As if the news of Lee Westwood’s move to the PGA Tour weren’t bad enough, the list of entrants for the PGA Tour Qualifying School won’t cheer up the powers-that-be at European Tour headquarters.
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The minnows appear to be following the big fish to the world’s biggest tour. There is danger that a talent drain could become a flood detrimental to the European Tour’s future.
Even a cursory glance at scores and entries to the PGA Tour’s first stage of Q-School will make depressing reading for European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and his team. England’s Oliver Fisher, Frenchman Romain Wattel and Tim Sluiter of The Netherlands, three of Europe’s most promising young players, advanced to the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying last week. This week, two more talented Europeans, France’s Victor Dubuisson and Spain’s Pablo Martin, begin their quest for PGA Tour cards.
Twenty-three Europeans entered the first stage of Q-School. That number should concern O’Grady. The last thing he needs is talented European youngsters jumping to the PGA Tour.
While Westwood’s decision to move his family to Florida will concern O’Grady, at least the Euro Tour chief can count on the Englishman retaining his European Tour membership.
Westwood is no different from Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and others. With the majors and WGC events counting toward the required 13 tournaments needed to fulfill membership requirements, O’Grady can count on them playing at least six events each.
The same can’t be said for the younger European talent trying for PGA Tour cards. If they earn cards, they probably won’t have the luxury of playing in the majors and WGC events.
Given how difficult it is to play two tours, it means they will have to choose between one and the other. Rest assured that if Fisher and Co. get PGA Tour cards, then their appearances in Europe would become non-existent until they break into the world top 50.
It’s difficult to criticize young players for trying for PGA Tour cards, especially the way the European Tour is going. Six tournaments disappeared from the European Tour schedule this season, four of them in Spain. Given the state of the European economy, no one would be surprised if other events disappeared next year.
Throw in the number of co-sanctioned events in which European players make up half the field, and opportunities for young Europeans are becoming ever more limited.
Other than hoping Fisher and the rest fail to earn PGA Tour cards, I don’t see any solution to this problem. It’s not as if sponsors are lining up to fill European Tour coffers to keep young European Tour pros from crossing the pond. Indeed, considering the current weak fields of traditional European tournaments such as the French, Dutch and Portuguese opens, it would come as no surprise if sponsors of these events decided to invest funds elsewhere in the future.
Fortunately there are many good players on the European Tour, but O’Grady had better hope the talent drain doesn’t become a flood.