The European Dis-Union
Shane Lowry won the BMW PGA Championship, pipping Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm to the title. They weren’t the real losers of the European Tour’s flagship event. The European Tour suffered a heavy loss last week.
Remember that great intangible – camaraderie – that carried Europe to victory in so many Ryder Cups? It’s gone. That much was obvious from the toxic atmosphere floating over Wentworth's West Course amid the leafy suburbs of affluent Virginia Water.
European Tour stalwarts were made to feel about as welcome as range balls in a box of brand-new Titleists because they’ve signed up to LIV Golf.
Tour pros chasing dollars? Whatever next?
Rory McIlroy, who’s chased quite a few appearances dollars in his time, trolled former Ryder teammates and playing partners. Victorious 2014 captain Paul McGinley said he no longer had the same relationships with players who’d helped deliver Samuel Ryder’s coveted chalice to him.
Defending champion Billy Horschel, who’s been a European Tour member for less than two seasons, implied that veteran ET members with hundreds of starts under their belts had no right to play in Europe’s flagship event. Said player was making his second appearance in a tournament some of the players he was castigating have supported steadfastly for decades.
Martin Kaymer wasn’t at Wentworth. The two-time major winner didn’t feel welcome on a tour he’s supported steadfastly since he turned professional in 2005.
Hmmm, wonder how the German car company felt about one of Germany’s biggest stars not playing in a tournament it stumped up $8 million to host. That isn’t going to help European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley extend BMW’s sponsorship.
Even in victory, Lowry couldn’t help but troll fellow tour members.
“I wanted to go out and win this tournament for myself, first and foremost, but I think for this tour,” he said. “Everyone that’s stayed loyal to this tour and everyone that’s done everything for this tour. I feel like this is one for the good guys.”
The good guys against the bad guys? Honestly!
Let’s talk about loyalty.
Lee Westwood has made 587 European Tour appearances. The three-time European number one has 25 victories and participated in every Ryder Cup since his 1997 debut, either as a player or vice captain.
The former world number one’s allegiance to the European Tour is beyond question. Westwood played 15 times on the covid-affected European Tour when he won the 2019 Race to Dubai. He made 26 appearances when he won the 2009 money list, and 23 times in 2000 when he was first named European number one. He’s averaged 20 tournaments a season in his 29 seasons as a European Tour member.
Yet Westwood probably thought there was an invisible T for traitor painted on his back as he played Wentworth for the umpteenth time because he’s joined another tour.
Ditto for Ian Poulter. He’s made 392 career European Tour appearances. Aside from an injury hit 2016 season, the 12-time winner has averaged 14 European tournaments per season since he joined the PGA Tour in 2004. Oh, and he’s arguably done more to help Europe win the Ryder Cup in recent years than any other player.
Fellow Ryder Cup team mate Kaymer has 317 European Tour appearances under his belt. That’s 32 tournaments more than current Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, who turned professional four years before Kaymer.
Deposed Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson stayed away from Wentworth, no doubt because, like Kaymer, he didn’t feel welcome on a tour on which he’s made 389 appearances. Stenson is a two-time European number one, 2013 and 2016. He won the Race to Dubai in those years when he was also a PGA Tour member. He played 17 counting events on the Europe circuit in 2013 and 14 in 2016.
Colin Morikawa, who skipped the BMW PGA, played just 10 tournaments last year when he won the Race to Dubai. That’s not to castigate the 2021 Open champion. He followed the rules. It’s not his fault the European Tour has a ridiculously low quota of tournaments – four – for membership. However, it obviously means he and players like defending champion Billy Horschel can cherry pick the strongest European Tour events.
If that last sentence sounds familiar, it’s because that charge has been levied at those LIV members who want to maintain PGA Tour and European membership.
Yes, the hypocrisy is staggering.
Despite long standing allegiance to the European Tour, to the Ryder Cup cause, Westwood and co have suddenly become pariahs because they’ve joined the LIV Tour. What's baffling is there has never been any outcry over European Tour members joining the PGA tour over the years. Practically every top European has taken up PGA Tour membership over the last 30 years without a peep of protest. Nobody called Sir Nick Faldo a traitor when he joined the PGA Tour back in the day. Or Bernhard Langer. They weren’t made to feel unwelcome on their home tour, threatened with bans, told they may not play in the Ryder Cup.
Why the double standard. Ah, yes, the “strategic alliance” between the PGA Tour and the European Tour, with the former calling the shots.
Players like Westwood, Poulter, Kaymer, Stenson and others deserve a lot more respect after the incredible service they’ve given the European Tour.
Remember four years ago in France when Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn extolled the virtues of European union? That great intangible that helped Europe win so many Ryder Cups against stronger America opposition seems to have faded away. And all because the mighty PGA Tour is in danger of losing its dominance over professional golf to a rival circuit.
#JustSaying: “The togetherness of the team, the great camaraderie we have, that's built up on the European Tour. Obviously we all have our separate lives going on, but once we get together for the Ryder Cup, we all come together as one.” Rory McIlroy, 2018 Ryder Cup
Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour