Remember the European Ryder Cup wild-card controversy? Yeah, you know the one– where Monty made the right picks in spite of all the chatter about Paul Casey and Justin Rose being worthy inclusions in the team? Well, the European Tour’s Tournament Committee has taken steps to ensure that a similar furore is avoided in future by increasing the number of tournament entries required for membership from 12 to 13.
Aside from making it easier for the continent’s biggest stars to secure automatic qualification for the Ryder Cup, though, the decision has the more significant aim of making the tour an attractive prospect for growth and investment.
Here comes the science: under the current system, international stars have been able to guarantee their tour membership by playing fewer than a handful of events beyond the majors and the WGCs, essentially making European Tour membership a half-hearted commitment at best.
Sticking only to the top-tier co-sanctioned events and the odd big-money European-only outing, the likes of Harrington, Westwood, Poulter and Casey have been able to hoover up vast sums of money, without playing much of a European schedule at all (a brief look at the Race to Dubai ranking makes the severity of the problem pretty clear).
All of this is a very bad thing because it means that over time regular tournament purses get smaller, fields become weaker and, with fewer world ranking points available week-to-week, the gap between the Tour’s highest earners and the rest widens. The severity of the economic downturn has raised the spectre of a two-tier system, the poorer half of which would be little more than an exotic Nationwide Tour. Should that nightmare be realised, what would become of Europe’s ability to promote the game and develop home-grown talent? Several hundred years down the line, we could even lose our Ryder Cup dominance.
Today’s message, decided upon by the Tournament Committee and delivered by the world’s greatest man, Miguel Angel Jimenez, is that the current situation can’t continue:
“It should not be a pain for any players to play three tournaments on the main Tour here in Europe. We cannot forget one thing, all the players that play now in America and other parts of the world – this is their roots, and this is the cement, their home and you’re not supposed to throw stones at your own house… We have to grow and we have to force those players to look in their own house.”
The decision seems to have been measured pretty shrewdly. An extra tournament on the calendar isn’t enough to drive Europe’s finest into the arms of Tim Finchem, nor is without a significantly positive effect on the health of things back home. Well played, European Tour Tournament Committee (try saying that three times faster).