• Alistair Tait

The Euro talent drain continues

As if Keith Pelley and the European Tour weren’t facing enough problems right now, the news of another major star considering a move to the United States is the last thing the world’s second biggest circuit needs.

Who can blame 2019 Open Championship winner Shane Lowry for considering a permanent move to the United States in this current climate?

Lowry and wife Wendy have reached a crossroads all parents know full well. Their daughter Iris has reached school age; they need to decide whether to stay in Ireland or up sticks and move to the United States, where Lowry plays most of his golf.

As the Champion Golfer of the Year told excellent RTE broadcaster and journalist Greg Allen:

Iris has just turned four and she’s starting school soon so we have big decisions to be made in the next six months,” Lowry said. “I think this (the PGA Tour) is where golf is going to be for the foreseeable future, if you want to play at the highest level.

It’s not something the European Tour should be cheering, but Lowry’s permanent move to the United States is inevitable, advisable, and hardly surprising.

Lowry is only following in the footsteps of every major European Tour star over recent years, that a permanent base in the U.S. is the way to go. Europe’s current top stars are basically full time PGA Tour players who make occasional forays onto the European Tour, many often induced by appearance fees.

Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and others long ago became quasi-American citizens. McIlroy will become the first foreign player to chair the PGA Tour policy board when he replaces Jordan Spieth next year, a three-year term for the former world number one. You can’t be more loyal to the PGA Tour than that. McIlroy has never served on the European Tour’s tournament committee.

Francesco Molinari moved his family from London to California last year so the 2018 Open champion could concentrate on playing full time in the United States.

You have to feel sorry for Pelley and the European Tour. He/they have done a fantastic job to put together a schedule during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, these events mostly consist of €1 million purses that can’t attract the above listed marquee names. Not even the star attractions, but up and coming players in starring roles. The likes of Matt Wallace, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren, Danny Willett, Tom Lewis, and others seem to have become part-time European Tour players concentrating mainly on the PGA Tour.

Covid-19 is obviously a factor in that scenario, but perhaps the logistics and hassle of travelling within Europe has only served to hasten the inevitable talent drain. Ex-U.S. college players like Viktor Hovland, Kris Ventura, Henrik Norlander, Sebastian Cappelen and others naturally graduated to the PGA Tour rather than opt for Europe. Except for Hovland, most don’t have the luxury of top 50 world ranking spots to consider playing both tours.

This week’s Valspar Championship field includes Rasmus Højgaard and Sam Horsfield. They, and other young stars playing in Europe, will be hoping for PGA Tour cards, especially Horsfield: he grew up in Florida. Scotland's Bob MacIntyre has spent most of the early part of this season in the U.S.

Thankfully, the European Tour still has the Rolex Series events to attract the top Europeans back to their home circuit. However, Covid-19 has had an impact on that series. It consists of just four events this year, down from a high of eight despite a hoped for 10 when the series was announced.

Ryder Cup participation is another reason for the top stars to play in Europe, since only European Tour members can play in the biennial match. But membership only requires a handful of regular starts along with the majors and World Golf Championships.

Whatever way you cut it, the European Tour has its work cut out to stop the talent drain to the PGA Tour becoming a flood. Wonder if that subject was discussed when the “strategic alliance" was agreed?

#JustSaying: “I made 27 transatlantic flights when I tried to play the PGA Tour and European Tour I the mid 1980s. It was exhausting.” Ken Brown

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