by Jeff Skinner
For the longest time the PGA Tour has been considered the best professional golf tour in the world. It usually has more of the most talented players in the world playing each and every week. But recently there has been much debate concerning some of the world’s best foreign players choosing to make the European Tour their full time tour and play less frequently in the United States.
With Lee Westwood now holding the top spot in the World Golf Rankings and foreign players holding six of the top ten slots and another Ryder Cup loss, it may appear that the US is losing its position as the world leader in golf.
Currently the US has eight players in the top twenty of the World Golf Rankings with foreign players holding twelve (Europe has ten, South Africa has two). At the same time in 2009, the US also had eight players and again there were twelve foreign players (Europe seven, South Africa two and Australia one). Foreign players hold six top ten spots now with the US holding the other four but that is only a swing of one player when compared to 2009 in December when the spots were split evenly.
The perception that the European Tour will supplant the US PGA as number one has come about with the comments by some of Europe’s top players opting to forgo their US Tour membership and make The European Tour their main tour. World number one, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer (3) and Rory McIlroy (11) all have said that they will not take up membership on The PGA Tour and will play on The European Tour as their home tour. None have made disparaging comments about the US Tour but they all have stated a desire to play at home and consider Europe their “home tour”.
“It’s not as if I’m not joining the PGA Tour to make a statement,” McIlroy said, “It doesn’t matter where you play. You just want to play good golf. The PGA Tour won’t miss me, because no one player is bigger than the tour.” He wants to stay close to his friends and family. Kaymer echoes the stay at home preference, “I consider the European Tour as my home — that is where I feel comfortable. I think you play against the best players in the world and schedule-wise, it doesn’t fit for me next year to play on the PGA Tour.”
With all the millions of dollars available around the world, including the US Tour, the days of players having to play in the US to make a living are gone. Gary Player used to make a forty hour plane trip to get to the US so he could compete with the best and earn the largest paydays in golf. Players no longer have to be an airplane ironman. They can pick tournaments throughout the world that will pay them enough cash to keep them in the best of lifestyles.
It’s not like the US Tour will be left without any top foreign players. US Open Champion, Graeme McDowell will be a full member of the PGA Tour and Westwood, Kaymer and McIlroy will play the majors and other selected tournaments in the US but they will not play a full US schedule nor will they be eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Paul Casey (8), Luke Donald (9) and Ian Poulter (10) are European players that make the PGA Tour their home as do South Africans Ernie Els (12) and Retief Goosen (17). So as usual the PGA Tour will have deep and talented fields.
The choice by the top European players could be viewed as a snub to the tour but if we are to believe what the players are saying it’s about a choice of lifestyles. There is nothing wrong with someone choosing what is best for them and their family. It’s true that the majority of foreign players that attend college do so in the United States and while many choose to stay in the states we can certainly understand their preference to live at home.
The fact that there are so many great players spread around the world is good for golf: the better the competition, the better the players and the better the player, the better the competition. Professional golf is in a transitional phase: The Tiger is not number one stage. It’s up to this current crop of players to define the new direction of golf. With all the great golf being played around the world it will be an interesting season in 2011.