Out of Bounds: time will tell if Rolex Series proves a success
A number of headline players still opting for the PGA Tour ahead of European Tour events
Russell Knox celebrtes his victory in the 2018 Irish Open at Ballyliffin. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
If we’re entirely honest, the jury is still out on whether the Rolex Series - that megabucks band of elite tournaments on the PGA European Tour - has truly worked . . . yet!
Designed to bring extra pulling power to designated tournaments (all with a minimum prizefund of $7 million) on the European circuit, the concept is in its second year of operation and the eight tournaments involved - the DDF Irish Open, the Scottish Open, the French Open, the Italian Open, the BMW PGA and the three Final Series events that comprise the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Challenge and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship - are viewed as the shining lights of the ET outside of the Majors and the WGCs.
Yet, some have fared better than others in terms of attracting players and the decision of some players to play on the PGA Tour stateside on occasions rather than trek back across the Atlantic this season only highlighted that there remains some way to go for the theory to become practice.
A case in point is that Justin Rose was away (and winning) the Fort Worth Invitational on the PGA Tour in the very same week as the showcase BMW PGA at Wentworth was being won by Francesco Molinari, while some time later Molinari missed out on the French Open to play (and win) the Quicken Loans National on the US circuit.
That Rose and Molinari won stateside those respective weeks justified their decision-making in both cases, but it only served to underscore the fact that you can add as much money to the pot for the bulked up tournaments that form part of the Rolex Series and it still won’t ensure that Europe’s very top players will bother to turn up.
The Irish Open at Ballyliffin is also another example of how the system has yet to fully work in ensuring that the elite of the elite turn up: for this year’s tournament, the winner’s world ranking points on offer were 38 (the same as the Italian Open) but the strength of the field was reflected in the fact that the Scottish Open and the French Open, on either side of the Irish Open, had stronger lineups and offered 48 world ranking points to the winner.
Indeed, a number of so-called “regular tournaments” on the PGA European Tour had stronger fields in terms of world ranking points than either the Irish and Italian Opens. For example, Abu Dhabi offered 52 world ranking points to the winner while the Dubai Desert Classic had 48 points to the winner.
There is an argument that the Irish Open’s positioning in the schedule this year - the week after the French Open, which as the venue for the Ryder Cup attracted most of those aspiring to make Thomas Bjorn’s team provided extra incentive beyond any monetary inducement - didn’t help it. With back-to-back-to-back Rolex events running into the British Open at Carnoustie, few players were inclined to play such a schedule.
With changes in the proposed schedule next year, the hope is that the Irish Open will benefit and that Lahinch will have the sort of field that it, and the tournament, deserves. But it is clear that there is still some tweaking required if the Rolex Series is to fully deliver on its original concept of getting the very best available players in that week . . . and rivaling the PGA Tour!