The crowds will be big and the world’s top three golfers, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, headline the €4.5m tournament, but for all the prestige surrounding the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event is very much a parochial affair.
Only last year, Westwood called this tournament the fifth Major when he said: “The BMW PGA Championship is the biggest title I play for outside of the Majors. It’s bigger than the World Golf Championships because of what the tournament represents for us as the European Tour.”
Yet, according to Pádraig Harrington, this week’s event is a long way off Major status and the lack of big-name Americans and US PGA Tour regulars in the field is significant black mark against such claims, despite the presence of 13 other Major champions this week, including Americans Ben Curtis, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel.
Still, a fifth Major?
“It wouldn’t get a look in if you were in the US, that’s for sure, and if you’re in Europe you’ll find some players who will say ‘yes’ and some will say ‘no’,” said Harrington, responding to the suggestion.
“So, say 50-50 in Europe and 100% against in the States.
“The TPC attracts the top 100 in the world, the BMW would need to do the same. The only thing is that the BMW has more heritage, but they’re definitely building that at The Players and in 50 years’ time it could be possibly the fifth Major.
“Maybe 15 years ago, if you were thinking about a fifth Major you would have possibly said the BMW Championship or the Australian Open or maybe the Japanese Open, something along those lines that’s been running. The Australian Open’s been something that’s been running for more than 100 years, so if you were going to pick a fifth Major you’d love to have somebody put their strength behind the Australian Open.”
Like any competitive arena, three-time Major winner Harrington believes standing still means falling behind and that certainly applies to golf tournaments.
“In terms of stature, certainly the BMW was the fifth-biggest tournament in the world 20 years ago. But like everything else, you’ve got to continue to work on it. The four Majors have changed.
“There was a time when there were different tournaments considered to be the four Majors, so not alone do you have to get there you have to hang on to it and keep being creative and working hard at it to keep your tournament the best. And while the BMW has done a great job at it, there’s more work to be done to attract those foreign players.”
Scheduling makes things difficult for Americans, the Dubliner said, with the BMW in the middle of a three-week stretch of notable events in the US and directly clashing with the Colonial. And Harrington would like to see Wentworth appearing in the middle of a similar run of big tournaments.
“Hopefully in time, the European Tour has to attract more of the US guys to our big events. It would be nice if there were 10 or 15 guys coming across to the BMW Championship and then as much as all the Europeans, South Africans and Australians come across and play these events.
“We need to attract some of the US guys over to our big events and that would even up the cards.
“I think the strength for Europe in the future has to be, like we have in the Middle East, to have at least three events in Europe in a run that are big enough to attract players so if they come they can play a couple of weeks rather than just one week and then going home.”
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