That Doug Ferguson, the AP’s chief golf writer, chose to publish an article on the declining status of the United States as the competitive of the world’s greatest golfers the day before the biggest star in European golf announced his intention to re-join the PGA Tour says something about at the real nature of the American-European divide.
Sure, McIlroy’s decision is a personal one that rests, ultimately, on his own competitive instincts and, if you can believe it, his desire to be close to one Caroline Wozniacki, but it undermines the cliched terms in which we all tend to view golf’s balance of power.
The line the article takes — the one which we’ve all grown accustomed — sees the transatlantic relationship through the lens of a sort of see-saw effect. If Europe’s up, the United States must be down.
And, with the majority of world’s top players, a handful of young stars and the rediscovery of its major-winning mojo, Europe is most definitely up.
For someone like Martin Kaymer, the United States just doesn’t hold the same mystique:
“I can’t tell when it’s going to be,” he said. “At the moment, I like my position that I can play a little bit in Europe, a little bit in America. I play all the tournaments I want to play, so there’s no need to join only the European Tour or only the PGA Tour or both. I don’t need to join the PGA Tour.”
Case closed? Not quite. Kaymer will still play the about half of his tournaments this year in the United States and, like most of Europe’s top talent, he has a semi-permanent base of operations in America.
PGA Tour membership may have been devalued somewhat in the eyes of Europe’s top players, but the same goes for European Tour membership. To choose between the two is no longer a straight choice between patriotism and professionalism, but a question of short-term convenience.
That that’s become the case is to the credit of the European Tour’s administrative staff, of course, but the top tier of professional golf is moving towards a state of transatlantic detente more than it is a Cold War stand-off.
Ironically, the wealth of both tours has effectively undercut prizemoney as an incentive (Lee Westwood can skip the FedEx cup because it clashes with his children’s summer holidays), and the WGC-major championships axis has reduced eligibility to a decision based on one’s appearance at a couple of peripheral tournaments.
The stakes may be higher than ever, but it’s unlikely that tour membership has ever meant less.