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Should more Americans Play in Europe?
Posted by: Nick Bonfield on Fri 17 Aug 2012
The PGA Tour is the biggest and most lucrative golf tour in the world. As a result, it attracts a global membership, ranging from New Zealanders to Scotsmen. The relatively recent addition of the Fed-Ex Cup has also added another dimension to the inordinate amounts of money on offer every week. It is no surprise that so many players flock to the PGA Tour, and it is easy to see why it is the most coveted golfing circuit in operation. That being said, the European Tour isn’t half bad. The prize pools are huge, the strength of fields are comparable to America and the variety of golfing courses and locations is second to none. And yet, every week we see a multitude of Europeans competing in the States, with only a handful (if we are lucky) playing in Europe. But why has this situation become commonplace, and should more Americans make the effort to play in Europe?
Europeans in America
On the PGA Tour money list, there are currently in excess of 30 European names. By contrast, there are only two American’s in the top 125 of the Race to Dubai and, without being disrespectful, they aren’t the most prestigious names: John Daly and Ben Curtis. It isn’t hard to understand why this is the case. Prize pools are bigger in the States, there is more status attached to the PGA Tour with perceptions, whether right or wrong, that it is the more reputable and prestigious circuit, harbouring more talent than anywhere else. We must also consider the weather, the culture and the fact many of these players spent their college days playing golf in America.
Calls have been made in the past, by journalists and players alike, to restrict this European exodus, notably by Thomas Bjorn, who feels Europeans playing America will stunt the growth of the European Tour. You can see their argument, but the fact is if they are good enough, players should be able to play where they want, where they feel comfortable and where they feel their game is best suited. Europeans playing in America also makes PGA Tour events more interesting and attractive to the viewing public. What Bjorn didn’t mention, however, is how the vast majority of Europeans retain membership of the European Tour. Granted, players like Carl Pettersson and Brian Davis play exclusively in America, but all the big names, ranging from Rory McIlroy to Luke Donald, ply their trade on both tours.
Why don’t Americans reciprocate?
It is interesting how the top Europeans, many South Africans and many Australians are able to play both tours, but Americans simply won’t follow suit. Why do the Americans overlook the European Tour? It’s hardly as if there are a plethora of majors or World Golf Championship events taking place on this side of the Atlantic. We have the Open Championship, and that’s it. I suspect the answer is because it is too easy for them to stay in America. They are settled with their families, and have the best tour in the world on their doorstep. But are they being a touch selfish in neglecting the European Tour? Should they look beyond personal factors and think about the game’s greater good? Should pleasing golf fans, for a few weeks at least, outweigh convenience and personal remuneration?
Having some high profile Americans play in Europe would do wonders for the tour. Think about the excitement generated when Phil Mickleson plays in the Scottish Open, when it was revealed Keegan Bradley was going to participate in the Irish Open and when Brandt Snedeker played in the Volvo matchplay.
Perhaps sponsors are also culpable, and the European Tour authorities should do more to try and attract Americans. Yes, Tiger Woods played in Abu Dhabi this year, and others make sporadic appearances in Asia or the Emirates, but imagine how exciting it would be to have Woods, Mickelson and Fowler, say, playing at Wentworth. Better still, why don’t some of these players commit to keeping a card? Golfers must play in 13 events every season to retain full membership of the European Tour. With seven majors and World Golf Championships, they need only play six other tournaments to secure membership. Having the top Americans commit to playing 13 European Tour events would increase ticket sales and television viewers in Europe, raise the profile of the European Tour in America and, hopefully, inspire talented youngster to play some tournaments in Europe.
Peter Uihlein is one of those talented youngsters who won widespread praise by turning professional and attempting to make it in Europe. Uihlein, the former American Amateur champion, decided to bypass his final semester at Oklahoma State and come to Europe, playing both Challenge Tour events and European Tour events through sponsors’ exemptions. He shrewdly recognised that the variation in courses and conditions in Europe would only be beneficial in the long run. If more young golfers followed the example of Uihlein, and more high-profile Americans played in Europe more often, the tour would thrive. Let’s hope more efforts are made to achieve this.
Schools of thought vary as to how to close the gap between the European and PGA tours, with many suggesting European’s prioritising playing in America is the principle factor for the discrepancy. There may be an element of truth in this, but I certainly don’t see it as a problem. It’s hardly as if these players are completely neglecting the European Tour. What’s more, it is healthy for the PGA Tour to have so many Europeans playing so often, especially with regards ticket sales, television viewers and international interest. What we need now is for the Americans to reciprocate, because the same prospective benefits apply, and a healthy American presence in Europe could do wonders for raising both the internal and external profile of the tour. Perhaps if more interest is shown, people like Butch Harmon – seen as one of the most knowledgeable personalities in golf – will pay more attention to events in Europe, and be able to identify European Tour champions, such as Jamie Donaldson, when they appear in the American coverage.
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