this week for his bid in time to reclaim that world number one spot again. Day is one of the headline acts in the Australian Open in Sydney, where Jordan Spieth is the defending champion.
Without a win since May 2016, Day has targeted a return to the top of the rankings: “I know in my heart I will climb that mountain. It’s going to be a difficult one, but I’ve had a taste of it, and for me it was very stressful being number one, all the demands that came with that. I feel very motivated.
This is Day’s first time in four years to play in the Australian Open, a tournament he has yet to win but one very much on “my bucket list,” as he put it.
Word of Mouth
“My ultimate goal in life is to be the best player in the world. That will always be the same. Whether I achieve it or not is another thing, but I’ll always strive for that” – Tommy Fleetwood – who secured the European Tour order of merit – intends to push on in his quest to be the best. He is currently ranked 19th, having started the year in 99th position.
By the Numbers
36/3/13: Jon Rahm’s impact since turning professional has been impressive, to say the least: in 36 starts worldwide, the 23-year-old Spaniard has won three times and had 13 finishes inside the top-5.
“A good year but a terrible day. Delighted for @TommyFleetwood1 winning race to Dubai and thrilled for @ShaneLowryGolf #63 #DPWTC #onemoreweek” – Paul Dunne on a disappointing final round in Dubai. Dunne completes a five-week stretch of tournaments in Hong Kong this week having started at the HSBC in Shanghai. He has played in China, Turkey, South Africa, Dubai and now Hong Kong in that sequence.
“Congratulations @TommyFleetwood1 for a superb year!! So well deserved to be crowned our champ Huge congrats to the whole Fleetwood team as well . . . . also, a massive shout out to @JustinRose99 for such a brilliant end of season!! He has given so much to all golf fans. Pure class” – Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn staying on the good sides of two of his likely lads for Paris.
“I’m all for birdies and eagles . . . but boy that set up was too easy” – Eddie Pepperell sitting on the fence as usual after the birdie fest in Dubai.
In the Bag
Jon Rahm, DP World Tour Championship winner
Driver - TaylorMade M2 (10.5 degrees)
3-wood - TaylorMade M1 (15 degrees)
5-wood - TaylorMade M1 (19 degrees)
Irons (4-PW) - TaylorMade P750
Sand Wedge - TaylorMade Milled Grind (52 degrees)
Lob Wedges - TaylorMade Milled Grind (56 degrees), TaylorMade Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees)
Putter - TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball - TaylorMade TP5x
Know the Rules
Q: A player’s ball lies behind a tree and he would play a low shot with a 4-iron, under the tree’s branches, except that a protective fence interferes with the area of his intended swing. He determines the nearest point of relief using his 4-iron and measures a one club-length area within which to drop the ball. After he drops the ball in accordance with the Rules, the ball rolls and comes to rest nearer the fence than the nearest point of relief. Therefore, there is still interference by the fence for the intended stroke with the 4-iron. However, the ball is now in a position where it would be reasonable for the player to play his next shot over the tree with a pitching-wedge, and the fence would not interfere with this stroke. May the player play the dropped ball or must it be re-dropped?
A: The ball must be re-dropped because it came to rest at a point where the player still had interference from the fence for a stroke with the club used to determine the nearest point of relief.