Europe contemplating change in golf membership policy

November 3, 2015

SHANGHAI (AP) The European Tour is contemplating what amounts to a level playing field for those who want to be considered global players.

Typically, being a member of the two largest tours in golf requires a top 50 world ranking. That effectively assures the player of getting into the four majors and four World Golf Championships, which would be more than half of the minimum starts required on the PGA Tour (15) and European Tour (13).

That's a significant issue facing new European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.

Pelley has spent the majority of his three months on the job talking to players of every level to figure out what works for them globally and what strengthens the European Tour. One solution under consideration is to lower the minimum requirement to five - provided that doesn't include the majors and the WGCs.


That would make the requirement the same for someone like Justin Rose (No. 6 in the world) and Luke Donald. A former world No. 1, Donald fell out of the top 50 in May. He played all four majors, but only because he qualified for the U.S. Open and British Open. But he was not eligible for three of the WGCs.

''We're evaluating and looking at that,'' Pelley said. ''Have we made a definitive decision? No. Will I give a bit more context in Dubai? The answer is yes. And that's where we are. I've talked to a lot of players. Everybody has a different feeling. Some want to play on both tours that are not on an elite level. And if they're not qualifying for the WGCs, they're playing 33 to 34 events to play on two tours.''

The main incentive for keeping European Tour membership is being eligible for the Ryder Cup.

Ian Poulter thought he was about to lose his membership when he fell out of the top 50 and was no longer eligible for the HSBC Champions. He flew to Hong Kong and was helped immensely by Rich Beem giving up his spot in the Hong Kong Open. As it turned out, Poulter got into the HSBC Champions as an alternate.

''What I am finding, which is consistent with all of them whether that's Ian Poulter, Luke Donald or Graeme McDowell, is they all want to be part of the process as we look to make some changes in the tour,'' Pelley said. ''They all want to embrace it. They have an unwavering desire for the tour to flourish.''

On his end, Pelley said it would be important to increase prize money to make it worthwhile for Europeans to play a little more often. But he sees no harm in making it easier for Europeans to follow the money to America and the PGA Tour.

''They're no longer European Tour players or PGA Tour players,'' Pelley said. ''They're global players.''


YOUNG EXPECTATIONS: A back-handed compliment in golf used to be calling a player the ''best to have never won a major.'' It was a burden, sure, but also an indication the player was so talented he should have won a major.

Now it might be the word ''finally'' attached to a PGA Tour winner.

A common narrative last week in Malaysia involved Justin Thomas finally breaking through and winning his first PGA Tour event. Thomas is 22. He is starting out his second full year on tour. This was his 37th start on the PGA Tour as a pro.


''It was funny. Everyone and a lot of media were like, `When are you going to get that win?' I said, `I don't know, I'll just keep trying to put myself there.' Obviously, it could have happened sooner. I'm just happy to get that done so I can stop hearing about it.''

Thomas had great chances to win the Humana Challenge and Greenbrier Classic. He played in the final group going into the weekend at the Sony Open, Phoenix Open, and he was two shots behind going into the final round at The Players Championship.

Mentioned that Thomas has ''finally'' won, Rickie Fowler raised his eyebrows at the word and chuckled. He heard that during his first two years on tour.

''It's tough when they say `finally,''' Fowler said. ''But it's a testament and a compliment to how good players are when they're coming up.''


BRIDESMAID LEWIS: This isn't the kind of record Stacy Lewis had in mind.

Lewis tied for second in the Blue Bay LPGA in China on Sunday, her sixth runner-up finish of the year. That pushed her season earnings to $1,832,425, which would shatter the LPGA Tour record for most money without winning.

Suzann Pettersen won just over $1.5 million without a victory in 2010.

Lewis still has a couple of tournaments left, starting this week with the Toto Japan Classic. More importantly, she is among the top three in the Race to the CME Globe, meaning she would have a clear shot at the $1 million bonus in Naples, Florida.

Even so, it's been a frustrating year without a trophy. Lewis said she was slowed by changing golf balls, which took longer than she imagined, though her putting is the reason she remains No. 3 on the money list behind Lydia Ko and Inbee Park.

''You look at what I've done this year, I've had opportunities to make it a really good year,'' Lewis said recently. ''Even as frustrating as it has been, you get a win and it kind of turns a pretty frustrating year into a pretty good one. I'd like to be in the top three going into CME so that I kind of control my own destiny there. I'm finally playing some good golf.''


STANDING PAT: Now that the R&A and USGA have updated the latest edition for the Rules of Golf in 2016, don't look for any immediate changes in technology.

Martin Slumbers, who took over for Peter Dawson in September as chief executive of the R&A, says research from the tours indicate that the average distance off the tee has increased only 3 to 4 yards over the last 10 years.

''What we are seeing at the moment is a fairly consistent percentage of some tremendous athletes who are hitting the ball further,'' Slumbers said at the HSBC Golf Business Form. ''The percentage of them is unchanged. The average is a lot less than what the media talk about. The average has only moved 3 to 4 yards in the last 10 years. There's no burning desire on our part to make any changes.''

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem concurred. He said the professional game is ''as strong as it's ever been.''

''I do think if we get to a point where 75 percent of the field is hitting it where Dustin (Johnson) is and it gets a little boring, and we see signs of it affecting the integrity of the sport, it's a different matter,'' Finchem said. ''Right now, I agree totally. We shouldn't do anything.''

Slumbers also said distance ''isn't getting out of control.''

''It's a single-digit number of players who hit over 320 (yards),'' he said. ''The average is in the mid-280s - this is run and carry. As long as it stays within those parameters, I'm celebrating skill.''


DIVOTS: Rickie Fowler kept a busy schedule since the Presidents Cup. He left South Korea for Los Angeles, then went to Las Vegas for a PGA Tour event, then to Dallas to take part in a charity event for Jordan Spieth, back to Los Angeles and then over to Shanghai. ''Luckily, I enjoy travel,'' Fowler said. ... The PGA Tour has signed a deal with iQIYI for it to provide more than 1,500 hours of live stream from 40 PGA Tour events. ... Ping chairman and chief executive John A. Solheim was honored with the distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award at the HSBC Golf Business Forum. Bubba Watson was at the forum to present Solheim the award.


STAT OF THE WEEK: The combined age of the last four PGA Tour winners is 90.


FINAL WORD: ''If a disappointing week is shooting 14 under and finishing 19th in a PGA Tour event, then that's a good sign for me.'' - Anirban Lahiri of India.