Who is only Irish player to win rookie of the year on European Tour?
Out of Bounds: The last four winners of the award have been American or South Korean
Jon Rahm of Spain is to become the first European in five years to lay his hands on the European Tour’s Rookie of the Year award. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
There’s a question and answer which relates to Irish golf that often raises an eyebrow, or even maybe two. It is; “Who is the only Irish player ever to win the rookie of the year award on the PGA European Tour?”
Given that the Henry Cotton award was started back in 1972, the list of potential candidates is a long and worthy one. But, no, Ronan Rafferty didn’t win it. Nor did Darren Clarke, nor Pádraig Harrington. Paul McGinley? Nope. Surely Rory McIlory? No.
The answer is, of course, Peter Lawrie who captured the honours in 2003. He is sandwiched in between Nick Dougherty (2002) and Scott Drummond (2004) which, perhaps, only serves to show that claiming the award is no given to a life of multiple tournament wins on the circuit.
Still, Lawrie - these days the director of golf at Luttrellstown Castle - can always hold that particular achievement up as something that no other Irish player on tour has ever managed. He can be justifiably proud of that.
The annual recipient of the award is the highest ranked rookie in the Race to Dubai and, for the past four years, and providing an indicator of the increasingly global nature of the European Tour, the winners have been American, American, South Korean, South Korean. Peter Uihlein started the sequence of non-European winners in 2013, followed by his compatriot Brooks Koepka in 2014, then Byeong Hun An in 2015 and Jeunghun Wang last year.
This year’s winner - which will be affirmed after this week’s DP Tour World Championship in Dubai - is the Spaniard Jon Rahm, which makes him the first European recipient since Portugal’s Ricardo Santo in 2012.
The difference is that Rahm looks to be cut from an entirely different cloth and, if not already there, poised for superstardom. Rahm celebrated his 23rd birthday last week in the knowledge that he would be rookie of the year, which is quite an accomplishment given that he only took up European Tour membership when the season was already up-and-running and having given a head-start to all those rookies who’d earned tour cards through Q-School or off the Challenge Tour.
Having initially cut his teeth on the PGA Tour, Rahm’s decision to take up European Tour membership - no doubt with a word or two in the ear from his friend and compatriot Sergio Garcia with an eye on next year’s Ryder Cup - was a real boost to Thomas Bjorn and more widely the tour itself.
Nowhere was that more apparent than at Portstewart back in July when Rahm took control of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open with a display of power and shot-making that left one and all trailing in his wake. The cheque for €1,019,362 went a long way towards propelling him up the order of merit but it is safe to say the actual title - in a tournament hosted by Rory McIlroy - was more precious.
If there was a time when the Henry Cotton award was the bailiwick of Europeans - in fact Uihlein in 2013 was the first non-Euro to claim it - then it is fair to admit that Rahm’s achievement in becoming the first European in five years to lay his hands on it also restores some lustre.