As it turns out, Greg Norman was right and he doesn’t need to hear that. He already knows. His idea back when for a world golf tour has come to fruition without anyone making a concerted effort to create a separate tour with the world’s best players.
Without realizing it, the PGA Tour, the European Tour and all the rest of the world’s major Tours have allowed the top players to do pretty much as they please and the result is that the top 30 or so players can play practically anywhere they want, any time they want.
Some will believe that’s exactly as it should be. Golfers, more than any other professional athletes, are independent contractors and should be able to play wherever they have qualified and are welcome.
But the commissioners of the respective Tours feel an obligation to the collective group of sponsors to provide them with the best field possible every week. And with golf’s stars playing fewer events on all Tours combined, officials are making an effort, albeit a weak one, to compel the players to do more of their bidding.
The European Tour has increased the number of its events that players must play to retain their Tour membership, to 13 in 2011 from 12 this year. On the surface, that would seem to be a positive move that would get more players to support their home Tour, but it’s token at best.
The European Tour has bent so far backward to accommodate the top players that it can practically kiss its own bum. It allows players to count the four majors and four World Golf Championship events toward the minimum for membership. So with eight of those events, all of which are actually listed on the Official World Golf Ranking as PGA Tour events, all players will have to do is play just five more regular Euro Tour events to satisfy the minimum.
That’s no heavy lifting for any European star. It’s so easy, in fact, that a handful of top players – most of whom are Ryder Cuppers – hold membership on the PGA Tour as well. It’s those players that the Euro Tour is targeting with its increase in the number of events to hold membership.
It’s a little tougher to be a PGA Tour member, the requirement being 15 Tour events. But the majors and three of the four WGC events count here, as well, so all you need is eight other tournaments to retain membership. Throw in the invitationals – Bay Hill, Memorial and Colonial – and that number is reduced to five.
All told, to hold dual membership, you’d have to play a minimum of 21 events a year on both sides of the Atlantic. If George O’Grady, the executive director of the European Tour, wanted to really put some teeth into his Tour’s membership requirements, he’d push a radical scheme, such as this: For European players to be eligible for the Ryder Cup, they must play at least half their total events – and the majors and WGC tournaments can’t count – on the European Tour.
Then we’d find out just how much Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia really love the Ryder Cup. Do they love it enough to forsake millions of American dollars to fly the European Union flag and play for a fraction of PGA Tour purses on their home tour?
The PGA Tour is trying to make dual membership a little more inconvenient by floating an idea that top players be required to play in certain “designated” events, chosen by the Tour, in an effort to bolster the weak fields of tournaments that don’t regularly attract the stars.
If Poulter – or Jim Furyk for that matter – had to put the John Deere Classic on his schedule because the PGA Tour required that either or both play there, would they add a week to accommodate the tournaments they always play?
Nobody plays 30 events a year anymore like they did when purses were half the present size or less. If you could make a couple million or more a year playing 20 events – or fewer – why wouldn’t you do it?
It’s the first job of a tour commissioner to get the stars to play the home tour for as many weeks as possible. Tim Finchem never likes for Tiger Woods to play overseas, as he is known to do a couple of times a year for some big appearance money. But, by and large, the top American players have no problem staying home to play simply because the PGA Tour is the biggest, richest tour in the world.
But for the second-biggest circuit, the European Tour, how do you keep your boys down on the farm, now that they’ve seen Moline?