European Tour Deserves Credit For Completing Season in Style
IN THE end there were 38 tournaments, including two South African Opens and two Alfred Dunhill Championships. The Open was cancelled for the first time since the Second World War and the three American majors were all played late in the year - and were dominated by American golfers. But the Race to Dubai was won by 47-year-old Englishman Lee Westwood. Prize money was slashed as sponsors felt the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But somehow, Keith Pelley and his team at Wentworth got the season back on track and they can all sit back and give themselves a pat on the back.
The season came to a grinding halt after Jorge Campillo won the Qatar Masters in early March and resumed with a couple of low-key tournaments in Austria. We then headed back to Britain for something called the UK Swing, a run of six tournaments that took us back to courses such as Hanbury Manor and The Belfry. And it was so successful that Pelley has already pledged that it will become a fixture in the calendar.
Hopefully when we return to these courses it will be with spectators in attendance. As good as the golf has been - and it has been sensational - watching tournaments without fans has been a bit like watching your favourite friends playing a Sunday four ball, albeit at a slightly higher standard (!) and with rather more at stake.
Something clearly needs to be done about the way world ranking points are awarded for European Tour events. Christiaan Bezuidenhout won in successive weeks in South Africa but headed to the season-ending World Tour Championship still outside the top 50 in the rankings. Sam Horsfield is another two-time winner but headed to Dubai ranked 99th. It simply cannot be right that there is so much bias towards the PGA Tour.
The fact that the European Tour has arrived at this point warrants huge applause. What a shame it is not possible for galleries to assemble and provide such a tribute.
It is what has been achieved since the first lockdown ended that should be applauded. That Pelley and his team were able to create a viable schedule was nothing short of miraculous. It saved the tour as the demands of television contracts needed to be fulfilled. Putting on any form of professional sport has been extraordinarily challenging since March this year. But for such an international circuit, involving hundreds of individual players the task was even more demanding. And to be able to do so at such short notice was a special achievement.
"We have played 23 events since July," Pelley said. "Creating 15 from scratch, showing incredible resilience and flexibility; and also at the same time funding a health strategy and Covid testing.”
After the Qatar Masters in early March, the tour was shut down until the Austrian Open in July. Then came a run of six British-based events as a secure bubble was established to protect players, caddies and officials from coronavirus.
The purses were smaller, with total prize funds typically around £900,000 and several events were funded entirely by the tour at a cost of around £2m per event.
But crucially Europe's leading golfers were able to ply their trade and eventually travel to, among other destinations, Valderrama in Spain, the Portugal Masters, Italian Open and two events in Cyprus.
We even reached the point where two events happened simultaneously - the South African Open won by Bezuidenhout and the Golf in Dubai Championship, won by Antoine Rozner. It was an inspired move to use the Fire course at Jumeirah the week prior to the season finale which is always played on the neighbouring Earth layout.
The tour believe they have stabilised their future with the recent announcement of an alliance with the PGA Tour.
While Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey and Justin Rose chose not to travel to Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, Patrick Reed and Collin Morikawa did make the trip as they fought to win there Race to Dubai in a tournament that boasted a huge prize fund. And they were joined by Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Bob MacIntyre, Ian Poulter, Matt Wallace, Danny Willett and Viktor Hovland, who travelled from Mexico to be there. Fitzpatrick walked away with the $3m first prize but Westwood’s runner-up finish meant that he finished first in the Race to Dubai - no mean feat for a golfer who is 47.
If we have learnt anything at all this year it is that we should all appreciate what we have and in that respect the European Tour was able to bring the curtain down in style on a uniquely challenging year.
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