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European Tour back in the PGA Tour's shadow

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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.”

Ouch!

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.


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