European Tour steps it up a gear with richest first prize in golf
Season finale will now offer €2.65m first prize in attempt to attract more big stars
Rory McIlroy won both the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai in 2015. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
There comes a time when outside the box thinking is required and, for the PGA European Tour, faced with a haemorrhaging of its star players to perceived greener pastures stateside on the PGA Tour, enough has clearly been enough.
And, in order to stem the flow, a decision has been made to move the goalposts.
With the season already up and running, and with the likes of its star players like Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari and even Tommy Fleetwood putting increased emphasis on playing stateside more frequently at the expense of their home circuit, the European Tour has made significant changes – with whopping increases in prize money – for its showpiece run-in of the final three Rolex Series events to the Race of Dubai later in the season.
Indeed, it is all about the money, as that fictional sports agent Jerry Maguire might have put it: in this case, the European Tour has realigned the manner in which prize money will be distributed for the final run-in tournaments that comprise the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Challenge and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
In order to entice the elite players, the winning purses at each of the big-money tournaments have been dramatically increased, to the point that the winner of the DP World Tour in Dubai will walk away with a first prize cheque of €2.65 million ($3m) which would make it the biggest first place prize in professional golf. Anywhere. More than the Majors. More than the PGA Tour’s finale.
Something had to be done to bring an infusion back towards the European Tour, which – certainly for the first six months of the season – lives very much in the shadow of its big brother stateside.
And, for sure, this move, and with it the realisation that the something had to centre around money, was required to entice players back later in the year. Perhaps it will even attract more Americans to take up membership. Overall, from the European perspective, it must be viewed as a very positive development.
That the European Tour have effectively moved the goalposts mid-game shouldn’t be seen as a sleight of hand but rather a willingness to adapt and change for the better.
So, what does it all mean?
Effectively, it comes down to money . . . for the winners!
The Turkish Airlines Open – which kickstarts the three tournament Final Series – will have a first prize of €1.75 million ($2m); the Nedbank Challenge will have a top prize of €2.2 million ($2.5m), while the DP World Tour Championship will have a whopping €2.65 million ($3m) for the winner. To put that increased final payday in Dubai in perspective, the first prize is more than doubled from the €1,177,645 which Danny Willett picked up for his win last November.
There will also be significant changes to how the bonus pool is dispersed, with the pot on offer remaining the same but reduced from 10 recipients to just five. It means that the winner of the Race to Dubai – with Shane Lowry the early frontrunner, courtesy of his win in Abu Dhabi last month – set to scoop a jackpot of €1.75 million ($2m) down to €440,000 ($500,000) for the fifth placed player in the final standings.
Aside from the big increases in winning purses, the Race to Dubai bonus points available at the final three tournaments have also been increased to tempt more players to commit.
One other tweak in the system will see fields reduce tournament to tournament for those final three Rolex Series events: 70 players will be eligible to play in Turkey, reduced to 60 for the tournament in Sun City and only 50 players making it to the DP World Championship.
Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, revealed that the changes were brought about following “significant analysis” which revealed more top players would make the commitment to play in the final run-in of tournaments.
It may be a case of moving the goalposts midgame. But, on this occasion, there is nothing untoward about the motives behind the change. It is definitely worth a shot. And, who knows? Maybe it will tempt McIlroy – the poster boy – to take out his European Tour membership!