• Alistair Tait

Players shouldn’t take Players for granted

Robert MacIntyre is one of 23 Europeans playing in this week’s Players Championship. The Scot is making his debut in the PGA Tour’s flagship tournament.

Thirty years ago, the only way he’d have experienced TPC Sawgrass would have been to buy an entry ticket. Once upon a time, players of his calibre couldn’t get a spot in the so-called fifth major for love nor money.

It seems bizarre now to read former European Tour chief executive Ken Schofield’s comments on access for European stars into the majors. Schofield wrote:

“There is an obvious need in the immediate years ahead to achieve greater access for European players in the major championships. It is crime that a player of Ronan Rafferty’s stature has to win the Volvo Order of Merit (1989) to actually get to the 1st tee in possibly the three US-based majors.
“For golf to continue in an orderly manner, we need these majors to recognise that the game is worldwide and that our European players, along with the Japanese and Australians, should not, because of where they were born or where they play, be at a disadvantage.”

Schofield penned these lines in 1990. He waged a campaign in the ensuing decade to get greater recognition for European players in the closed shop that was the American majors and the PGA Tour.

How closed was that shop? In 1991, just six Europeans teed it up at Sawgrass. Rafferty wasn’t one of them, and he backed up finishing the 1989 season as European number one by finishing fifth on the 1990 European Tour Order of Merit. No Mike Harwood, Sam Torrance, David Feherty, Rodger Davis or Mark James, who finished 6–10th respectively on the money list. Europe’s big six of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal, and Ian Woosnam were the only Europeans in the 1991 Players Championship. The best of the rest couldn't get into the field.

Europeans had to have won a major or topped the money list to get tee times at the Players.

It’s a credit to Schofield that he was able to get the three American majors to recognise his members' talents. He was instrumental in getting the U.S. majors to draw on the Official World Golf Ranking as the criteria for entry. Tournaments like the Players Championship followed suit.

MacIntyre and others probably take it for granted that spots in the Players, the American majors, are just rewards for good golf on the European Tour. Hopefully he enjoys what was for so long denied to players just like him. Thirty years ago, the 2019 European Tour Rookie of the Year and world number 42 have been watching the tournament from his home in Oban, Scotland instead of teeing it up today with Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen.

#JustSaying: “It was almost impossible to get PGA Tour invitations.” 11-time European Tour winner Howard Clark

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