Continental Divide


Lee Westwood is taking his world-beater game and going home. Ernie Els is done with G4s and globetrotting. European icon Graeme McDowell will ply his trade almost exclusively on this side of the pond, while Martin Kaymer is just not sure.

What is for certain is that the world of global professional golf is going to feel strangely localized in 2011.

As the great communicator Ronald Reagan once instructed middle American, the game’s international core appears set to vote with their feet in the coming year, foregoing the normal jet-setting schedule for a more geographically limited existence free from regular transatlantic hops and culinary experiments.

“You're going to really see a lot different schedule next year,” Els said last week at the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. “I'm going to play a lot more in the States. I'll still do the odd trip over to Europe and so on, but it's not going to be what it used to be. So I'm going to have a lot more time to be on my game and be fresh.”

And the Big Easy will not be alone.

Westwood announced shortly after the Ryder Cup he would not take up PGA Tour membership in 2011, while McDowell, who owns a home in central Florida, plans to focus almost exclusively on the American circuit. The youthful Kaymer said his schedule is still being formalized but he is considering a similarly exclusive docket in the coming year.

“I had my chance in 2006 (to play the PGA Tour) and played injured. I never really got the full experience,” McDowell said. “I just want to see if it’s right for me.”

The migration eschewing competitive migration hasn’t become viral just yet, but if the current insular thinking was popular during Gary Player’s era the South African would be boasting about a measly 4 million miles flown instead of his signature 15 million air miles traveled.

The easiest explanation is a recent increase in the minimum number of events to maintain membership on the European Tour to 13, yet considering the current crossover between each tour’s calendars that excuse rings hollow.

Counting the four majors and four World Golf Championships, a globetrotting pro is left with just five events to make his minimum in European and seven in the United States. That’s 20 weeks, which would have been little more than a good spring for the likes of Player in is prime.

It seems more likely that through trial and error players have discovered that bouncing about the globe is not conducive to success. Red-eyes may have worked for Player, but the potential for seven-figure paydays, to say nothing of appearance fees in Europe, have made it necessary for a player to pick a tour, any tour will do.

“Everybody thinks (playing both tours) is a good idea and when they try it they really don’t like it,” said Rocky Hambric, president of Hambric Sports Management whose list of European clients include Francesco Molinari and Oliver Wilson.

“Those guys who tried it and didn’t like it tell everyone it’s impossible. Then word gets out and no one wants to try it anymore.”

Whichever tour one picks the collective reasoning remains the same. With Tiger Woods as the preeminent example less is more if one wants to play at his best.

“I’m not going to be a guy who will play the minimum on both tours,” McDowell said. “I want to give the FedEx Cup a full schedule.”

In some ways the World Golf Championships, a concept the PGA Tour co-opted from Greg Norman’s world tour concept in the mid-1990s, has been counterintuitive to the notion of an international player.

The foursome of WGCs – a geographically-challenged theme considering that three of the four are played within the confines of the Lower 48 and the fourth, next week’s HSBC Champions, enjoys only quasi-official PGA Tour status – are far to lucrative to bypass but do little to bring the game to the four corners of the globe.

Els, who split time between the two tours for years, may well be the last of an international breed thanks to a system that has been undermined in some ways by its own success.

The European Tour’s Race for Dubai has given the circuit a cash infusion and players like Westwood a reason to stay home, while the FedEx Cup, which features an earlier finish but demands a much more intense commitment in the run-up to the Tour Championship, has become a $10 million carrot that is impossible to ignore.

The only thing that may stem the insular tide is the biennial Ryder Cup, which may prompt some U.S.-based Europeans to mix up their playing schedules or risk running afoul a curious selection process like Paul Casey and Justin Rose – the seventh-ranked player in the world and a two-time 2010 Tour winner, respectively – did this year.

“My schedule will be very different in 2012,” concedes McDowell, who clinched the winning point for Europe earlier this month in Wales. “The Ryder Cup years will have an influence.”

But even Samuel Ryder’s grudge match would probably not prompt a split schedule. Instead, a player unlikely to qualify via the World Golf Ranking list would turn his attention to the European Tour and one of the five automatic spots.

The game may be going global, as many insiders have declared for years, but golf’s top players appear more interested in simply going home.