SURREY, ENGLAND l Winston Churchill is said to have described the US and Britain as being “two countries divided by a common language.” The Players Championship and the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship events of the PGA Tour and the European Tour, might be described as being two events divided by a common game.
“They’re the jewels in the crowns, aren’t they?” Lee Westwood said at Wentworth. “They tend to be the best fields of the year outside the major championships, for both tours. I can only speak for myself but winning this would rank alongside winning The Players Championship as far as prestige would go.”
In the golfing calendar, the proximity of The Players, which has the stronger field and by far the bigger purse, to the BMW PGA invites comparisons between events that would both like to become the game’s fifth major championship but which have little if any chance of achieving that status. The Players won’t because it would mean a fourth event being held in the US, and those outside the US are entitled to ask: Aren’t three enough?
Wentworth has a better opportunity of such canonisation because only one major championship currently takes place in Europe. Even so, the odds are slim. Much more likely is that the game’s fifth major championship will be staged in one of the emerging and economically vibrant countries such as China, where the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions event is staged currently.
Both events have history but in golf there is history and there is history. A significant date in the US is 1776. In Europe? Try 1066. The Players goes back to 1977 at Sawgrass Country Club and 1982 at Ponte Vedra Beach but by then Wentworth had staged numerous professional tournaments and the 1953 Ryder Cup.
Wentworth lacks a 77,000-square-foot, multi-million-dollar clubhouse, a Sub-Air system under its greens and places for each player to park his courtesy car in his own designated space. Its practice ground, chipping and putting greens are modest when put alongside those at Ponte Vedra. But it provides holes set amidst pine, fir and larch trees and a venue that is part of the fabric of the professional game in Britain since Wentworth first staged the World Match Play Championship, that autumn spectacular, in 1964.
Rory McIlroy, aged 13, remembers coming over from Northern Ireland to stay with Daniel Torrance (son of Sam) during a World Match Play Championship and “running 36 holes each day following Sergio (Garcia). I had never seen him in person before and I really wanted to. First year I came Monty might have beaten O’Meara, and then I remember Woosie beating Harrington in the final once.”
Wentworth is all very British and all very understated: rhododendron bushes lining a curling drive leading up to a castellated clubhouse. It’s in Virginia Water, which is a place, not a person, and all it lacks to underline its Britishness is a village green on which to play cricket, a pond with a few quacking ducks, a pub and a Medieval church with a bell tower.
One man who is common to both events is Steve Sands of the Golf Channel, who, having completed his duties at Ponte Vedra Beach, flies to Wentworth to act as a compére at the European Tour’s Players’ Awards dinner each Tuesday of PGA week.
“I was going up and down the range doing my work and thinking how the two events have their differences but that doesn’t make one better than the other,” Sands said at Wentworth. “It just means they have their differences.
“This is the biggest event in golf this week. I’m flattered (to be asked to compére the dinner) and I love it. The reason it’s so nice is that the players show up, the tour has a chance to beat its chest. How great would a similar dinner be on the Tuesday night of Players week, especially coming after the World Golf Hall of Fame celebrations? Ed Moorhouse (PGA Tour executive vice-president) was here. He knows how nice a night it is.
“Over here you have guys from Sweden, Spain, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Germany. Everyone from different countries. Yet, they all turn up and they’re all one unit. I am not sure how many players in the US would turn up to a similar event, but how great would it be if they put one on?”
Sands politely glossed over a sense of triumphalism that pervades the awards dinner at Wentworth and, if the truth be told, hangs around for most of the week. One speaker at the dinner brazenly suggested that Europe’s second team would beat the US in this year’s Ryder Cup, while even a calm and quiet and rational individual like Luke Donald said publicly at the dinner: “It (the European Tour) is producing the best of the best. All I can say is bring on the Ryder Cup.”
This is a phrase and a thought that could come back to haunt Europeans and the European Tour. Be careful what you wish for. But it was the only discordant note in an exemplary week.