Let the race begin

 
 

The much-maligned Road to Dubai competition has the support of the Professional Golfers’ Association, and Hugh O’Connor investigates why the event should pull in a crowd.

A new era of European Tour golf has arrived. Lauded by some, criticised by others, the Race to Dubai is here.
Initially, it sounded too much like the FedEx Cup in America, an idea which hasn’t worked in its first two years, with Vijay Singh picking up a $10 million bonus just by showing up to the alleged grand finale event. A year-long money list with a massive prize for the eventual winner? Anti-climax seems likely to rear its ugly head…

However, the new system has been hailed by many European, players as a ‘fantastic innovation’ for the Tour to re-assert itself. For any golfer to make a living, whether as a multi-millionaire or just supporting a family, the game needs money. The only way to get money is to attract spectators. The only way to attract spectators is to get headline acts.

Last week we heard Phil Mickelson bemoaning the absence of Tiger Woods from the PGA Tour. Sure, it’s easier to win without him, but he draws the crowds. TV ratings have been falling since the US Open, Wood’s last event.

Many never believed the day would come where the world’s top athlete was a golfer, but now that he’s here, the game depends on him. In Europe, the same applies, albeit on a different scale. The Race to Dubai heralds the introduction of international stars such as Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, which will result in an instant rise in popularity of the Tour. Lesser-known Europeans will get a chance to take on the best in world golf and come out on top.

Sure, it’s easier to win without Tiger Woods, but he draws the crowds. TV ratings have been falling since the US Open, Wood’s last event

Calls for help have been heard on behalf of the European journeymen. Precious few players swan around making millions – the caddy of the winner of the Order of Merit makes more than the man who just qualifies for next year at Number 118. Some simply work at golf for 20 or 30 years trying to eke out a living, hoping for a breakthrough. It’s tough enough playing every week against Jimenez, Karlsson, Westwood, – what about Allenby, Kim, Villegas, too?

In the long run, this increased competition is a positive. The standard of the Tour, already excellent, will improve, and attention will be drawn to those events and players that deserve it. The French, Spanish and Italian Opens are classy tournaments played on fantastic courses featuring the best of the European Tour, and yet pass by unnoticed.

The Race to Dubai ensures that Europeans won’t be hurrying to America enticed by the big bucks (too many promising youngsters fail this way). It’s a fantastic opportunity for the Tour to be viewed on a par with the PGA Tour. European golf is getting stronger all the time. The Race to Dubai will prove this to the world.
Padraig Harrington broke an eight year European duck in majors last year. It will never be that long again.

Lee Westwood will win a major in the next two years, and Robert Karlsson, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, and Ian Poulter are all in the frame as well. Sergio Garcia began the Race in perfect fashion by capturing the first event in Shanghai and moving to World Number two; he’s set his sights on majors now; they won’t be long in coming.

Crucial to the success of the Race to Dubai was the decision made by the European Tour to raise the minimum number of events to be played for Tour membership from eleven to twelve. Recently, top players have fulfilled their obligations by playing the majors, World Golf Championships, and a few British tournaments.

Americans would be in the frame for the title without playing real European Tour golf. Karlsson was a perfect example of a great European golfer this year; he played 23 events, won two, had ten other top tens, and won the Order of Merit. Harrington nearly snatched it from him, only playing thirteen events, courtesy of his performances in the Open and the US PGA. Harrington has played magnificent golf this year, but it is fitting that a committed European Tour player won the Vardon Trophy.

The extra tournament ensures that those US players who want a crack at the Dubai money will have to throw themselves into European golf to have a chance.

European players become more versatile players than those across the pond. They play a greater variety of courses, in temperatures and weather conditions Boo Weekley’s never heard of. They play links and parkland, allowing them to rely on a greater bag of shots than the players Stateside. Will the introduction of top US players damage the chances of home-grown European players? Try asking them. They can’t wait to get out on the course and beat them.

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