European Tour back in the PGA Tour's shadow

By Randall MellNovember 21, 2012, 4:17 pm

There is some hand wringing on the European Tour at this week’s Race to Dubai finale.

It’s a stark contrast to the finish two years ago, when the European Tour reveled in its unprecedented success.

You may remember the photo (pictured above) that came out of the Dubai World Championship just before the season finale began in 2010.

Europe’s best did everything but strike muscle poses in a photo that had to sting the pride of the PGA Tour’s best.

Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood must have looked like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to PGA Tour fans back then as they posed over all the hardware Europe claimed in a special year. Westwood, the reigning No. 1 player in the world, was front and center in the photo. The U.S. Open trophy (McDowell), the British Open’s claret jug (Oosthuizen), the PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy (Kaymer) and the Ryder Cup were literally sparkling proof that Europe was the supreme power in golf at the moment.

As if to add insult to injury, Kaymer made a point that week of saying he wasn’t going to use his PGA Championship victory to take up membership on the PGA Tour the following season. There was a big deal made in that Westwood and Rory McIlroy were not going to take up membership in the United States, either. In fact, they both skipped the PGA Tour’s flagship event, The Players Championship, in 2011.

“I think you play with all the best players in the world here,” Kaymer said at the time. “You have all the great players here.”


European media even had some fun at the expense of the PGA Tour. In Kaymer’s news conference that week, a reporter asked him if he received “a crying phone call from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem” after announcing he would continue to devote himself to the European Tour.

“Not yet, maybe I’ll get one,” Kaymer said.

There was more from European media when the PGA Tour announced in 2010 that it was easing restrictions on non-members and would no longer count The Players Championship against the 10 appearances non-members were limited to making. European media took it as a move to appease Westwood.

“The concession to Westwood, who snubbed the PGA Tour in fairly forthright terms, lends weight to the belief that the tectonic plates of global golf are shifting to the disadvantage of an organization which has long been the richest and most powerful entity in the sport,” wrote Lawrence Donegan of the The Guardian, a British national daily newspaper. “It is hard to imagine a day when that financial strength will be challenged, but how powerful is the PGA Tour these days when it backs down so meekly in an attempt retain favor with an Englishman, albeit the world's No. 1 player?”

Westwood didn’t merely join the PGA Tour this year; he announced he would move to the United States to set up an American base.

This week, Kaymer announced he will take up PGA Tour membership next year.

European golf remains vital and strong today with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy reigning as the world No. 1 and England’s Luke Donald as No. 2, and with the Ryder Cup won by Europe for the sixth time in seven tries, but the European Tour is struggling to take full advantage of all the talent it produces.

Instead of growing, the tour has fighting to hold on to tournaments.

The European Tour doesn’t look quite as vital and strong as the talent the continent is nurturing, in great part due to the fact that all those players who seemed to take pride in being exclusively linked to that tour are becoming PGA Tour members, too.

Europe may still be loaded with talent, but the PGA Tour continues to dwarf the European Tour in stature and relevance.

In fact, the European Tour has never looked like less of a threat to the PGA Tour than it does today.

Westwood and McIlroy are making homes in South Florida to serve as their PGA Tour bases. McDowell, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose already have homes in the United States.

When the European Ryder Cup charter took off for Chicago this fall, there were just three players on board. Every other member of the team was already in the USA. And more European talent is on its way to the PGA Tour. Nicolas Colsaerts, who was on that European Ryder Cup charter flight, is among the growing contingent of Europeans who will take up membership on the PGA Tour next year.

“It’s a stronger tour,' Colsaerts said this week in Dubai, 'and you have the best players in America.”

It should be clear: Europe’s best are becoming dual members, playing both tours.

Still, if anything, the PGA Tour’s shadow is darkening over the European Tour.

You can thank the PGA Tour commissioner for that, or blame Finchem if you’re a European Tour devotee.

The top 26 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are PGA Tour members.

The top five players in the Race to Dubai standings are PGA Tour members.

This Thanksgiving, PGA Tour pros ought to be giving thanks to Finchem for the way he has maximized his Tour’s opportunities and purses.

The PGA Tour has never been more vital with Finchem substantially strengthening its foundation in his 18 years at the helm. Of course, having Tiger Woods on board was a large factor, but credit Finchem for ably enhancing what Woods offers.

Briefly, in that time back in the mid-‘90s when Greg Norman worked to build a new world tour, the PGA Tour looked threatened. Finchem’s response, however, was a testament to his skills. He made one counter move after another to assure no other tour would threaten his. He created the World Golf Championships, and then he created the FedEx Cup playoffs, giving the PGA Tour a big-bang finish. Now, he’s strengthening the fall with the new wrap-around schedule giving FedEx Cup status next year to fall events that will actually kick off a new season.

Here’s the thing, though, about the PGA Tour and European Tour.

As much as they seem to be rival tours, Finchem knows the European Tour complements the PGA Tour, that there’s a meaningful partnership in a number of ways. The PGA Tour benefits from Europe’s burgeoning talent, just as the European Tour benefits in that its members increase their star power by thriving as PGA Tour and European Tour members.

So while the PGA Tour continues to grow as the game’s true giant, there ought to be a little hand wringing everywhere if the European Tour doesn’t remain vital.

Watch Golf Channel coverage of the DP World Tour Championship, Thursday-Sunday, live at 3AM ET with re-airs at 8:30AM.

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Mickelson misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”