SIMON LEWIS: Money speaks in a universal language

There have been some statements from either side of the Atlantic in recent days that have been giving pause for thought regarding the relative status of the European Tour and its bold and brash American cousin, the PGA Tour.

The first came from Stateside with the PGA Tour announcing that Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen and Spain’s Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño had accepted Special Temporary Membership for the remainder of the 2013 season.

The second statement was issued by the European Tour yesterday morning, when it proudly proclaimed that “Europe’s magnificent Ryder Cup Team... will be reunited for the first time on European soil since that dramatic day in Chicago when all 12 players and their captain José Maria Olazábal tee up in the BMW PGA Championship 2013.”

Nothing untoward about either of those declarations but, to these eyes, both point to a further ceding of influence to our friends across the ocean.

There can be no joy at seeing two of Europe’s brightest talents, Olesen and Fernández-Castaño, packing their bags and heading off to the United States in a bid to earn their PGA Tour cards.

Like a weary lower division football club chairman losing a prize asset to a moneybags Premier League outfit we must regret their passing but wish them all the best for the rest of their careers for it makes perfect sense to follow the money trail and in the process compete in stronger fields.

A brief comparison of the post-Masters tournaments either side of the pond should be enough to make that clear.

In Valencia, at the Spanish Open, Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin emerged from a lengthy play-off against Max Kieffer and Felipe Aguilar to collect a first prize of €250,000. Now don’t get me wrong, that is a lot more money than the vast majority of us mere mortals earn in four or five years let alone four rounds of golf but compare that to the US$1.044 million (€800,000) Graeme McDowell picked up a few hours later for his play-off victory over Webb Simpson at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina. Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman each earned more than Jacquelin for finishing in a tie for third at Harbour Town, the €23,738 Sergio Garcia won for his tie for 12th in his native Spain the near equivalent to a tie for 35th in the States.

One of the few upsides Jacquelin enjoyed compared to McDowell was not having to wear that awful tartan blazer the Heritage winner must don in his moment of triumph but like those Lotto adverts, I reckon I’d put up with some things way more insulting than questionable clothing in order to cash in on the big money.

The point is underlined by the second statement, issued by the European Tour. It is right to trumpet the return of its heroes, who delivered the Miracle at Medinah in such stunning fashion last autumn in Chicago.

Goodness knows even the Tour’s flagship event, staged on home turf at its Wentworth headquarters, needs to sell tickets, even if it is the only tour event played in England each year.

Yet the fact that it can only get its best players together on their home tour for its flagship event must be more than a little worrying, as is the fact that even with an increased prize fund of €4.75m, the BMWPGA Championship’s first prize of €791,660 will still only compare with McDowell’s pay day Sunday, at an average PGA Tour stop the week after a major when many of the big guns go back to their resort homes for some down time. This is not a criticism of the European Tour, whose schedule and level of competition is the reason many of this continent’s golfing talents are able to compete over in America. Yet until it can start attracting global sponsors back to the tournaments it stages with increased prize finds, the only joy we’ll get from seeing our best players lift trophies will be late on a Sunday night long after the pubs have called time.

Omens good for Graeme

Graeme McDowell puts on his new tartan jacket after winning the RBC Heritage tournament in Hilton Head Island, SC on Sunday. McDowell defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff. AP Photo/Stephen Morton

Graeme McDowell’s victory at Hilton Head is a reason to celebrate in itself, his conquering of Harbour Town Golf Links and the windy conditions a triumph of the grit and grind as well as skill and touch. They are attributes, of course, the Portrush golfer has displayed with excellence in times past, not least in that golden season in 2010, when he won the US Open at Pebble Beach and became a Ryder Cup immortal at Celtic Manor by clinching the victory for Europe with that singles win over Hunter Mahan.

Sunday’s win also augurs well for a reprise of that rich vein of form as he gears up for the 2013 US Open at Merion in Pennsylvannia in June. For McDowell paved the way to major glory in 2010 with a tournament win between the Masters and the second major of the year, at the Celtic Manor Wales Open.

And there’s another interesting fact regarding McDowell, this one courtesy of Irish Examiner golf contributor Jim McCabe. When McDowell made his major breakthrough at Pebble Beach in 2010 he did so having missed the cut at Augusta National a couple of months earlier, shooting a five-over-par 149.

Fast forward two years and McDowell misses the cut at the 2013 Masters... shooting 149.

McDowell himself pointed out that the seventh victory of his professional career was his first in an odd-numbered year. His maiden European Tour win came at the 2002 Scandinavian Masters, he won the Italian Open in 04, the Ballantine’s and Scottish Open in 08. Then came his four wins in 2010, as well as the Chevron World Challenge, which he repeated in 2012.

“Not that I’m paying any attention,” he said. Of course not, nor were we.

Joy for Mehaffey

Irish women’s amateur golf received another boost this weekend when Royal County Down’s Olivia Mehaffey won the Irish Girls’ U18 Open Strokeplay Championship at Roganstown Golf and Country Club on Sunday.

Mehaffey carded a level-par, final-round 71 to beat an international field by two strokes.

Madden and Sverdloff took the team award.

Dunbar set to face Ballesteros Jnr.

A low-key professional debut for Ireland’s highly-rated British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar was always on the cards once his team sat down and picked the Challenge de Madrid for his inaugural event and the Rathmore golfer’s hopes of staying out of the spotlight are further enhanced by the presence of a Ballesteros on the entry list in the Challenge Tour event.

Javier Ballesteros is the eldest son of the late Seve and this week’s inaugural event in the Spanish capital will mark his European Challenge Tour debut.

Ballesteros, 22, will be competing as a sponsor’s invitation but he is in no rush to follow his father into the professional ranks.

Last year’s amateur Madrid Open winner is studying Law at the city’s Complutense University.

Dunbar, meanwhile, will make his European Tour debut at the Nordea Masters on May 30.

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