How many of Europe’s top players start this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship dreaming of ending the season as European number one?
Many? Any? None?
When Rory McIlroy used to write down his season long goals on the back of his boarding pass – back when Rory needed a boarding pass rather than simply stepping onto a private jet as he does now – he might have written down European top dog as one of those targets. Not now. Been there. Done that. Who cares?
Indeed, those last two words might just be indictive of the world we now live in for many of Europe’s top stars. Colin Montgomerie thinks so.
As John Huggan points out in his excellent Golf Digest preview piece for this week’s Abu Dhabi tournament, the first event of the year on what is now called the DP World Tour, the Scotsman feels becoming European number one has lost most of its lustre.
“No one pays any attention to the Order of Merit until the last couple of weeks,” Montgomerie said.
Collin Morikawa becoming the first American to be named European number one last year didn’t tickle Monty’s fancy either.
“Collin Morikawa is a lovely fella and a fantastic player, Billy Horschel, too. But having them at one and two on the list last year just didn’t sit well with me. I’m sure they would agree that it wasn’t quite right. They hardly played in any ‘pure’ European Tour events. Look at Morikawa – he was back in the pack in Dubai last year and he was almost last of those who made the cut at the Scottish Open. Yet he won the Order of Merit. There’s something not quite right about that.”
It’s not just Morikawa and Horschel who hardly played in any “pure” European Tour events. Many of Europe’s top stars can’t be bothered either, another factor the 58 year old laments.
“I also mourn the demise in stature of so many European events,” Montgomerie added. “When I won the Scandinavian Masters in 1991, Seve was second, Woosie was third and Faldo was fourth. They turned up for nothing and played. That doesn’t happen anymore, which is a pity. All the national Opens don’t get the fields they deserve. So the end result is that the Race to Dubai doesn’t resonate like it used to.”
Monty’s right. As I said last year, Morikawa’s crowning as number one felt like one big con job.
Europe’s almost complete capitulation to the PGA Tour has made the European money race almost totally redundant for some of Europe's main players. Jon Rahm didn’t even bother to turn up for last year’s DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. And the Spaniard had an outside chance of becoming European number one for the second time. Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose also skipped the season-ending finale. Hardly a ringing endorsement for what is Europe’s equivalent of the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship, and you can bet all three probably wouldn’t give that a pass.
Keith Pelley and his team have done a fantastic job putting on a schedule during this difficult Covid-19 period. As Pelley announced last year, anyone lucky enough to play on this year’s circuit can compete for a total prize fund of approximately $200 million. However, Europe’s top players and Americans who hold European Tour cards – and there are sure to be more of those in future thanks to the “strategic alliance” deal between the two circuits – aren’t compelled to put together the sort of schedule Montgomerie did when he was in his pomp, when he played 20 plus tournaments a year in winning eight Vardon Trophies.
As Morikawa showed last year, part-timers can become European Tour number one. He played just three “pure” tournaments. Can’t blame him for taking advantage of the system: we’d all do the same if we could pick up an extra few million for working part time over and above our real jobs.
Europe’s top stars are part timers do. They may play more “pure” tournaments than Morikawa and Horschel, but their real home is the PGA Tour. And you can’t blame them either for picking and choosing where they play their handful of “pure” tournaments – just four last time I checked. They’re obviously going to choose those that pay appearance money. We’d probably all do the same if the money was on the table.
It’s called capitalism.
Of course, the Race to Dubai matters for those further down the food chain, those who don’t have access to the World Golf Championships, who are not guaranteed places in majors. Those players are looking at where they need to finish to retain their cards, play in the season ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Europe’s stars? Sadly, as Montgomerie says, the Race to Dubai is an afterthought for some.
Given all of the above, you have to wonder if this week’s Abu Dhabi tournament is the first 2022 event in the competion to win the Race to Dubai, or just one tournament on the Race to Nowhere for some of our top stars?
Who’d have thought a trophy bearing Harry Vardon’s name would become so tarnished?
#JustSaying: “I owe so much to the people in Europe who have helped me and been so kind. They want to watch me play and I feel I must give them something back.” Seve Ballesteros, who never turned down appearance money either