One Great Golf Con Job?
Let’s get one thing straight: Collin Morikawa is a worthy European number one based on his talent alone. Watching him win the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai was compelling viewing. He won it fairly and squarely, bringing the trophy home in style with a brilliant final seven holes and becoming the first American to finish atop the Race to Dubai, formerly the Order of Merit.
But I can’t be the only European golf fan who feels conned? Playing 10 tournaments of a 42-tournament 2021 European Tour schedule, just three of them regular events, and receiving the Harry Vardon Trophy is probably the easiest gig the affable American will ever get. Imagine how many European Tour money titles Tiger Woods would have won if the current membership rules had been in place when he was in his pomp.
Fair play to the Morikawa, but even he must be thinking: this can’t be right? As I pointed out a few days ago, Colin Montgomerie played 27 times when he won the 1993 European Tour Order of Merit, the first of eight European number one titles. Lee Westwood became European number one last year for the third time after competing in 15 events in the Covid-19 affected 2020 season. Twelve of those didn’t fall under a major or WGC tag.
Is there another sport where competitors can be crowned champions by doing so little? Imagine if Liverpool were given the Premier League title by playing just a quarter of the games on the Premier League schedule.
Morikawa is the first American to win the Harry Vardon Trophy as Race to Dubai winner. He probably won’t be the last. Not with the current, laughable quota of tournaments required to maintain European Tour membership. And especially with more European Tour crown jewels set to become co-sanctioned tournaments along with next year’s Scottish Open.
Word is the BMW PGA Championship and Irish Open are set to follow the Scottish and become co-sanctioned tournaments with the PGA Tour, meaning more Americans could be tempted to take up European Tour membership. Billy Horschel finished number two to Morikawa on the Race to Dubai thanks to his victory in the BMW PGA at Wentworth.
Is opening up the European Tour to American PGA Tour players a bad thing under the “strategic alliance” deal between the PGA Tour and the European Tour? Not from a sponsor or a fan’s point of view since it means better quality fields. And not as far as European Tour top brass are concerned because it means they can claim more quality players as tour members, always a juicytidbit to throw at potential sponsors. But it does make it easier for top Americans to follow in Morikawa’s footsteps. Yes, and easier for PGA Tour based Europeans to win the Race to Dubai with the minimum of effort.
Is Morikawa’s triumph as European number one any less valid than, say, Montgomerie’s in any of the eight years he finished number one? The least number of tournaments Monty played in finishing number one was 20 in 1998.
Morikawa’s three “regular” European Tour events this year were the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, abrdn Scottish Open and the DP World. Aide from his DP World victory, he was T68 in Dubai and T71 in Scotland. Victories in The Open and WGC – Workday Championship at the Concession paved the way for him to make European Tour history.
“To close out the season-long race, the Race to Dubai, it means everything,” Morikawa said. “Obviously I won some big events and that obviously helped catapult me up to the top.”
You can say that again.
Not for him trips to Spain, Italy, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Wales or other destinations previous number ones have visited down through the ages.
And who’s to say it will be any different next year? For example, Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka or whoever wins next year’s Masters, a couple of WGC tournaments, plays three other regular European Tour events and follows Morikawa as European number one. As we say in Scotland, nae bother.
Do most ordinary golf fans even care? Maybe not. But for those of us weaned on the European Tour from the days of Ballesteros, Faldo, Langer, Lyle, Woosnam, Olazabal, Montgomerie and a host of great names to have graced European Tour fairways, the current membership rules that allow players to be part-time competitors and walk off with a trophy bearing the name of Harry Vardon feels like one great golf con job.
#JustSaying: “I had a goal at the start of this week and the goal was to win the Order of Merit. I didn’t need this really, but I wanted it quite badly.” Colin Montgomerie on winning the 2005 Order of Merit (by playing 25 events)
Photo by Getty Images courtesy of European Tour