SOUTHPORT, England – The focus of golf during the past 30 days shifted from the dominant PGA Tour to Europe.
Strength of fields, enhanced purses and exceptional golf courses made the summer stretch leading up to the British Open – the French, Irish and Scottish opens – the place to be in professional golf.
For the first time in seven years, the Official World Golf Ranking points given to those European Tour events outpointed those available on the PGA Tour based on strength of field for the Quicken Loans, Greenbrier and John Deere events in the U.S.
Not since 2010, when the European Tour’s BMW International Open offered the same ranking points as the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour, followed by France and Scotland outpointing AT&T National and John Deere, has Europe proved to be a better draw than America.
The Rolex Series, which consists of eight lucrative events offering purses of at least $7 million throughout the European Tour season, has allowed Keith Pelley, the tour’s chief executive officer, to create an environment in which European players want to return home to compete.
“There's no question Rolex has come in and has allowed us to elevate the tournaments,” Pelley said of the Swiss watchmaker’s sponsorship. “As the title partner of the Rolex Series, they believed in the vision … but what we have invested in the infrastructure to make it a much stronger and a better tournament.”
Pelley has found the soft underbelly of the PGA Tour’s 47-event, $342.7 million schedule and has exploited it. As a result, players such as Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and England’s Luke Donald and Ian Poulter returned to Europe and made it their home for weeks.
“Not everything is money in golf, but that is certainly something that the players look at,” said Thomas Bjorn, a former European Tour board member and the 2018 Ryder Cup captain. “It generates this kind of field that, They're going to play, so I'm going to play, and then that kind of spins itself positive because a lot of the top players look at world-ranking points, and then it's spinning in that direction for all of them. It's almost silly if you don't play when you get these kinds of ranking points.”
Many of Europe’s top players maintain dual tour memberships and acknowledge that the PGA Tour – spring’s Florida Swing on the run-up to the Masters and The Players Championship, for example – will attract better fields. Now that the European Tour features a lucrative “swing” of its own, the weeks leading into the British Open tilt in Europe’s favor.
The key to these types of series is keeping them supported with the prize money necessary.
It was a question that Martin Gilbert, the chief executive officer of Aberdeen Asset Management, which sponsors the men’s and women’s Scottish Open tournaments, asked in a breakfast two weeks ago in Scotland.
“It's still in the infancy stages, so you need to be careful, and we're always going to continue to try to strive to make each event stronger, but the players have embraced them and Rolex has become part of the vernacular,” Pelley said. “It is something that is associated with the European Tour. I think it will elevate the entire Tour, and I think it already has.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli