• Alistair Tait

Time for Europe’s golf minnows to make hay

We have entered the European Tour’s Dead Zone. It’s the perfect time of year for European Tour minnows to make hay while the marquee names are concentrating on the PGA Tour.

The stars have collected their fat appearance fees in the Middle East. They’ve squeezed as much cash out of the system as possible. Now it’s time for the little guys to take advantage.

Last week’s Vic Open was the first in a stretch of five events until the Hero Indian Open when the European Tour minnows take centre stage. We’re into a stretch of sub $2 million tournaments that gives players at the bottom of the food chain a chance to shine. There are three events – the Oman Open, Commercial Bank Qatar Master and Hero Indian Open – worth $1.75 million and the Magical Kenya Open at €1.1 million.

Star names don’t get out of bed for purses under $2 million these days unless an appearance fee is dangled in front of them. Why would they when they can play for huge money on the PGA Tour?

Like the Premier League, the European Tour operates a three-tier system. The current stretch of events is part of the bottom tier.

Eddie Pepperell highlighted the Tour’s three tier system when he lost his card in 2016. Pepperrell regained his playing rights at the Qualifying School but found himself playing in bottom of the food chain events in 2017.

“We have a three-tier system, three different tours,” Pepperell said. “One group’s going to play for, let’s say, $120 million over the course of the year, one group is going to play for $80 or $90 million and the bottom guys are going to play for $30 million.”

Pepperrell is living proof players can use third tier tournaments as a stepping stone to tier one events. He’s back in the top tier now. Ditto for England’s Matt Wallace. Winning the 2018 Indian Open helped him climb through the tiers into the upper echelon of European and world golf.

Scotland’s Bob MacIntyre served his European Tour apprenticeship in third tier tournaments early last year. He emerged to post back to back second place finishes the Betfred British Masters and Made in Denmark, both tier two events. He went on to finish 11th on the Race to Dubai and win the Rookie of the Year award. He’s now a definite tier two guy on the verge of a permanent move into tier one.

Min Woo Lee’s Vic Open win last week is a similar stepping stone in his apprenticeship. Hopefully the experience of that win will help him when he’s in contention in a bigger tournament.

It’s easy to sneer at bottom of the food chain tournaments for their lack of star power, but they are important breeding grounds for the stars of tomorrow. Without these tournaments, there would be no stars.

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