With the prizes available across the pond set to get even more astronomical this year, the European Tour is struggling to compete. However, I might just have the answer...
Reveals his idea to boost the Rolex Series
Well, the first thing to say is a very warm happy new year to all you folks! I hope you enjoyed your festive period as much as I enjoyed mine and you feel relaxed and refreshed. It promises to be a great year on the golf course and I’m really looking forward to seeing how things play out. There are more world-class players than ever before and the year’s Major venues are as good as it gets.
One thing that left me slightly disappointed about the end of last year, though, was the limited number of world-class players competing in the final events of the European Tour season. I don’t want to suggest that the fields were poor, as they absolutely weren’t, but I couldn’t help look at the entry lists in Turkey, South Africa and Dubai and wonder where some of the big names were.
Now, I know last year was a Ryder Cup year, and, as such, players would have been exhausted by October. But the reality of the situation is that even Rolex Series prize pools don’t get the big players overly excited because the best play for such vast sums every week in America.
Let’s take the DP World Tour Championship – the event with the biggest purse outside the WGCS and Majors – as an example. Danny Willett won just over $1.3m for his victory – a mindblowing amount of money. Just a week before, Matt Kuchar earned almost as much for winning the Mayakoba Classic – an event at the start of the PGA Tour season that used to form part of the Fall Series.
The winners of the three Fedexcup play-off events get over $1.6m, as do those who triumph at some regular-season tournaments like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial. The majority of regular-season PGA Tour events have purses over the $7m mark and a decent number are over the $7,500,000 mark, some significantly. On the European Tour, only the DP World Tour Championship has a purse over $7,500,000.
As you can see, the European Tour can’t compete with the PGA Tour in terms of financial clout. And financial clout is what attracts the best players, which in turn brings more world ranking points. I know it’s not ideal that so much revolves around money, but that’s the reality of the situation in top-tier professional sport.
I have some ideas to try and ensure the best in the world come and play on the European Tour and in the Rolex Series events. First off, I think all the top Europeans should play and retain membership of the European Tour. Most of these guys owe so much to their home circuit – they probably received a number of exemptions when they were starting out and the tour has helped make them what they are today: very successful and well off.
Do I understand why many don’t play in the big European Tour events, though? Yes, I do. There are so many places to ply your trade these days and you simply can’t compete in every event. Would you play in an event with a $1m first prize when someone in the back of beyond is giving you that just to show up?
So how do we get the best players to appear in European Tour and Rolex Series events? In my mind, there are a lot of ordinary players getting rich off the back of the world’s best these days. I know we need golfing journeymen to make the gladiators of our game look good, but big prize pools and sponsorship only exist because of the box office players. I think the European Tour should pioneer a new top-heavy prize-fund system in the Rolex Series events. Instead of $1.2m for the winner, make it $2.2m and so on down the leaderboard, so the player in last place gets, for example, $5,000 instead of $15,000. You’ve played badly and you should be paid as such. I know, badly is a relative term! If you give the top five really big bucks, that will get the attention of the very best players – they go into every event aiming to win.
Some journeymen reading this will say it’s not fair. Well, they only play for the big coin because of their more talented contemporaries attracting sponsors and putting bums on seats. In my day I drove around in a Lada, but now even those who don’t crack the top 80 on the Race to Dubai cruise around in Porsches.
I know some will disagree with what I’m saying, as they are perfectly entitled to, and I do understand the rich-gettingricher argument. But I think top-stacking prize pools would have an impact, grab the attention of the world’s best players and ultimately boost excitement on the European Tour.
■ Wayne Riley is a former member of the European Tour and two-time winner who is part of the Sky Sports Golf Team. He writes exclusively for Golf Monthly
“In my day I drove around in a Lada, but now even those who don’t crack the top 80 on the Race to Dubai cruise around in Porsches”