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‘The European Tour Has To Swallow The Fact It Is A Feeder Tour’

Met a bloke in a pub the other evening. Big chap, small beard, medium drinker, you know the sort.

Standing at the bar we fell into conversation – incidentally, why do we ‘fall’ into conversation or, indeed, ‘fall’ into bed?

Sometimes we do the latter after ‘falling in love’.

Whatever the answer to that poser, my new acquaintance posed an even bigger question after we discovered we shared a passing interest in golf.

“Here,” he said.

“How’s that Jon Rahm won the European Tour Golfer of the Year thing?

“He plays in America, doesn’t he? And he speaks with an American accent.”

So we batted this one backwards and forwards for a few minutes before giving up on the subject and deciding that awards in golf, like the game itself, sometimes aren’t necessarily fair.

A couple of days later I was at a London hotel to enjoy the Golfer of the Year lunch and to see Rahm pick up his trophy.

Except our new No.1 wasn’t at the lunch.

He couldn’t make it as he was down to play in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

He sent a message saying he was honoured, privileged, delighted and quite possibly beside himself with joy at being chosen by an elite panel of judges.

Still, his physical absence emphasised the ongoing dilemma faced by the European Tour’s hierarchy, who just have to swallow the fact that, ultimately, they are a feeder tour into the even more lucrative American circuit.

Chief executive Keith Pelley, a bouncy, loquacious Canadian, knew he had to address this when speaking to a room full of his major sponsors.

Apparently there was a carefully prepared speech, but Pelley had put on the wrong glasses that morning and apologised for ignoring this and going off-script instead.

While the media might lament the absence of so many big names at events like the recent multi-million dollar Turkish Airlines Open won by Tyrrell Hatton after a six man play-off, Pelley and his executive team had, he claimed, enjoyed an exciting epiphany moment the day after this event ended.

Social media, it seems, had gone nuts over the play-off, showing that the world was entranced by a posse play-off under floodlights in Turkey.

The conclusion was the missing stars were not actually missed much.

It was an audacious attempt at camouflage and it may even have worked a bit on some of the money men listening.

However, most, I suspect, were thinking, “If only wee Rory had been there.”

Meanwhile I was thinking, “If only more of them recognised how vital the European Tour was to their development as players and actually crossed the Atlantic more often.”

Which brings me back to Rahm.

The European circuit puts on 39 events a year beyond Majors and WGCs. Rahm played in six of these, winning the Irish and Spanish Opens as well as the season-ender in Dubai.

He is the official European Tour No.1 and now its Player of the Year as well.

Still only 25, he is a terrific golfer and quite likely to become World No.1 in the next 12 months.

Bernd Wiesberger played in 26 of the European Tour’s regular events and won three of them.

Is Rahm the superior golfer? Yes, absolutely.

Is Wiesberger the more committed European? Yes, totally.

Do I now expect Wiesberger to play more on the PGA Tour in 2020?

I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he doesn’t.

I’m afraid Mr Pelley may need to keep those ‘wrong glasses’ – the rose-tinted ones – if he is to stay optimistic about life next year.

Bill Elliott is Golf Monthly’s editor-at-large and Golf Ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK

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