If One DP World Tour Domino Falls...
I wonder if European Tour sponsors are currently checking contracts, thinking it might be a good idea to jump ship and dump the old world circuit? Ditto for long term Euro Tour venues. Are they thinking: why do we bother getting our courses in great shape, inconveniencing members and guests for weeks/months when we now can’t get many stars to come and play?
Is the appeal of a certain tour run by Greg Norman becoming a bit more attractive to some?
Take this week’s Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters. Thank goodness defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick is playing at Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain. The U.S. Open champion brings star quality to a tournament that deserves far more stars.
The world number 10 is the highest ranked player and only major champion in the field, and just one of two top 50 competitors along with world number 23 Ryan Fox. Adrian Meronk (61), Min Woo Lee (65), Robert MacIntyre (68), Pablo Larrazabal (75), Eric Van Rooyen (86), Thriston Lawrence (94) and Callum Shinkwin (100) are the other top 100 players teeing it up.
Sadly, as I've noted before, the above dynamic is all too familiar for many long-term European tournaments. Last week’s Spanish Open was a case in point. Jon Rahm winning his home Open for the third time to match Seve Ballesteros’s three wins made the tournament a great success in the eyes of many. But was it? Does Rahm’s victory just paper over the cracks of what seems to be the crumbling edifice that was once the mighty European Tour?
Like Fitzpatrick this week, the world number six was the only major champion in the field. Thirtieth ranked Tommy Fleetwood was the only other player ranked in the top half century. Lee, Larrazabal, Lawrence and Adri Arnaus were the other top 100 players. There were only another eight top 200 men.
Contrast Rahm’s third Spanish Open win with Seve’s 1995 victory, his 50th and final European triumph, and the gulf in field class is fairly evident. Seve bettered major winners in Bernard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle that week, along with such luminaries as Colin Montgomerie, Gordon Brand Jnr, Howard Clark, Sam Torrance, Jesper Parnevik and other multiple European Tour winners.
Oh, how the Spanish Open must wish it could attract such fields these days.
Ditto for this week’s host club Valderrama. Winners over the course the late Jimmy Patino created in Southern Spain read like a Who’s Who of European golf. Aside from hosting the 1997 Ryder Cup when Seve captained the victorious European team in the match’s only appearance on Spanish soil, Valderrama was long-time home of the season-ending Volvo Masters, back in the day when winning the European money list meant far more than it does in an age when European Tour members can cherry pick a few of the strongest tournaments and walk off with the Harry Vardon Trophy.
Nick Faldo, Lyle, Montgomerie, Langer, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose are among the notable Volvo Masters winners. Tiger Woods won the 1999 WGC – American Express Championship at Valderrama.
Patino was a man of little compromise who, like other rich golf course owners, wanted the best to play his beloved course. What would he think about this year’s field?
By the way, this is not to diss those playing Valderrama this week. I dare say there are future major winners teeing it up. It’s not their fault many European Tour events lack star talent. They can’t be happy at playing their guts out week in and week out and not making much of a dent in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Back to the opening paragraph. Imagine if the LIV Series was rolling into Sotogrande this week with the likes home attraction Sergio Garcia, a three-time Andalucía Masters winner, recent LIV champion and rising Spanish star Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra and major stars in Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer and notables like Poulter, Westwood, Joaquim Niemann, Abraham Ancer and others. That cast is surely far more attractive to Spanish golf fans than the one assembled this week?
Larrazabal is the highest ranked Spaniard teeing it up at Valderrama. Adrian Otaegui is next at 158th, followed by Ryder Cup player Rafa Cabrera Bello. He’s 187th.
Some would say why not jump to LIV considering the current state of affairs? With the PGA Tour demanding its top players compete 20 times next year, that could curtail European Tour appearances by the best Europeans playing in the U.S. Throw in the ludicrous decision to grant PGA Tour cards to the 10 most promising players on the DP World Tour on an annual basis and getting decent fields is surely only going to get harder in future.
Long-time tournament sponsors/organisers/promoters of European Tour events surely must be wondering if they’re getting enough bang for their buck? That they might be better off jumping on the LIV bandwagon rather than getting left behind as a European Tour casualty in the current war of attrition that is professional golf.
And if one domino falls…
Well, as I've said repeatedly, maybe there’s something in the fine print of the so far underwhelming “strategic alliance” that will make everything rosy again within the European Tour family of tournaments so some won’t have to think about defecting to the so-called “rebel tour.”
#JustSaying: “I like an odd number for a board of directors, and three is too many.” Jimmy Patino