News & Opinion

Turkey offers dreamers a shot at big-time

With only 7 of world’s top 30 entered, European Tour's $7 million Turkish Airlines Open could provide career launching pad

BELEK, Turkey – The DNA of a professional tour changes from week to week.

Last week, the European Tour was in China, and now it swings to Turkey. The trip alone from Shanghai to Belek, a sleepy coastal town on the Mediterranean, is a culture shock.

But when you look at the field, you also see some real differences, with last week’s winner Rory McIlroy deciding a long time ago to skip the first two of the three season-ending Race to Dubai events and play only in the finale in Dubai.

Such is the nature of playing on two tours.

Turkish Airlines Open 2018
This week’s Turkish Airlines Open will serve as the 1st of 3 season-ending Rolex Series events on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

This week at Montgomerie Maxx Royal will be unusual in that Justin Rose will be the only top 10 player in the world competing in Turkey. Having won the past two Turkish Airlines Opens, Rose is going for what would be known in bowling as a turkey: three strikes in a row.

When Rose won last year in a playoff over Haotong Li, the Englishman was only the second player to win the event twice, joining Frenchman Victor Dubuisson. Though the lack of star power – only seven of the world’s top-30-ranked players – might seem to be disappointing, it in fact provides openings for others to win one of the tour’s eight Rolex Series events and featuring a $7 million purse.

Two weeks ago, unheralded Steven Brown won the Portugal Masters for his first European Tour title. The victory propelled Brown, 32, to a two-year exemption and his first trip to the Turkish Airlines Open.

“I was kind of thinking these last two weeks, these could have been my last European Tour events for a while – you never know – and I'd try to just enjoy them,” Brown said here Tuesday. “You have that mindset; you don't know when you'll be back.”

Now, Brown knows. The victory not only allows Brown to arrange a proper schedule but offers golf fans a chance to get to know more about him.

When Dubuisson won the inaugural Turkish Airlines Open in 2013, the Frenchman was relatively unknown on the world golf stage. He parlayed that victory into an appearance for Europe in the 2014 Ryder Cup before he added a second Turkish Airlines Open title in 2015.

Brooks Koepka experienced a similar career boost in 2014 when he won in Turkey. Entering the event, the American stood 60th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and he left ranked 35th. It would prove to be the last time that Koepka, the current world No. 1, was ranked outside of the top 50.

Turkey has a history of being a place where players have been known to supercharge their career trajectories. Brown hopes to experience a similar rise.

“I played here a few times in the Challenge Tour,” Brown said. “You have to be good off the tee, and quite tree-lined. So, you can't get away with too many bad tee shots. Just keep it in play and try to hole some putts.”

According to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, No. 8-ranked Rose was listed as the favorite, at 8-1. American Patrick Reed, who ranks 15th in the world, was the second choice, at 12-1, followed by Ireland’s Shane Lowry, the reigning British Open champion and No. 19 in the world, at 16-1.

Yet, the Turkish Airlines Open has a habit of handing the trophy to a relative unknown. This week, another up-and-comer could ascend the leaderboard and take home the estimated $1.116 million winner’s share of the $7 million purse, which would be just fine.