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  • Alistair Tait

Fleetwood remembers his roots

Peter Alliss, Max Faulkner, Howard Clark, Brian Barnes, Sam Torrance, Tony Johnstone, Mark McNulty, Colin Montgomerie, Ronan Rafferty, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Broadhurst, Thomas Bjorn and Matt Wallace all have one thing in common.

They’ve all won the Portuguese Open. This national title has been a mainstay for the European circuit since Scotland’s Eric Brown won the inaugural 1953 tournament.

There was a time when many top European Tour players would have written a trip to Portugal into their diaries at the start of every season, in pen, not pencil. The Portugal Masters, which takes place this week in Vilamoura, hasn’t been going as long as its sibling event. England’s Steve Webster won the inaugural 2007 tournament. Notables to have followed in his footsteps include Lee Westwood (2009), Shane Lowry (2012), Andy Sullivan (2015) and Padraig Harrington (2016).

Yet getting Europe’s best to visit this beautiful country in recent years hasn’t been easy. The two Portuguese tournaments have slipped down the pecking order with the advent of WGC and Rolex Series tournaments. So kudos to Tommy Fleetwood for playing this week’s Portugal Masters.

It’s probably been a while since the world’s 16th ranked player teed it up in Portugal. Fleetwood, who last played the Portugal Masters in 2016, is one of just two world top 100 players teeing it up this week along with 91st ranked Paul Waring.

For Portugal read many other tournaments that have suffered as a result of simple economics. The Spanish Open, KLM Open, European Masters and others have struggled a wee bit in recent years because prize money is now so deep. Some tournaments that were tour mainstays have not survived. There’s no longer a German Open or a Belgian Open, for example. The list of former tournaments in the European media guide is extensive.

It doesn’t seem that long ago the Irish Open seemed in danger of extinction too. It dates back to 1927 and reads like a who’s who of European golf. Name a top European player and his name is more than likely on the old trophy. So, too, are a couple of American names. Ben Crenshaw won it in 1976, followed by Hubert Green a year later.

Irish players like Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy made sure the tournament continued. McIlroy’s Foundation hosted the tournament for four straight years from 2015. It’s now a Rolex Series event.

I get it that economics plays a huge role in where Europe’s stars play. You can’t blame the players for teeing it up in the big money events rather than down the pecking order tournaments like the Portugal Masters.

To be fair, Fleetwood isn’t the only European Tour pro to turn up and play in low budget tournaments. Others do too from time to time. However, it would be nice to see more players remember their roots and tee it up in lesser money tournaments to give those events a boost. The tour needs to hang on to tournaments like the Portugal Masters. These events are the breeding ground for Europe’s future stars.

After all, there was a time when these future stars, like Fleetwood, would have jumped at the chance to play in the Portugal Masters. Nice to Fleetwood remembering his roots.

#JustSaying: “Victory is everything. You can spend the money, but you can never spend the memories.” Ken Venturi

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