Amazing to think there’s a series of 36-hole tournaments taking place across Great Britain today with arguably stronger fields than last week’s British Masters.
The cast of characters teeing it up at four Final Qualifying tournaments for the 151st Open Championship matches, if not betters, what was on offer in the British Masters at The Belfry. World number 28 Justin Rose was the only major winner in a field that featured just two other Official World Golf Ranking top 50 players in Min Woo Lee (46) and Adrian Meronk (48). There were only another five top 100 players.
That’s about par for the course on the old world circuit these days. Most top European Tour stars pay mere lip service to their home circuit, preferring instead to ply their trade on the PGA Tour and cherry pick rich European Tour events or those which pay appearance fees. Who can blame them given the prize funds and world ranking points on offer across the pond? Some US-based European Tour players probably didn’t even know the British Masters was taking place last week. Even if Nick Faldo was hosting the event. Are we surprised many have opted for the LIV Tour? No.
No wonder PGA Tour documents uncovered recently referred to the European Tour as:
“an underinvested and borderline distressed asset. The event model may be unsustainable, or at a minimum represents an unstable foundation.”
Hard to argue with that assessment when you look at the fare on offer on a week-to-week basis on what is now the DP World Tour. And no disrespect to those hard working tour professionals at The Belfry last week. It’s not their fault the events they’re playing in can’t attract star players.
At least English, Scottish and Welsh golf fans can look forward to a quartet of free, one-day tournaments today at Dundonald Links, Royal Cinque Ports, Royal Porthcawl and West Lancashire that feature some great names.
Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Matt Wallace try to qualify for the Open at West Lancashire Golf Club.
Aaron Rai, Jason Kokrak and Rafa Cabrera Bello are in action at Dundonald Links on the Ayrshire Coast. So too is Michael Block, the club professional who stole the limelight at the PGA Championship.
Branden Grace, the first man to shoot 62 in a major (Royal Birkdale, 2017) and Masters winner Charl Schwartzel tee it up at Royal Cinque Ports.
Of course, there’s also a great mix of former and current amateur stars and promising up and comers too. England’s John Gough, who featured on the early leaderboard at The Belfry before finishing T39, is trying to qualify for The Open at Royal Cinque Ports. He’s the top British or Irish Player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at world number 13. Compatriot Barclay Brown, the second highest GB&I amateur at 28th, is playing at West Lancashire. Both seem certain to face the best American amateurs in the Walker Cup over the Old Course at St Andrews in September.
The presence of name players in Open Qualifying harks back to the days when anyone not exempt into the championship had to go through Final Qualifying. The Sunday and Monday of Open week was taken up with FQ at courses in close proximity to the championship venue. There would be as many as 16 Open spots at each course. These days there are so many avenues for tour pros to qualify for the championship that the names don’t always have go through Final Qualifying.
It was cool back in the day seeing good club professionals rubbing shoulders with name PGA or European Tour players trying to qualify for the game’s greatest tournament. For them also. A friend remembers the thrill of playing behind Justin Leonard at Fairhaven ahead of the 1996 Open at Royal Lytham. Said friend, a club professional, knew Leonard was going to breeze into the championship proper because he holed everything on the practice green before he went out. Sure enough, the Texan went out and shot a course record 64. He became Champion Golfer of the Year 12 months later, and is often the forgotten name in that 1999 playoff at Carnoustie when Paul Lawrie got his hands on the Old Claret Jug after Jean Van de Velde’s Barry Burn antics.
Maybe I’m getting nostalgic, but watching the dreamers tee it up against name tour pros was one of the great traditions of The Open. To be fair, it still happens from time to time as it is this year, but nowhere on the frequency it once did. It’ll be a thrill for those at West Lancashire today to watch how the nobodies compare to major winners like Garcia et al.
It'll probably be better entertainment than last week’s British Masters.
#JustSaying: “The Open is the tournament I would come to if I had to leave a month before and swim over.” Lee Trevino
Photograph courtesy of the R&A