Reviewing The 2021 European Tour Season
AND so the European Tour season comes to an end and, with it, an era is concluded. Without any time to draw breath, it starts all over again in South Africa and we look forward to what is now going to be called the DP World Tour, boasting an incredible $200m in prize money, and no event will have a total prize fund of less than $2m.
Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive, has done a wonderful job. During lockdown there were predictions of doom and gloom, with many predicting that sponsors would walk away. Pelley and his team performed miracles in 2020 by coming up with an innovative schedule that included a UK Swing played on some of the most iconic courses in this country. Sadly, the tournaments were played without spectators.
And the 2020-21 schedule was a full one, albeit it with the Tour unable to travel to South Africa. As 2021 progressed, fans began to return, and when the season concluded in Dubai we saw thousands of enthusiastic supporters. A couple of weeks before Dubai, Pelley announced the new-look tour. We will see a number of tournaments co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour, and that means we will be seeing more of American stars such as Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau.
The Race to Dubai was won by Collin Morikawa, the Open champion, who crowned his season in sensational fashion by winning the DP World Tour Championship. He has been made an honorary member of the European Tour, even though he has only played a total of three regular tournaments. He is also the first American to finish the season on top of the pile, and is a wonderful ambassador for the game of golf.
He has already won two majors, and there will surely be many more to follow. He is arguably the best iron player on the planet but what marks him out as a special individual is his temperament. You will never hear a commentator having to apologise for Morikawa’s language. He takes everything in his stride. And, like Phil Mickelson, he makes time for the fans.
Billy Horschel won the BMW PGA Championship. I make no apologies for admitting that I am a big fan of this particular American. He can count himself incredibly unlucky not to have been given a Ryder Cup wild card by Steve Stricker, and endeared himself to home fans with his passion for West Ham - he even sports their colours on his golf bag. Don’t think that this is something he has done for commercial purposes. Horschel is a genuine fan and knows the difference between “soccer” and American football. I hope we see more of him in Europe.
There were a host of first-time winners - Marcus Armitage, Jonathan Caldwell, Viktor Hovland, Daniel Gavins, Grant Forrest, Calum Hill, Johannes Veerman, Nicolai Hojgaard. And, best of all, Richard Bland. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the 48-year-old won the British Masters at The Belfry. It was his first victory at his 478th attempt.
"I've done it," an emotional Bland told Sky commentator Tim Barter, who was also near to tears after spending years working with Bland. He is now the oldest first-time winner on the European Tour.
"My game had been tending in the right way and I'd worked really hard, as you know we've worked so hard on the wedges,” he said. "I just drove the ball so well this week, I've gone back to my old driver. Round here - especially for me, I'm not the longest on Tour - I've got to hit fairways and I've probably missed single digit fairways all week.” He finished the week with just one bogey.
Hovland has won three times on the PGA Tour. He crossed the Atlantic to play in the BMW International Open in Germany. It was his first appearance on the European Tour and he played brilliantly, shooting rounds of 68, 67, 64 and 70 to walk away with the title. It may have been his maiden victory in Europe - it most certainly will not be his last.
In a year when an ageing European Ryder Cup team found themselves on the wrong end of a hammering at Whistling Straits there was plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future. The Hojgaard twins, Rasmus and Nicolai, won is successive weeks. It started with Rasmus claiming the European Masters and continued the next week with Nicolai taking the Italian Open. The Norwegian pair are just 20 years of age and are both hugely talented. We should enjoy them while they can because it is a racing certainty that they will both be joining Hovland on the PGA Tour all too soon.
Sadly, it looks like we have already lost Garrick Higgo. The South African won the Portugal Masters in 2020 and picked up two more trophies in 2021 before heading across the Atlantic and promptly picking up his first PGA Tour title. The 22-year-old is now the highest-ranked left-hander in the world rankings. He hits the ball a long way and, like most South Africans, possesses a dream short game.
There were also established winners - Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Casey, Bernd Wiesberger, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.
Hatton began the years quite brilliantly, winning the Abu Dhabi Championship, but struggled for much of the rest of the campaign.
It has also been a huge year for Australia’s Lucas Herbert, who won twice and, like Higgo, went to America and, lo and behold, added another victory on the PGA Tour.
Jon Rahm kept the flag flying for Europe by winning the US Open and establishing himself as World No1. Rahm has played some wondrous golf in 2021 and it was a major disappointment when he announced that he was going to give the season-ending DP World Tour Championship a miss.
The sport is awash with money and the future looks bright. I, for one, cannot wait to see how the next 12 months unfold.
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