Stars lead stampede out of Europe

Only a short few years ago, the chances of any player leading the orders of merit on both the PGA and European Tours were slim in the extreme.

However, now that it has been achieved in successive seasons by Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, the likelihood is that it will now happen on a regular basis.

This situation has come about largely because so many of the leading Europeans now have homes in the States and compete there almost as often as they do in Europe. Of the €3,696,597 McIlroy has earned so far in Europe and his total of €6,330,792 in the States, €2,484,438 is included in both Tours. His total winnings from actual tournament play amounts to €7,544,949, a sum which does not include the million dollar plus fees he received for appearances in recent unofficial exhibitions with Tiger Woods.

Only one of the seven events that count on both tours took place on European soil, a trend that will become even more pronounced in 2013 when the WGC-HSBC Champions event becomes part of the FedEx Cup series in the United States.

Sadly, the number of tournaments in Europe has dwindled appreciably. England hosts only the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in the years when the British Open is played in Scotland. The British Masters, once one of the most coveted titles in the game, is no more along with the Benson & Hedges International and English Open. Up to a few years ago, Spain hosted prestigious events like the Volvo Masters, Andalucia Masters, Madrid Masters and several others. Only the Andalucia Open and Spanish Open have stood their ground.

Germany, the richest country in Europe, has been without an Open championship since 1999 and has also given up on the Tournament Players Championship. You might have thought a tournament with such a prestigious title as the European Open would be one of the Tour’s flagship weeks. It hasn’t been on the schedule since 2009.

The recession has played a major part in a very worrying situation for those involved in the European Tour — with the possible exception of those players who prefer to live and play in the US. You sometimes wonder if these multi-millionaires, who owe so much to their home circuit, care much about it.

Only four of the victorious 2010 European Ryder Cup side held PGA Tour cards at the time. In 2013, Paul Lawrie could well be the only member of the successful side in September dedicated entirely to Europe. As if European chief George O’Grady needed reminding, Luke Donald outlined a grim picture.

“If I was the European Tour I would be worried with a lot of the guys suggesting they are going to play their minimum number of events in Europe and concentrate mainly on the PGA Tour,” said the world No 3.

Donald, who has lived in America since college, pointed to the strength of the fields and the prize money in the States. The Englishman didn’t suggest a remedy or that he was prepared to do anything to help the situation.

“The European Tour must seek to ensure the cash cow that is the Ryder Cup remains competitive,” he said. “If it was me, I wouldn’t be thinking of this with a ‘European Tour v US Tour’ mentality. I do understand though, if you’re losing some of the top players it’s going to be tougher to sign big sponsors to events.”

n Rory McIlroy defends the Hong Kong Open this week in a field that also includes Pádraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie and Niall Turner. Gareth Maybin playsthe South African Open and Graeme McDowell plays the Australian Masters.

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